The Nail Artists Behind Berlin’s Latest Obsession

Fads, flames and logomania — nail art is Berlin's latest obsession.

Manicured nails are no new phenomenon — there’ve been gems on french tips since before Paris and Nicole were breaking their acrylics in a half-hearted quest for the simple life. But what was once reserved for R&B vids and some daddy’s girl’s Super Sweet 16 is finally making a comeback. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: vulgarity is the spice of fashion, and nowhere it seems is this more prolific (and gesticular) than the tips of our fingers. In keeping with a ‘00s style revival that’s taking the world by storm, nail art is back and it’s trashier than ever.

“There’s something weird about nails,” says Maddy, nail artist at ISLA Berlin. “You behave differently when you’ve had them done — it changes your whole demeanour.” It’s true — there’s something about shaped-to-perfection nails and a fresh paint job that alters the way we act, and interact. We gesticulate differently, we type differently, we’re more vain, maybe, but more confident, definitely. Nails are a site for self-expression, and an irrevocable force in wearable fashion — an accessory more permanent than a statement necklace, but less than a tattoo.

And tack is back. We’re seeing double Cs, LVs and Burberry nova-check peppering the hands of Instagram’s elite in a trend that can only be called logomania. High fashion is cheapened to irrefutable trash, and hand painted slogans are the new knuckle tat. Creative city kids with cult social followings are fronting the nail art revolution from London and New York, but Berlin’s Berghain crew are the latest to follow suit. It’s taken its sweet time to hit the German capital, but nail art has arrived and it’s here with a vengeance. And leading the Berlin revolution are three true artistes who know nail art literally like the back of their hands. We caught up with them to find out why nails are here to stay.

How did you get into nail art?

It started as a hobby — I bite my nails so I always paint them to stop myself! And then it kind of got a bit out of control and I started doing friends’ nails and bits of free editorial and then it grew into this thing that I never imagined it would be.

And how did you come to ISLA?

I was working in London and Charissa who owns ISLA messaged me on Instagram and asked if I’d be interested in coming out here. We didn’t know each other at all, and I’d never been to Berlin before, but I came out and met her and decided that I’d give it a go! We opened in September last year.

So you were hand-picked for the role! And how does the nail art scene in Berlin compare to London?

It’s super different to London in every way, but I really like it. It’s such a big business there, so the challenge is standing out against the competition, whereas here it’s kind of the opposite problem. Here it’s more about creating the demand, in the sense that people don’t know what the possibilities are with nail art. It’s weird because Berlin’s such a creative place, so it would make sense that people would be creative with their nails like they are with their clothing and their music and everything else, but it seems like people aren’t as used to spending money on pampering here.

Yeah, totally — and Instagram definitely plays a huge part in creating that demand

Exactly. From the beginning we were posting quite out there stuff. That’s not necessarily what everyone was coming in and getting, but we were definitely doing Louis Vuitton logos and neon from day one and trying to push the boundaries as far as what people were used to. Obviously people still come in and get a manicure and that’s fine, but more and more people are learning what the possibilities are and coming up with their own ideas.

How would you describe your demographic?

Mostly 20-35 year olds I would say. Mostly women, some men. Generally creative people, quite international, but a lot of Germans. It’s definitely people who have interesting jobs, creative types, people who are into fashion — obviously we sell clothes as well so a lot of people come in for that too.

What’s your most requested style?

Nail art is so seasonal — like everything was all glittery for New Year’s Eve, but you don’t necessarily want that for the whole of January. It’s always changing, so it keeps people coming back. We always do a lot of flames, and a lot of lettering. I thought logos were gonna go out of style, but people are still into it! And also we have the fun products, like the glitters and chrome and they’re always popular. What I’m doing this week is different to what I was doing even a fortnight ago, it’s great.

And the most challenging?

Portraits! People show me photos of their dogs and they want them painted on their nails (laughs). And anything that’s really well known is difficult. By that I mainly mean logos, because when they’re wrong, they’re really wrong. When it’s bad it’s really obvious — it looks like you’re wearing some kind of knock-off Gucci bag, but it’s on your nails.

Why do you think nail art is taking off so much now? such a big thing in expressing personal style?

I think its cool because its a way of making a statement that’s not permanent, but it’s more permanent than make-up. There’s something about nails that really cheers people up — everyone walks out of the salon differently. When you do your hair or make-up, you never really see it, but when you get your nails done, you’ll be typing and look down and see your nails and it perks you up. Some jobs used to be funny about nails but especially in Berlin it’s not so much like that any more. And they can be political, with slogans or female empowerment, a lot of people are doing that. It’s just a cool, accessible way of saying something without crazy commitment.

How long have you been doing nail art?

We’ve been doing this for 7 years now, always in Berlin, and we opened up the store a few years ago.

How would you describe the scene in Berlin?

The scene has definitely changed within the last 3 to 4 years, it’s grown bigger. It’s not like in America or in the UK — people are not as adventurous as they are in London, but I think we’re on the right track.

How do you see the relationship between nails and style?

Nails are such an expression of style — some people use very bright colours, others like to keep it very classy. Then you have the types who always use stones and crystals and stuff. If you see the people who are trying these kinds of things, they have their own personality, and it’s a statement they’re making through their nails.

What’s your most requested style?

We had a phase where everybody wanted chrome — it was really popular. And then I think for most people who want classic it’s matte. More and more people are trying new stuff, and we always try to encourage our customers to take a risk and get something different. Flames are also such a big thing at the moment, obviously!

What’s your demographic? What kind of people are getting nail art?

I think it’s mostly like the Berghain people, the creative people — they’ll try more freaky stuff. But most people who come in here are more like Mitte people, and they still want bordeaux red or plain dark colours. But I think it’s coming now — people are trying new stuff. 

Where do you go for inspiration?

Instagram, definitely. We’re big fans of ISLA and it’s great to get inspired by other nail artists and support each other. We’re also always looking to London and America to see what’s going on there — and it’s great when you come across something you’ve never seen before, but you want to try.


How long have you been doing nail art, and how did you end up in Berlin?

I grew up in Essex and I was doing nail art there. This is my 10th year in the beauty industry — I don’t know how that’s happened. I moved to Berlin for new adventures really, I had a few friends here and really loved the city.

Was that a difficult transition? I know a lot of Berlin nail artists who’ve had to give it up because they can’t find the clientele….

You definitely have to chisel away at it for sure. I was doing nail art from the start, but it wasn’t like it was in Essex. It would just be people that were coming to Berlin and knew I was here or they were on holiday and knew where to find me through Instagram. And then I was in the industry anyway, doing plain manicures and things like that as well on the side. Even now it’s not strictly all nail art, but it’s definitely changed over the last few years.

Yeah, it definitely seems like it’s changing

For sure. Within the last year there’s been ISLA and places opening which is really cool, so that’s a good sign. It’s nice to have a network and other people in the industry — it all feeds into itself. The amount of people who used to ask me, “is this your real job, is this your actual job?” like “yes. Yes it’s a job.” It’s funny how it took so long to catch on, but, you know, it has.

And what’s your clientele like here?

It’s always the guys that are sitting down first at an event, but it’s women that come to the studio. Mainly between 20s and 30s, but it’s quite a broad spectrum — I’ve got women in their late 30s because they’ve got the disposable income. In Berlin there’s a lot of freelancers, so people can do what they want, they’re not restricted by work — they don’t work in banks, or at least not the people that I see. They’re more creative.

What are your favourite kinds of designs to do?

I really like the simple stuff actually. So it doesn’t have to be all studded and striped and glittery. I was doing that a few years ago and I kind of got a bit bored of that. It’s good fun for shoots and beauty editorials and things like that, but with people wanting everyday nails it’s nice to keep it simple, and the whole negative space thing is really popular as well.

So trashy isn’t really your thing…

Trashy can be good! I’ve been known to stick a few Chanel stickers on a nail before (laughs). But I’ve changed, and I’ve grown up a bit since doing it, and probably my clientele has changed as well. German women are more into wearing something every day, it’s a little bit more calm, whereas in England it’s a bit more fun. The nails have definitely calmed down with my location I think.

And what’s the most popular?

People have cottoned on to the idea that if you leave the cuticle area free of colour, their nails last longer, because when it’s grown out you can’t see it. So I’m doing a lot of that at the moment. Different shapes up from the cuticle or fades and that sort of thing.

Why do you think nails play such a big role in the expression of personal style?

Probably because it’s actually accessible to everyone. And you can change it as much as you want. It’s not like getting your haircut where it’s a bit more of a commitment and you’ve got to wait months or however long. If you don’t like your nails you can just change them straight away. You can go as nuts or as simple as you want depending on your mood.

Follow the nail artists on Instagram here: ISLA Berlin, Studio 358 and Effy Nails

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