Nail Art Design: History and Future

Photography By Bagus Tri Laksono

As one of the most renowned ways to show great self-expression, nail art has existed since the ancient Egyptian period from 5000 B.B. to 3000 B.C. where women would dye their nails with henna and noblemen used a black colour. Back then, both women and men used nail art for different purposes to indicate social status and seductiveness. Fast forward to this modern time, nail art has become one of the biggest industries to have a creative way to paint, decorate, enhance and embellish the nails.

History has noted that ancient China was the first one to originate nail polish in 3000 B.C. using the combination of beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes, and Arabic gum. The Chinese dipped their nails in this mixture for several hours or left it on to dry. Colours ranged from pink to red, depending on the mixture of the ingredients. Nail decoration was first introduced during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) when nail protectors were made of gold and jewel-encrusted. Back then, it was a trend to have extremely long nails.The famous Empress Dowager Cixi of China who ruled from 1835 to 1908, for example, was known for her outrageous nails. In the existing historical photos, we can see the empress with a six-inch long gold guard protecting her long nails.

The existence of nail art was first found from the short-lived Inca Empire (1438-1533), where people would decorate their nails by painting eagles on them. It was not until 1770 when the first fancy gold and silver manicure sets were created. This set was the favourite of King Louis XVI who ruled from 1774 to 1792. It was not until the early 1800s where the modern manicure was developed with the invention of the orange stick in 1830 by Dr Sitts, a European podiatrist who adapted a dental tool for manicure purposes. Before that, people used acid, a metal rod, and scissors to shape and trim the nails. In 1907, the first liquid and colourless nail polish was invented, before finally evolving into a variety of different colours. From this moment on, the evolution of nail art design has become one of the biggest industries that we know of.

Though it is a popular thing to have nail art and polish amongst women, this doesn’t mean that nail art only belongs in this group. Women use nail art to express their femininity; there are actually different types of art that defines a woman with a particular personality. However, the trend of metrosexuality in 1994 has also raised the sensibility amongst men to care for their hands and nails as well without losing their masculinity.

When Indonesia Design visited the popular Think Pink Nails in Bali, we weren’t just amazed by the bold, campy and chic interior design; but also with the various nail art designs that this nail salon is known for. According to Arvyanti Arief, founder and proprietor of this salon, the thing about nail art is that it relies on the client’s cultural background. The Western clients prefer a much subdued, minimalist type of nail art, and the Asian clients are more drawn towards a more elaborate and bold approach such as the 3D designs.

Think Pink Nails achieved its popularity due to the fact that all of their acrylic nail technicians are required to be able to do nail art; and not only that, but they are also an award-winning recipient. “I like taking my staff on trips overseas. Those trips really open up their eyes and views. Usually, we plan those trips whenever there’s a nail competition being held and I am very proud that a few times we managed to bring medals home. It is also important to my staff because it increases their self-esteem and pride in working for my salon.

Also, it’s very different doing nails day to day at the salon and doing nails on the international nail competition stage. Obviously, the pressure is great and I’m very happy to see that they can handle themselves really well up on the stage. Our last yet most satisfying win was at Nailympia in Sydney, where 130 countries attended and we managed to win the bronze medal representing Indonesia. What a proud moment that was!” says Arvyanti.

In this nail salon, they created an elaborate nail art for the competition with a design approach that is crazy, creative, and yet, as humanly possible. On the recent international nail art competition in Bangkok, they came up with the Balinese barong design. It was intricate and elaborate as it was done using the freestyle hand-painting technique. Arvyanti also shared that the current trend in this industry is to use 10 different colours on 10 fingers with a rainbow ombre colour gradation as the most popular one.

To have a good nail art design really depends on the client’s need. For a special occasion, the nail technicians are require to know about the whole look that the client is going to have which includes the outfit, as well as the nature of the event. The nail art design will narrow down from the given description. The good design for nail art is the one that is personalised to the character of the person itself.

As a businesswoman who has been practicing for seven years now, we asked Arvyanti about the future of nail art design, and this is what she has to say: “I have noticed more and more fashion designers are now having their models strutting on the runway adorned with nail art. Last Paris fashion week I saw more and more nail art that complemented the clothes as if it was a continuation of their design. Obviously the design for runway shows are more simple as they don’t have the time, however I have seen how they prepped the nail art on fake nails and simply glue them on top of the models natural nails, which I think is so smart as from afar one cannot tell that it’s ‘press on nails’.”

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Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.
Bagus Tri Laksono