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@nailsbyjuan.nyc

The community of Instagrammers pushing the boundaries of extreme nail art

Prepare to have your cuticles snatched

When you ignore all the terrible effects it has on a lot of people’s mental health, Instagram is a pretty great place. Take the Explore page – one minute you could be looking at a video of miniature cooking, and the next, a handy DIY tip of how to turn a watermelon into its own self-contained juice dispenser. Don’t even get us started on the obsessive slime community.

Among the viral videos gaining traction recently are extreme nail art tutorials. OK, so black women have been bedazzling their nails and pushing them to extreme lengths for years – shoutout to Jazz Ison Sinkfield, who has grown her nails to an impressive 24 inches over the course of 22 years (still not the world record holder though) – but now they’ve made it to the mainstream. “In my world and culture, people have always been interested in nail art.” explains nail artist Gracie J. “Black women have been rocking crazy unwearable nails for decades – when it was considered unkempt or ghetto. The decadent charms, the crazy lengths and curves. You know, hood aesthetics.”

You might think pointy acrylic nails are the limit of this unsung body accessory, but these viral videos prove that the potential for nail art is pretty much limitless. “Instagram has pretty much catapulted nail art into the mainstream,” nail artist Tee Fisher (behind account @nailgurl) tells us. “I think that more artists aren't afraid to push the envelope in regards to their art.” Fisher’s account regularly sees claw creations that look like cigarette butts, skulls, and even It’s Pennywise the Clown.

More than just for likes, Fisher also features politically-charged nails too – mostly notably, caricatures of Trump, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway. Gracie J also favours nails with a message, including designs supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the No H8 campaign, and even a likeness of Marsha P Johnson. “I believe that while we all share the love of nail art (whoever you are) it’s also important for black women to take back ownership of their bodies, their culture, their aesthetics. It is important for us to change the narrative that’s been dictated for us by other people outside of us.

When it comes to one account nailing (sorry, not sorry) the game, Russian-based artist @nail_sunny is probably the most talon-ted (again, not sorry) – with 1.8 million followers to prove it. Anything, and we literally mean anything you can think of has been immortalised in nail form on the account. Crayons that can actually write, braces, 3D eyeballs, fake amber fossils with real mosquitoes inside. If your mind wasn’t already blown, nothing tops a miniature golden cherub fountain that actually spouts water from its tiny miniature penis. As Fisher puts it: “Nail art will never go back to the era of modesty!”   

Beyond Instagram (because there is life outside of social media) some of the artists are bringing nail art to the runway. New York-based Japanese artist Mei Kawajiri brought her skills to Balenciaga’s SS17 show – adorning the pink and red acrylics with diamantés. At the 2017 CFDA Awards, Demna Gvasalia collected the International Award with a fast food logo manicure. Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut – but make it fashion. Unofficially, she’s created nails on her account for Comme des Garçons, Off-White, and the recent Dior Man x KAWS collab. “I think nails are more fashionable than clothing,” Kawajiri tells us. “It’s a way to show your unique style, like a tattoo, but more casual.”

Speaking of unique, nobody is doing what Juan Alvear (@nailsbyjuan.nyc) is doing – pushing nail art in a surreal direction. His often alien-like creations often feature horns, spikes, and interlocking designs. He nods to fashion too, with his latest unwearable creations reimagining the ugly sneaker trend – he’s already done Gucci’s crystal-covered creation and a pair from Acne Studios’ SS19 show, but Balenciaga Triple S, WYA? “My work stands out from typical nail art because I don’t usually go by the book when it comes to a traditional nail shape,” Alvear explains. “The main rule I do try to follow is that it fits on the nail bed and even then that’s more of a guideline.” 

With Instagram’s extreme nail art constantly snatching your cuticles’ wigs, who knows where it will go next. “I am noticing more and more elaborate nail art being showcased, so it will be only bigger and better as time goes on,” says Kawajiri. If you want to get into it yourself, you know where to start. You’ll be nailing it before you know it.