It’s been said that the nail bed is the tiniest canvas to work on. Creating intricate designs on a fingernail is truly a work of art, and the manicurist is the expert artist. Meet Mei Kawajiri, celebrity manicurist to Heidi Klum, Lana Del Rey, Hannah Bronfman, and Janelle Monáe, who has skillfully mastered this detailed art form. “Mei is such an amazing nail artist! I always enjoy collaborating with her. We come up with innovative and original designs every time,” says Janelle.Known for her hand-painted, detailed illustrations and unique nail “sculptures,” Mei’s ability to paint photo-realistic images sans stencils, stickers or other pre-fab tools has placed her work in a field of its own. “I love getting my nails done with Mei because I think she’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” says Hannah. “She’s an artist on the world’s smallest canvas. She can create something so detailed and so intricate to even something as simple as a vertical line.”
We sat down with Mei to discuss all things nail-related, including the best product for healthy cuticles and six nude nail lacquers you won’t want to miss.
The Lady Loves Couture: Have you ever formally studied art?
Mei Kawajiri: I never formally studied art. I graduated from beauty school in Japan where I learned the basic manicure skills. I always loved drawing though and realized I could incorporate that into creating nail art.
TLLC: How did you gain entry into the celebrity nail art world?
MK: My original clients in NYC were trendsetters like Samantha Wasser, owner of By Chloe and Horchata, and DJ Hannah Bronfman. From there, magazine editors and socialites began booking editorials and appointments. Also, makeup artists and other nail artists have always been generous, recommending me for shoots and events.
TLLC: What inspires you and the unique work you create for each client?
MK: Many clients come to me with an exact idea that they’d like recreated on their nails. Others say “Mei, do whatever you want!” I’m personally inspired by everything around me in New York City – fine art, architecture, food, music, pop culture, seasons… the list goes on and on.
TLLC: What are your thoughts on gel polish versus traditional, acrylic, and other well-known nail materials?
MK: Sometimes acrylic is necessary to achieve a certain length or shape, so I’m happy to do it, but I prefer gel because it’s not as damaging to the nail bed.
TLLC: What are your suggestions for keeping nails and cuticles healthy in the dry winter months?
MK: I tell my clients, if you can avoid it, it’s better not to wash your dishes by hand; same with your dog! Also, using cuticle gel or cuticle oil each night will keep your nail beds healthy and help your manicure last longer. I love the smell of Butter London’s Melt Away Cuticle Eliminator ($19); it’s a tropical/coconut fragrance.
TLLC: What colors are trending this season?
For magazines and runway, nude is still having a big “moment.” Try (1) Butter London in Hen Party ($15), (2) OPI in Samoan Sands ($13), (3) Essie in Sand Tropez ($9) or (4) Topless and Barefoot ($9), (5) Deborah Lippmann in Naked ($18), and (6) Zoya in Pasha ($8).
TLLC: In terms of nail shape, what’s trending for winter?
MK: Lots of editors are asking for an “almond” shape. It’s chic and edgy, but a bit more manageable and classic.
TLLC: What is your favorite nail – color or design – that you have created and why?
MK: Wow. That’s a tough question! I think I have too many favorites to pick just one! Recently, my favorite job was a Chanel video shot for CR Fashion Book. The whole team was a blast to work with and the nail art was an abstract pattern using black and white polish.
TLLC: How do you see your brand expanding?
MK: Someday, I’ll have my own line of nail products.