Say goodbye to the notion of "less is more". With Mei Kawajiri, better known by her Instagram handle @nailsbymei, maximalism is in order. Whether they are painted in glitter, embellished with 3D diamonds, adorned with cartoon figures, or even decorated with pierced nipples, her nails are nothing like what you've ever seen before. For the young Japanese artist, the only limit is her imagination, and that she possesses in bounds.
Mei started her career at the age of 19 in Kyoto, before moving to Tokyo and opening her own nail salon at 23 in Harajuku, called FOXXY. After a few years of practice, she set off to chase bigger dreams and moved to New York. At the beginning she struggled to master English, and it was through nail art that she was able to communicate with her clients. More than a profession, her passion is a mode of self-expression. And so her fame continues to grow.
In 2013, Mei received the first celebrity in her living room: Heidi Klum. "I was a little nervous," she remembers. Little did she know that the top model was the first in a long list of famous clients. Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Rosalía, Karlie Kloss, Marc Jacobs... All call on her vast talents.
If the young woman can take pride in her extensive resumé, it is because she explores her creativity to the extreme. "I am constantly looking for new designs. It is impossible for me to do the same manicures endlessly. As soon as I get bored, I create new things. It was not for nothing that I moved to New York; I always had the idea of becoming the number one in my field". A roaring success thanks to her meticulous work, but also because she does not hesitate to fulfill even the most eccentric requests of her customers.
Sign of social status
After taking the backseat for a few years, nail art has come back in full force. Long considered vulgar, XXL nails have today become a symbol of power, even feminism. We forget that nail decorations are not just a contemporary trend. In ancient times, it was used for social and spiritual purposes. Among the Egyptians and Babylonians, women dyed their nails with henna to assert their status. The Incas decorated their nails with sacred animals to honour the gods and fulfill a spiritual purpose. In China, noble women distinguished themselves from ordinary women with luxurious decorations in gold, silver, and red, since long nails were a sign that one did not have to work. Today, celebrities and "commoners" alike can wear an outrageous manicure and avail themselves of this privilege that was once the exclusive reserve of the aristocracy.
The 2000s saw a revival of the nail art craze. Originally from Japan, nail art quickly took off in the United States. Experts in the field, like Mei Kawajiri, draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including fashion, art, and cinema. Everything becomes a pretext for design. The Japanese artist is thus sought after by some of the biggest brands, like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs. "My very first editorial shoot [for Carine Roitfeld] remains my best memory. It's amazing because Carine always gives me the chance to imagine very creative nails".
Beyond the runway, Mei is gradually imposing her vision of nail art in advertising campaigns and press articles. What makes her art particularly special is the intersection between Japanese kawaii culture and the wild American style. The young label Puppets and Puppets gushed that "Mei is incredible. We are very appreciative of her ability to interpret what she sees in a simple manicure. There is no equal in the industry. With her, anything is possible".
A precious art
Unlike most of her peers, Mei does not use stencils or stickers. Each of her illustrations is hand-painted, regardless of the detail or complexity of the pattern to be accomplished. She can paint hyper-realistic images and execute any custom design, even famous art works.
Falling under the charm of her universe, renowned designer Olympia Le-Tan has become a fervent client of Mei. "The first time I went to see her, I wanted black Victorian nails, with 3D roses and lace edging. Then I wanted drawings by John Willie. I brought her my research, but I was sure that my request would be too complex. That the drawings would be too small to make on the single surface of the nail. However, two hours later, I had 10 mini pictures on my nails. Mei will fulfill any of my wishes. I love watching her do it. She does everything freehand with a very small brush. She finds exactly the right colours, and the lines are incredibly perfect".
With nail art, Mei Kawajiri has found her very own mode of expression, and she never stops surprising us.