Mind. Blown. Japanese Nail Art is a Thing
“Harajuku” nail art photos courtesy of Tamara Di Lullo and Candy Nail Bar
No, that’s not just a bunch of crap glued onto a falsie. The 3-D elements in her manicure are hand-sculpted from gel, mounted into a formed nail then painted and embellished, made to order. Elements of the design aren’t created in advance; everything is moulded and painted onto your person.
Japanese nail art encompasses numerous manicure styles, from cute polished portraits or fake gems and glitter set on short nails to elongated talons loaded with sculpted elements and minuscule graphics. Getting a set can take up to three hours, but at the end, you have bespoke deco at the tips of your fingers for a month.
Extravagant custom-manicuring took off in Japan in the 90s, where today there are huge conferences and numerous full-gloss fanzines dedicated to fancy nails. It’s gotten more popular here, too, with and a thriving trade of nail art porn presence online, as well as fan blogs covering DIY tutorials and celebrity manicure spottings by exactly which weirdo pop stars you’d expect.
Tamara Di Lullo, the proprietor of Candy Nail Bar, tells me “over there, it’s normal to pay $200 dollars for a set of nails. If it’s done well, nobody complains, because you have something unique.”
At her glossy pop-goth décor salon in the St-Hubert plaza, a “Harajuku,” the in-house name for a full-package manicure with 3-D elements and extensions, would set you back $100, but that buys you three hours of detailing work plus touch-ups for as long as you keep the set.
About those sculpted 3-D bits…
Graphic nail stickers are widely available — although nowhere near as nice as the intricate brushwork of a professional — but it’s the 3-D elements of Japanese manicure that most capture the eye. The sculpted gel raised formations were devised by Tokyoite Sachiko Nakasone, who is also the principal of NSJ Nail Academy and a pioneer of Japanese nail art. She took up manicuring after a passing a salon one day while travelling in California, where she learned the basics.
While some elite manicurists were already playing with chiseling hardened 3-D elements onto nails, Nakasone found a way to mould soft gel into any shape, a technique she unveiled at the 1985 World International Nail and Beauty Association competition. She won by a landslide — but only after she was able to convince the judge’s panel that she’d made everything spontaneously. Shortly after, she returned to Japan to spread the gospel of nail art.
Di Lullo became interested in the technique after spending several years working in Asian fashion. Already a hobby manicurist, as Japanese nail art started to get bigger she hustled to find people to teach her how in English.“I found someone that was willing to give me some private courses, and that’s when it started. So then I would practice, practice, practice, and buy all the materials over there,” she recalls. “I started learning by myself, pretty much, and then every time I would go back I would try to take another course, and do nails for friends.”
“It takes a loooong time to get good at it,” Di Lullo says, not to mention patience. “Let’s say there’s like a flower. Each piece, it’s like a little ball of product. We put it on the nail, using a brush to sculpt it into that shape. Each petal is formed, and you have to have a good chemical balance in your products. It takes a lot of practice.”
Di Lullo opened her boutique, one of only a few in Canada that does this kind of work, this spring after she was able to secure solid Canadian suppliers for her materials, a risky venture for an indulgent, if inviting, product during an economic downturn. “Beauty, though,” she says. “it’s one of the things that even when we are in a recession, doesn’t necessarily get hit. So I decided to make a really big change.” ■