WHERE THEY WERE … AND …WHERE THEY ARE TODAY
Picture the scene. You meet someone new. It could be in a friendship group or a business meeting. Inevitably, the conversation starts with a little about your history and the fascinating story you tell about the journey you took to get to where you are today.
Well, the same goes for the most fascinating stories about the Beauty Industry. Thinking back 20, 30+ more years ago for some since the Beauty Industry became as meaningful and as important is it is today. Where it has reached a point where it is quoted as one of the largest growing industries, globally.
But, goodness me. What has happened to nails? Who would have thought that nails would play such an important part of our lives as we go into 2021? Where if your nails are not groomed, painted, gelled, extended or arty, you aren’t seen to be taking complete care of yourself.
Gone are the days of lightly filed and unpainted nails, showcasing only a short free edge to flaunt in public. This is how it was. This is no longer how it is.
Nails have overtaken popularity of many beauty treatments on offer in today’s times. If you ask a general beauty salon which of their treatments are in the highest demand, the majority will undoubtedly tell you that Nails are their leading treatment attraction to their clientele.
I was privileged to experience my first trip to London at the age of 18 (which I admit was in the 1980’s). The trip included loads of sightseeing, to the extent that I still remember the stiff leg muscles from climbing the stairs up and down into the tube stations. But my most vivid memory was standing in a crowd, watching the ‘changing of the guard’ outside Buckingham Palace. Because, of course, you have to try to see the queen if you are in London, right? Well, next to me was a lady who had her nails artistically painted with the Union Jack flag. I was flabbergasted and couldn’t help staring. I was about to enter ‘Beauty school’ and had no idea that such things were available. That was my first experience of how profound the international impact was to be on the South African industry. That was me, sold. Nail Art was definitely on the cards sometime in the future. The 1980’s brought nail painting back into trend in a meaningful way.
Looking further back, it is believed that people have been manicuring for more than 5000 years.
According to a Ming Dynasty manuscript, apparently nail polish has history dating back to 3000 BC when nail colour indicated one’s social status. Which still pretty much stands today. There was apparently a Chinese dowager empress known for her beautiful, long nails which were in those days, already artificial and well-manicured. Nails were protected by gold and jewel-encrusted nail guards to protect them from breaking.
Around 3200BC, common men painted their nails with green kohl, whereas black kohl was reserved for the nobleman, clearly defining their position in society.
Then, during the Zhou Dynasty around 600BC, royalty painted their nails, then covering them with gold and silver dust, showing their social standing.
Over 5,000 years ago, in India, henna was then (and still is today) used as nail polish.
Fascinatingly, in 1934, a dentist, Dr Maxwell Lappe created the first set of fake nails for clients who bit their nails, using a liquid and powder acrylic. In 1955, another dentist, Dr Frederick Slack, after successfully repairing his own broken nail with acrylic, accidentally invented and then patented an acrylic sculpting-nail extension.
But what about the ‘French Manicure’ we know so well today? No, it did not originate in France. In 1975, President and CEO of Orly International – American Jeff Pink, whilst working in Hollywood, said that movie directors would complain about how long it took to change nail colours to match wardrobes for different scenes. He suggested using white polish on the tips, then applied a flesh-colour polish over it. The studios thanked him for the money and time saved on set. Seeing a great business opportunity, Pink began selling a set called the ‘Natural Look Nail Kit’ which he then took to Paris. It was used on models for a fashion show, so when he returned to the USA, he called it the ‘French Manicure’. It has certainly held its test in time.
Around the 1980’s, acrylic had set the path for the launch of hard gel nails. They didn’t meet with as much success.
The first set of nail extensions which I remember available in South Africa was a Fibreglass set. Oh my gosh, fibre…! It took me a full day during practice to do 1 set. And 3 hours for a client – when I was experienced. I soon lost my fascination for Fibreglass nails.
Best for me, indeed a game-changer, has been the launch of the first soak-off gel and colour gel polish. Thanks to Creative Nail Design’s Shellac, 2008 brought us the long-lasting manicure colour to last, with Gelish hot on its’ heels in 2009.
See this interesting set of slides on the History of Nail art: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/the-illustrated-history-of-nail-art#slide-13
Being a history lover, exploring our nail industry’s journey and discovering just how powerful and successful it has become in recent years is an interesting tale to discuss over any dinner table. And, of course, with my classrooms full of eager and excited students who are entering this field which is filled with ongoing new trends, rooted in history.