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Cruel Intentions
Cruel Intentions

The 10 best nail looks on film throughout history


TextLiz Hew

From Mulholland Drive to Total Recall, we chart the most iconic nails on screen

Contained within a small glass bottle, nail polish remains one of the most coveted beauty products of our generation; but to discover how it came to arrive on our shelves, we need to revisit its rich and sprawling history that spans different uses, time, and cultures. In China around 3000 B.C., the first nail varnishes were made from a concoction of vegetable dyes, gelatin and beeswax, and were worn as an indicator of class (the upper echelons of society painted their nails red, while the masses were limited to pale colours). At around the same time, ancient Babylonians used kohl on their nails to instil fear before battle (black indicated a higher rank than those wearing green), while in ancient Egypt, queens such as Nefertiti and Cleopatra dyed their nails with henna to exude sexual appeal and signify fertility. As nail polishes evolved to become a fashion statement, the demand for manicures grew in the modern world, with the first nail polish being mass-produced by Revlon in 1932. Formulated with nitrocellulose and pigments, the polish was designed by make-up artist Michelle Menard to mimic the glossy coat of a car. Fast-forward to today, and our nail beds have become sites of individualistic expression, radical self-care, and even socio-political activism

As manicures have become increasingly aesthetic and unique, no other medium has been capable of capturing the rich history of nail polishes so vividly as the visual art of cinema. Film characters frequently sport a variety of nail looks; whether bold and striking, subtle and streamlined or even acting as a prominent plot device. Nails can point (pun intended) towards the mystique of the tactile artform, as well as acting as signifiers of identity. The following characters all claim iconic nail designs, and with them, a glimpse of their interior worlds. 

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