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The nail art queen championed by Val Garland

Sophy Robson is the manicure maestro renowned for upturning beauty’s status quo – see how hip hop, GIFs and graffiti drive her

This profile is part of the On the Up series spotlighting the next generation doing great things to push London’s creative scene forward. In partnership with Microsoft’s most recent Windows upgrade, Windows 10, the series explores the past, present and future of eight trailblazing, tech-savvy artists

In the flamboyant world of fashion, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more real than born-and-bred Londoner Sophy Robson. Hailing from Wandsworth, Robson is the nail queen, former hip hop DJ and aspiring graffiti artist, who channelled her love of Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott into rainbow-bling nails that immediately set her style apart from the conformist crimson and nude-coloured manicures of 00s mainstream fashion. “I can’t stand anything generic,” says Robson. “If someone wants palm trees and flamingos, then I’ve got to do a twist on it, that’s just the way I am.”

Luckily, Robson’s innate desire for a twist has bagged her campaigns from Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood to Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, while her editorial portfolio includes work produced under the flashes of Patrick Demarchelier and Nick Knight. She was also the lady behind Giles’ ‘eek’ nails for SS11 that got everyone painting eyeballs on their cuticles, and boasts an eight-year catwalk collaboration with Henry Holland (since those tartan nails of AW08). But to say that it was an overnight success story would be more than a minor oversight.

Robson’s career began soon after giving birth to her daughter, when DJing was “on the wane”, and a nail course at her local college combined with part-time shifts in a salon offered a better option. Gradually working up the ladder, moving from parlour to parlour while juggling fashion shoots on the side, she eventually established her own concessionary salon and swayed an agency to represent her. Nails at this point were often treated as negligible details, but Robson pushed for them to be essential accessories. With the support of legendary make-up artist Val Garland, she was soon shooting alongside the likes of Kate Moss and Gwen Stefani, and, most recently, running her own ‘Nail-Its’ line of boldly printed press-ons.

For a girl who “couldn’t get a Louis Vuitton bag, but could get a manicure instead”, Robson says in her indelible south London accent, “I honestly never thought I would one day be travelling around the world.” In fact, international recognition for Robson derived from her early adoption of blogging via Wordpress. She now continues to share her creative outlet via Instagram and Tumblr, responding to questions from a dedicated following, like, “Where do you get your inspiration from?” (FYI her answer was: “From everything you see all day, whether it’s a graffiti piece, a motif on a fabric, a necklace, whatever. My starting point is normally putting colours together and thinking what looks cool.”)

Most recently, Robson has been experimenting with apps such as Fresh Paint, Photo Blender, Notebook and ArtRage Touch in order to illustrate, manipulate and multilayer images of nails that can be turned into GIFs. “When it comes to nail art, I’m just so bored of what’s already out there,” she says, “so I’m interested in making moving imagery and cool visuals of my work.” According to Robson, GIFs allow her to showcase a range of designs within one frame, providing a more animated way of communicating with her online followers. 

Yet, while social media is vital to her creative output, she is quick to note that it risks “perpetuating a monoculture of mediocrity”. Going against the grain, however, runs in the veins of this artist, who has always respected the “old-school principles of hip hop, of wanting to be more fly than anyone else, being independent, furthering your skills and just being the best you can be.”

Looking back on how she got here, Robson admits, “I can’t believe how much ambition I had.” And looking forward? “I’m getting more and more into graffiti. Maybe it’s because I’ve always liked challenging the status quo. When I was a DJ there weren’t many females out there, and it’s the same with graffing. It’s a male-dominated world, there are a lot of egos, and I want to break through that.” Naturally that doesn’t mean she isn’t a fan of male graffiti artists, because when asked who she is inspired by, she sang the praises of the following creatives:


“I admire his uncompromising creativity, and how long he’s managed to keep doing graffing and pushing boundaries with his artform. He keeps it very real because he does all his work with a spray can rather than using inks and stencils so he’s very much a purist.”


“I have so much respect for this make-up artist – she’s doing everything to innovate off her own back. She studied cosmetic science at London College of Fashion and now creates all her make-up from scratch in a shed at the back of her garden where she’s set up her own laboratory. Her brand is called MDMflow and it’s fly.”

Sophy Robson uses Windows 10 to edit her nail art images. The Windows 10 upgrade is available to download free for a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC here