The fashion week favourite talks all things nails
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
Lauren Michelle Pires’s nails are dreamy. Full of soft colours, delicate embellishes, subtle finishes and a penchant for florals, these are the kind of nails you dream about, that dwell in your imagination. From delicate pressed flowers and pearl-tipped manicures to intricate sculptural roses, the nail artist’s work is always playful, always exquisite and always a stand-out at fashion week where her creations are the perfect finishing touch for designers like Charlotte Knowles and Yuhan Wang.
“I definitely try to capture beauty in my work,” Pires says of her heavenly designs. “I view being a ‘nail artist’ as a very intricate and pristine job. But over the past few years whilst collaborating with Charlotte Knowles and stylist Georgia Pendlebury, I’ve learnt to lean into the awkwardness of beauty which I think has really helped me grow as an artist.”
While her celebrity client list includes the likes of Solange, Kendall Jenner, and Rina Sawayama and she’s collaborated with photographers such as Mert + Marcus and Lea Colombo, Pires’s career in nail artistry happened almost by accident. Originally studying graphic design and photography at Central Saint Martins, Pires started doing her own and her friends’ nails to satisfy her creativity that wasn’t being stretched on her course. From there her portfolio grew organically and before she knew it she says, she was working on collections and editorials.
Now with covers, campaigns and a nomination for a British Fashion Award for Creative Innovation under her belt, she tells us about being influenced by Destiny’s Child, how being one of the only POC in her class growing up affected her, and working with Solange.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Lauren Michelle Pires: My name is Lauren Michelle Pires and I’m a nail artist, born and raised in London’s suburbs. I grew up in quite a creative family; my dad was a musician, mum a seamstress and both of my older sisters were creative. Because of this, when I was younger, I would always opt for ‘creative kits’ over barbies at toy stores. I had a really amazing and supportive family which I count myself very lucky for; I was always encouraged from all angles that if I worked hard enough I could be and do anything I wanted to.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Lauren Michelle Pires: It was probably the first time I was bullied for the colour of my skin. I grew up in a predominantly white area, so it was always apparent to me that I was different from my peers. I didn’t really like standing out from the crowd as a kid, and regrettably spent a lot of my youth resenting my background and where I came from. I was a very shy and unconfident kid because of this, and I definitely channelled a lot of my confused adolescent energy into my creative work in school. I basically lived in the art room.
As one of the only POC students in my class, I felt like I always had to work extra hard to be seen on a level playing field – the pressure I feel (and still feel) to overdeliver is very high. I used to think of that as a negative, but now I see it as a positive as it laid the foundations for the work ethic that I have today.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Lauren Michelle Pires: Growing up, I’d say my two biggest influences visually were Destiny’s Child and photographer Alex Prager. My outfits for school discos were definitely DC-inspired, and in my late teens my art was heavily influenced by Prager’s work – which was definitely reflected in how I dressed. Ironically I don’t dress as playful as I used too, but the playfulness is still alive in my nail art.
I remember being a big fan of Making the Video on MTV where they would document BTS of music videos being shot; it always fascinated me. And although that was never my career plan, I've ended up working BTS on set – which I love. Being a part of a creative team, coming together, collaborating and creating something beautiful will always be a great rush to feel.
Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Lauren Michelle Pires: Definitely instinctual. I used to shoot a LFW backstage feature for ES magazine every season. I’d already been doing nails on shoots during uni, but seeing nails being done backstage for shows really caught my attention. I began shooting backstage for the show’s nail sponsors and the lady who used to book me noticed I also did nails. She took a leap of faith with me and the next season I led my first show for Henry Holland.
I thrive in a show environment – it’s my favourite part of being a nail artist. I love the rush of having to create hundreds of nails overnight, and seeing it all come together the next morning at the show. Although I learnt the basics at beauty school after my degree, I definitely honed my craft through prepping and working on shows.
What is your creative process? How do you translate someone’s creative vision into nail art?
Lauren Michelle Pires: It all starts with a moodboard or reference images from the stylist or client. From there I’ll take inspiration from the textures or colours and draw up a couple nail looks to pitch. The strongest design will then have physical prototype tests made via press-on nails. I usually do a few variants before I figure out which is the winner.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Lauren Michelle Pires: When I get the chance to do a creative nail, I definitely like to get intricate and make life harder for myself!
Where does your inspiration for the nail designs come from?
Lauren Michelle Pires: I’m really into architecture, especially from the 1970s. I draw a lot of inspiration from shapes, forms and textures. The nails I created for Rina Sawayama’s album cover were inspired by a feature I’d seen in one of my favourite architecture books. They were such a big hit with her fans that they made the nails into an IG filter.
What should nails bring to a fashion editorial or catwalk show?
Lauren Michelle Pires: I play such a small role in the making of photoshoots and shows, but nails really are the final touch to a look. I see them in the same category as jewellery – it’s there to complement and enhance the clothes.
What is your dream project to work on?
Lauren Michelle Pires: Working with Solange for the first time was a pretty big deal for me, and definitely a dream job. I made her a custom colour for the shoot which was a sheer mocha that I painted on transparent nail extensions. She loved it and asked for two bottles to take home with her. 13-year-old me back in 2002 would not have believed it.
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Lauren Michelle Pires: When I started out, the shoot teams were predominately white British and I always felt I was there to tick the ‘culturally diverse’ box for the client. But overtime the diversity has improved a lot, 90 per cent of the time the teams I work with now are from all different backgrounds. There's still growth to be had but hopefully things can only get better whilst a light is being shone on BAME employment figures within the industry.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Lauren Michelle Pires: It’s great for developing designs and formulas, but I don’t think technology will ever replace the human hand’s artistry. There is beauty in the slight imperfections a human makes when painting.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Lauren Michelle Pires: Assist in all areas that interest you. I assisted a stylist after uni (I never wanted to be one, I just wanted to be on set), it was more about learning a good work ethic from a mentor. That stylist later ended up putting me forward as a nail artist for my first cover story. You’re always going to cross paths with people that will shape your career in ways you couldn’t imagine, and you only see that later on when you look back and connect the dots. Thankful I had my older sisters guiding me, and to take pointers from as I grew up.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Lauren Michelle Pires: Athena Paginton – her work is beautiful and she’s one of my favourite people I’ve met in this industry.
What is the future of beauty?
Lauren Michelle Pires: It will be stripped back but still playful. More than ever, we are living in a world where uncertainty is prominent, and hopes are high. I think people are searching for an everyday escapism, and being playful with their make-up, nails and overall image is an expression of this. Bright colours can help us overcome bleak times.