Hand Power

As nail companies up the ante on cool new colors and effects, consumers have responded in kind, making the category one of beauty’s hottest sellers.

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As nail companies up the ante on cool new colors and effects, consumers have responded in kind, making the category one of beauty’s hottest sellers.

Johnny Buenaventura

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 09/09/2011

To get their hands on the latest nail polish from Chanel, customers have sent Christine Dagousset desperate letters and e-mails pleading with her to find it in her heart to set aside a bottle.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


But sometimes even the executive vice president of fragrance and beauté at Chanel struggles to uncover one. That was the case last year when the grayish putty Particulière and the gray purple Paradoxal launched and immediately sold out. And when the Les Khakis de Chanel debuted at Fashion’s Night Out last September, the flood of people trying to buy it crashed Chanel’s Web site.

Chanel has led the wave of nail category hits before: In 1994, Vamp reaped a reported $1 million in first-year sales. A short while later, the launches of Hard Candy and Urban Decay further whipped consumers into a nail frenzy.

History is repeating itself, with nails firmly back in the beauty spotlight. In the mass market for the year ending July 10, excluding Wal-Mart, SymphonyIRI estimates U.S. sales in the nail category rose 12.3 percent to nearly $828 million. Last year, Kline & Co.’s figures show nail polish was the fastest-growing category in the cosmetics and toiletries sector, with more than 20 percent growth in both the prestige and mass markets. Meanwhile, the NPD Group reports that the nail category shot up 58 percent in the prestige market to $10 million for January through June of this year. Going forward, Kline predicts nail polish will grow at an average annual rate of 5 percent through 2015.

“This is the strongest growth we have seen historically,” says Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at NPD.

At Duane Reade, the nail category has experienced “tremendous double-digit growth,” says Marcia Gaynor, general merchandise manager of beauty. “It is one of those categories I can count on,” she says.

What’s behind the surge? The recession clearly played a part. Nail re-emerged around 2008, right as the recession took root. Deborah Lippmann, founder of her namesake nail polish brand, posits, “People couldn’t get their Louboutins or a new Marc Jacobs bag every six months. Nail color became a very viable accessory.”


Of course, beauty products as a whole are more accessible than luxury accessories. But even within the beauty universe, nail polishes are among the most affordable items. Costing $25, Chanel’s polishes are $7 cheaper than its lipsticks. Sally Hansen’s lacquers are priced as low as $3.

For women forced to cut back on salon visits, nail brands were ready and willing to give them the colors and products to replicate a salon manicure at home. Professional brands like OPI, Nicole by OPI and Essie started to sell in retail outlets, while retail brands, particularly Sally Hansen, injected salon services into its launches, as with Complete Salon Manicure, designed to squeeze five steps of a manicure into one bottle, and Salon Effects nail polish strips.

“Women don’t stop going to the salon, but we have gone from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption,” says Bill Boraczek, global vice president of Sally Hansen. “You might decide to not go to the salon every weekend, but every other weekend. Doing manicures at home is a way that people can save and still express themselves with color.”


David Greenberg, president of Maybelline New York-Garnier-Essie, points out that 91 percent of women who wear nail color do their nails at home, while 56 percent also go to salons. “The category is all about having the right shade at the right time,” he says. “Women want the on-trend fashionable shades that they’re reading about in magazines or seeing on television — right now.”

Recalling Leonard Lauder’s famous aphorism about lipstick being recession proof, Boraczek has come up with the “nail polish index.” Citing SymphonyIRI data, he notes that in 2008, the mass color cosmetics category was up 1 percent, while nail color was up 6 percent. In 2009, mass color was up 4 percent, nail 15 percent. In 2010, mass color was up 7 percent, nail 22 percent. As a punctuation mark, Boraczek adds that the Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure launch last year was the number-one launch for the entire mass color cosmetics category. “That has never happened before,” he says.

During a recession, Boraczek argues that women gravitate to color to pry them- selves out of the doldrums. In 2008, he says there were three blue shades in the top-100 mass market shades. In the last two years, there have been seven. In 2008, there was one green in the top 100. In the last two years, five. In 2008, there were no yellows in the top 100. In the last two years, there were two. “It has been a color explosion,” says Boraczek.


“Women have gotten much less conventional about their nails. A few years ago, you only had pink and red and that was what it was about,” agrees Dagousset. “Women have really understood nail as a way to differentiate themselves. You have very classic women willing to be much more bold in their nail color.”

Chanel has been a key driver of color. Under Peter Philips, the global creative director for makeup, the brand has had hit after hit, ranging from Jade, which ush- ered in the green craze, to Particulière, which powered the greige wave.

“Peter Philips and Chanel are a humungous influence because they are launching a lot more, and they can’t do anything wrong in terms of nail,” says Lippmann.

Grant notes that Chanel’s credibility gives customers the confidence to try colors they might otherwise shy away from, and that customers who can’t afford Chanel buy similar colors at mass.

In terms of current trends, Chanel is marketing metallics for fall. Philips has created a trio of metallic shades: a green gold called Peridot, a silver beige called Quartz and a silver called Graphite. Deborah Lippmann is building on its strength in glitter polishes, with two new variations of its bestselling Happy Birthday. Essie has LuxEffects, launching in December, formulated to maximize texture and shine with four to five different size flakes or pearl shapes. Brands are also touting their darker winter colors. Between CND and OPI, deep sapphire, purple and ruby tones are being presented. At Sally Hansen, Boraczek sees the purple spectrum expanding, although he says greige will remain a strong counterpoint.

Sephora’s senior vice president of marketing, Sharon Rothstein, pegged ruby red, violet and gray as hot for fall.

Cheri Botiz, Nordstrom’s national beauty and fragrance director, agrees. “For fall, we are going back to the deeper shades. The textures I’m noticing are big, and there’s the metallics and matte. The metallic element is big.”


Nail art has added another dimension. “Nail art is edgy, but acceptable,” says Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI Products Inc. “It looks a little bit out there, but in a subtle way.”

The Web, with its capacity to teach women via video tutorials, has become an invaluable resource in spreading nail art by enabling women to learn how to customize their nails. For those who wish to learn how to do newspaper nail art, for example, a step-by-step video uploaded by YouTuber Cute Polish will teach you. Already, it has more than one million views. Nails inspired by Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” have garnered Julieg713 more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.


To convince novices to experiment with nail art, brands are launching easy-to-use products that add texture, such as polishes that form cracked patterns. WeissFischmann says OPI has sold 6 million bottles of Shatter and is updating it with glitters. Nail decals have also expanded nail art’s appeal. Minx took the trend to sa- lons, Sephora by OPI broadened it to specialty stores and Sally Hansen broadened it to mass with Salon Effects. Butter London is bringing it to department stores for holiday with the launch of Nail Skins. Magnets that create designs in polish are the next evolution, with the likes of OPI and China Glaze coming out with their own magnetic polish creations.

Sephora has jumped on nail art by establishing in-store nail art studios in partnership with XpresSpa in eight locations so far. The London-based manicurist Sophy Robson has designed nail art looks with names like Distressed Metal and Punk Cheetah that are applied at the studios; videos teach customers how to do nail art designs at home. Rothstein says the studios cater to customers’ blossoming passion for nail art and “the consumer desire to see Sephora as more than just a conveyor of products, but as an experience.”

Other retailers are tiptoeing into nail art as well. ’Tini Beauty founder Mi- chelle Toma Olson says the company is outfitting its beauty consultants at Duane Reade’s Look boutiques with tools to create lines and dots on nails. “It is a fun in-store treat,” she says.

Celebrity nail collaborations are starting to proliferate as quickly as celebrity fragrances. Take Katy Perry’s OPI collection: The pink glitter Teenage Dream has sold 3 million bottles since its launch in January. “Before, it used to be enough to have the hero in the bottle,” says Weiss-Fischmann. “Now the customer wants to make sure that the brand performs, but she also wants to be excited.”


As celebrities’ nails have come to the forefront, so have the people who do nails professionally. Tom Bachik can attest to that. Last year, he was named Chanel’s first celebrity manicurist. Chanel has long had celebrity makeup artists, but never a manicurist counterpart. “It is a great way to get the nail color on the right hands and on the right shoots,” says Dagousset.


Innovation in the nail sector often starts in salons. The hottest new trend is gel services, manicures that can last for two weeks or more, ushered in by CND’s Shellac. Although gels have been around for a long time, they had many problems, from onerous application to problematic removal. After more than five years in development, CND’s Shellac delivered a solution. “It goes on just like a polish,” says Jan Arnold, the brand’s co-founder and style director, explaining Shellac is brushed on and cured with a UV lamp to harden it. Removal takes about 10 minutes. Arnold estimates that Shellac could double or even triple CND’s business.


Other brands have quickly entered the market. OPI has GelColor; Orly, GelFX. In a Nails Magazine survey of salons, 64 percent said they added some form of soak-off gel or Shellac service last year. “This category has the potential in a few years of being the same size as the rest of the business at the salon level,” says Arnold.


Retail brands are getting into the game now, too. Founded by former Coty executives Bruce Kowalsky and Barry Shields, Red Carpet Manicure is headed to Ulta with a system priced at $57.94 that features a portable LED light, base coat, gel polish, top coat and adhesion sanitizer to allow customers to do 20 at-home gel polish applications. Nutra Nail is launching an $11.99 UV-free option called Gel Perfect into Ulta, Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, ShopRite, Fred Meyer and more. Gel Perfect uses an activator that reacts with nail color to cure it and make it dry in five minutes. “We are looking for it to be the biggest launch the company has ever had,” says Dunnan Edell, chief executive officer of Nutra Nail owner CCA Industries.


Duane Reade’s Gaynor says the potential is huge. “More and more people are going to get into the kits, with the light or without,” she says, adding, “I’d like a two-week manicure that doesn’t chip.”

Even with a steady stream of innovation, can the nail category sustain the incredible growth it has had? Unlikely, says Grant. That doesn’t mean, she adds, that the category’s growth will end. Instead, she foresees growth in the upcoming years, albeit at a slower rate. She believes the category may eventually become like lip gloss, which has gone from sales of $20 million in 1997 to sales of $183 million at prestige last year.

Still, execs remain bullish. Notes Greenburg, “When you think about the fact that only 56 percent of women use nail polish today, you can see there is still a lot of room for category growth.”



The Tipping Point: What to Know About Nails

Hot, Hot, Hot!: Kline & Co. reports nail polish is the fastest growing category in the cosmetics and toiletries sector, with more than 20 percent growth. D-I-Y: Products that replicate salon services are eagerly welcomed, as women continue to cut back on salon visits and d-i-y instead.

Bright Ideas: Color is back. Bold shades like blue, yellow and green that barely registered in 2008 are bestsellers today.


Special Effects: From crackle to magnetic polish, technological innovations that deliver a different finish are a key driver.

Hard Facts: Long-lasting gel manicures, all the rage in salons, look set to be the next big growth category in the retail market.




Drawing upon music, street art and fashion as inspiration, London-based Robson has developed a reputation for innovative, bold nail looks that have a finger on the pulse of the popular zeitgeist (the logo-covered nails copied everywhere were hers). “I take the ghetto ideas and make them mainstream,” says Robson, who recently opened a salon in the Chelsea neighborhood of London and was tapped by Sephora to curate its Sephora by OPI nail art. Paula@streeterslondon.com


Hipp, known as a green manicurist for avoiding harmful ingredients in nail products, has the ingénue market cornered with Michelle Williams, Rachel McAdams, Kate Bosworth and Jennifer Lawrence among those who she’s worked with editorially. While other manicurists are recognized for loud nail art, Hipp’s approach is generally more understated; she’s collaborated with RGB Cosmetics on Hipp x RGB Nail Foundation with nude colors to match very fair to dark skin tones. info@traceymattingly.com


Nita Darling, Nikko Gray and Jaeme Estera make up Kleur, a traveling nail art collective named for the Dutch word for color. They have a standing weekly gig at Urban Outfitters’ Space 15 Twenty store in Hollywood, and they’re often booked for four other events a week. When not at events, Kleur takes appointments through Freak City, also in Hollywood, but the group’s eventual goal is to have its own gallery and nail art salon. appt@kleur.me


A newbie on L.A.’s nail art scene, Pattricia Garcia, aka PattyCake$, often turns to artists such as Andy Warhol and Shepard Fairey for inspiration. But her crowning achievement so far came from a very pop culture idea: translating Bill Cosby sweaters into multicolor nail designs. She showed them to the rapper Rye Rye over Facebook, who was so enamored with them she asked Garcia to do her nails for an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” somoneycakes@yahoo.com

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