CND Nails At Fashion Week
By Jackie Summers
Twenty-one years ago, Chanel launched Vamp nail polish and wearers of sweet French manicures and proper red nails collectively gasped. What was this then? Nails the color of dried blood? What? Suddenly nails were becoming a fashion accessory.
At the same time, CND Co-Founder and Style Director Jan Arnold was flipping through her favorite glossy magazines and a realization struck her. “The hair, clothing, makeup and accessories were done to a T,” she remembers. “But the fingers and toes were bare. The entire fashion story was disrupted by these masculine nails.”
Fervor usually trumps fear, so Jan boldly reached for the phone and called an up-and-coming fashion designer named Cynthia Rowley. “I told her, ‘We want to do the nails for your next show.’” Jan says. “She laughed and asked why. I said, ‘Because nails are 20 ways to tell your story.’” Cynthia was intrigued, invited Jan to meet with her in New York and booked the CND team for her show. The fashion press went crazy, the beauty press went crazy and Rowley was thrilled. The next call Jan made was to Oscar de la Renta. The gentleman invited the team to do his show, and it was on. Nails made it to Fashion Week, and during the next 10 years, CND became the backstage nail team for 75 shows each season.
“My goal was to elevate nails to a true fashion accessory, recognized by the most influential designers in the world,” CND’s Jan Arnold says.
“Nails were flying everywhere!”
Over the years, the collaborations have been exhilarating. Also exhausting. And sometimes hilarious. The first time the team did the Betsey Johnson show, they attached the models’ nails with adhesives that weren’t quite up to snuff. “We checked every nail right before the show,” Jan remembers, “but at the last minute, Betsey decided she wanted the girls to grab their skirts and can-can down the runway. When they did, nails started flipping off and shooting everywhere! I thought, ‘I am so fired.’ After the show, the tips were like little turtles on their backs on the floor. But the audience thought it was on purpose and they loved it! After that, we got a better adhesive.”
One season, Kimora Lee Simmons built her Baby Phat collection around a Russian theme. Jan recalled judging a nail competition in Russia, where a nail pro had created tiny Russian military badges made of liquid and powder and gel. She showed photos to Kimora, who immediately ordered 50 for her show. It had taken the Russian nail artist two months to create 10 of the badges. The Baby Phat show was in one week. “My team pulled it off,” says Jan. “They were exhausted but they made 50 of those amazing nails. The nails were in every photograph. People were offering to buy them. It was a revolutionary time in fashion— it was truly the start of the art movement for us.”
CND artists worked around the clock to create tiny military badges
for Kimora Lee Simmons’ Russian-inspired collection.
Since the Baby Phat badges, CND’s collaborations have climbed to higher and higher planes of artistry with avant-garde designers like The Blonds, Libertine and Diego Binetti. In fact, CND has pared down its Fashion Week schedule, preferring to work with a handful of highly artistic designers. They’ll often go in a month before a show to brainstorm with the designer and crystallize the story of the collection. “We don’t just go polish nails anymore,” Jan comments. “I want to challenge my team to create new ideas, new techniques. Fashion Week has become a laboratory of exploration for us, and what comes out of it are great ideas for research and development, for marketing, for nail pros across the country, for the future.”
Penetrating the fashion tribe
Each season, an elite group of CND educators gathers at the CND Design Lab in New York to conceive and prepare the nail tips for each show. They arrive backstage with thousands of pre-designed tips in a display box and a tool belt around their waists—prepared to do whatever it takes to ready each model.
Jan admits that it took a few years for nails to earn a place in the hectic and, yes, sometimes bitchy backstage milieu. “We had to penetrate the tribe,” Jan says. “So we were organized, prepared, conscientious. We introduced ourselves to the models, told them exactly what we were going to do, took good care of their nails. As time went on, and the work became more elaborate, the girls would actually lift their hands during the show to show off their nails. At the top of every show, the stage manager would announce, ‘It’s first looks—hair and makeup are you ready?’ Then one year a manager announced, ‘It’s first looks—hair, makeup and Creative Nails, are you ready?’ I started to cry. It meant they had confidence and trust in us.”
Materials make all the difference to a Fashion Week nail artist, and Jan attributes SHELLAC® with shifting the capabilities of the team. “SHELLAC® changed everything artistically,” she observes. “With its top film, it supports all types of gems and foils for nail art. And for the last couple of seasons, there has been a major return to sculpting nails with our Retention+ Liquid and Powder.
For Libertine’s Transcendental Meditation theme last season, we hand sculpted 180 ‘third eyes’ and placed Swarovski crystals in the center. On the runway and in the salon, liquid and powder can transform a flat, lifeless nail into a work of art.”
“Third Eye” nails for Libertine’s Fall/Winter 2016
collection inspired by Transcendental Meditation.