Artists Really Nail It

By Erin Teresky

Goodbye Mademoiselle, Hello Mimosa.

They are nail-polish color names, not salutations to a French ingénue or a brunch cocktail — the former is a now-outré sheer pink by Essie, the latter a must-have metallic-infused yellow by Chanel.

Photo by Similoluwa Ojurongbe.

Unusual shades once relegated to teenage punk rockers or eccentric elderly women have become mainstream, as have weekly professional manicures, once the preserve of wealthy matrons.

As the earning power of women grows — 28.9 percent of wives out-earned their husbands in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 17.8 percent in 1987 — it makes sense that the nail industry, a market whose customers are overwhelmingly women, has been booming.
As more women earn advanced degrees and contribute more to the G.D.P., the “safe” fashion and beauty choices once typical of corporate culture are going the way of the girdle.

Unlike the 1980s, when many women wore “power suits” with football-equipment-like shoulders, today more women achieve economic success without feeling the need to maintain a gender-neutral style. Shannon Tesauro, an analyst at Fidelity Investments on Wall Street, says she often wears bright colors to work. “My office isn’t strict about nail polish,” she says. “Right now I have on a dark, metallic purple.”

Funky nail colors “are fun,” says Caroline Davis, project manager at New Beauty magazine. “It’s a form of expression just like dressing — you base your nails on your mood and personality.”

While there is no shortage of $20-mani-pedi specials in the city, for the truly adventurous many salons now offer a new service: nail art.

Nail art includes glitter and 3D ornaments, or custom designs painted on the nails by a skilled technician. These services usually cost upward of $60. In SoHo, $40 will buy you a work-appropriate cardigan in a cheery color at Ann Taylor or a glitter manicure at Marie Nails in SoHo.

The nail industry has “expanded very rapidly due to more options, lasting-longer gels,” says Jenny Matayoshi, of Marie Nails, one of more than 4,000 nail salons in New York State. Matayoshi says it helps that area businesses seem “more open to nail art now.”

Nail art has been a boon to salons. According to Nails, an industry publication, 89 percent of salons nationwide said they offered nail art services in 2011; that’s up from 78 percent five years earlier. Moreover, the share of profits contributed by nail art nearly tripled, reaching 9.8 percent in 2011.

Indeed, the nail industry seems to track the fortunes of women in the economy. During the last five years, the unemployment rate for women has been lower than that of men every year, sometimes by as much as two percentage points. For example, in the depths of the recession, in 2009, the unemployment rate for women was 8.1 percent, compared with 10.3 percent for men. That year, the nail industry also experienced a slight decline to $6 billion in revenues from $6.2 billion the year before, but sales were still well above the $5.5 billion in revenues in 2006.

Nails projects that the industry will make $7.3 billion in 2012. That’s a lot of manicures. But as more women are breaking the glass ceiling, they’ll need those salon visits. No one likes to be seen clicking broken nails on the boardroom table.