It’s hard to walk a block in Seoul without passing a nail bar.
But what’s hot and what’s not right now in the world of Korean nail art?
We talked to celebrity nail artist Hong Mi-Ae to find out.
In the back streets of Apgujeong, just steps from the glamorous Hermes building, is the famed Soonsoo hair and beauty salon. Inside, you’ll also find a nail bar, at which the acclaimed celebrity nail artist Hong Mi-Ae has worked for the last seven years. A maverick in her field, Hong has manicured hands for countless photo shoots, music videos and K-Pop stars, including Girls’ Generation, Ailee, F(x), Girl’s Day, and Sulli.
Hong enrolled in a beauty academy at the age of 20 to begin learning about the beauty trade. “I also did a university degree in design,” she says, “but nail design was my first love. I always knew it was what I really wanted to do.” It is the interactions with clients, she says, and getting to “add an extra sparkle to their daily lives” that make her job so enjoyable. “Having fun and doing a job I love is something that is really important to me.”
Korean nail artists are known globally for being early adopters when it comes to new nail trends. The designs of Hong and other local nail artists such as Unistella Founder Park Eun Kyung have taken the Instagram world by storm. Hong herself has collected an online following of over 100,000 international fans. “Each manicure I do takes around two to three hours!” she says, scrolling through her beautifully curated Instagram feed. “Sometimes more for intricate designs.”
While Hong herself prefers simpler, symmetrical styles – such as those by the acclaimed Madeleine Poole of MP Nails in New York – she says she works together with each individual client to find the right design for them. “Each manicure is usually a unique combination of my design skills and the client’s personality.” She admits she doesn’t feel pressured to continually come up with new styles but instead gains inspiration naturally from fashion she sees on the street, or patterns in stores. “I don’t force myself,” she says. “The most important thing with a manicure, after all, is to have fun with it!”
Hot nail trends this season
“Experiment with muted, low-contrast colors, such as wine, grey, khaki and navy when going for a matte look.”
“For a cuter look, incorporating animated characters can be fun. I personally like Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter and the Pink Panther!”
“Designs that borrow from fashion labels are high in demand – tigers or pearls inspired by Gucci, Fendi flowers, and Miu Miu stripes are all popular this year.”
French Manicure with a Twist
“In place of painting the full nail, try painting your tips with a pop of color for a more contemporary feel.”
Soonsoo Beauty Salon: Soonsoo, Sinsa-dong 630-24, Gangnam-gu
Written and photographed by Samia Liamani