Britain's Got Talons

Next week London Olympia will host the Nailympics, an annual three-day competition showcasing the latest, most extraordinary extensions, acrylics and special effects the world's nail artists and technicians can dream up. A whole category will be devoted to 'acrylic sculpture'. It is here that nails are transformed into complete works of art, with impossibly long four-inch nails adorned with branches, flowers and butterflies to make a garden scene; statues teetering on each nail; or a pirate theme complete with guns, boats and realistic waves.
It's no longer enough simply to paint your nails with animal prints or flash your two-tone tips. Lady Gaga is largely responsible for the proliferation of the trend. Taking inspiration from the eccentric style of young Japanese girls in Harajuku, Tokyo, Gaga has been wearing decorative nail transfers since her 2009 Poker Face music video with her nails representing the suits from a deck of cards. Her latest video, Judas, takes it further and sees her elongated nails adorned with colourful beads and rhinestones. The nail artist Marian Newman worked on the nails for the cover of Gaga's new album, Born This Way . 'The "triple nail" fitted the theme of Born this Way where Gaga changed the contours and planes of her face,' Newman says. 'I wanted to change the contours of her nails. She was wearing long, tapered nails so I added two further nails in the same shape but angled differently - think of the Sydney Opera House.'
In September at an exhibition called Nailphilia in London, Newman will be showing a film called Nailed that she created with the photographer Nick Knight. It includes two models joined together by their nails (don't try it at home). The exhibition will be the first in London to specialise in nail art. Run by at its gallery space in Vyner Street, it will feature Newman's work alongside that of other nail technicians including Sophy Robson and Jenny Longworth.
3D nails are not for the faint-hearted. A full set can take several hours to apply owing to the intricate detail. They are also not for anyone who likes to use their hands, as the simplest task, such as using your phone, becomes almost impossible. Then you have to find a nail artist. London-based Fiza Sebah began creating 3D nail art about five years ago after using the technique to customise mobile phone covers. Her specialised nails are in high demand at her salon, Pure Essentials Nails and Beauty, with sets starting at £50. 'The most popular 3D nail trend is Hello Kitty,' she says, 'and glitters and gems, as well as funky images, coloured flowers, laces, personalised images with messages, hearts and bows.' Although not competing, Sebah will attend the Nailympics to watch the competition.
Apart from Sebah, one of the only other people to specialise in 3D nail design in London is Ting Mazza, who created the nails for our shoot. Born in China but raised in Japan, Mazza was one of the first to bring 3D nail art to London after studying the technique. She has a temporary salon in Camden Stables Market.
While 3D nails may be the future, nail art in general has already become hugely accessible for everyday wear. Wah! Nails in Dalston, east London, paved the way for fashion-forward fun nail art when it opened in 2009. The Wah! team quickly adopted its signature style of leopard-print nails - fashion shows and a salon in Topshop soon followed. The Wah! salon now offers embedded nail art as an addition to its prints. Bold colours, flowers, studs and crystals can all be applied to make a bigger statement. Sharmadean Reid, its founder, will continue to expand the company. 'We are opening a slick new salon at Topshop in the new Westfield Stratford centre, and we will continue to expand within Topshop, probably New York next, as they have the perfect customer for our nails.' Reid thinks her company's small size makes it easier to respond to trends, as does knowing what your client wants. 'We have more than 6,000 followers on Twitter and 10,000 subscribers to our blog, which for a tiny salon in Dalston isn't so bad.'

OTHER NAIL TRENDS: Marian Newman is at the forefront of nail art in the fashion world - Lady Gaga has described her work as 'out of control'. She headed many of the teams behind the scenes at the shows for a/w 2011, including Gareth Pugh, Louis Vuitton and Jonathan Saunders, and was responsible for the catlike claw nails for Thierry Mugler (modelled by Lady Gaga). For its a/w 2011 show, Loewe showcased brown leather-look nails, while at Alexander McQueen the models wore Minx transfers (a silver base with translucent blue on top) designed by Newman.

- Minx Nails, which works closely with Newman, was a pioneer in the nail transfer trend (see examples, left). Its manicures start at £25 and are available at selected professional salons nationwide (0113-217 3813; ).

- OPI has launched 'Shatter Nail Polish', a top coat added to painted nails that creates a shattered effect, in various colours. Barry M has come up with a similar nail polish that creates the illusion of cracked nails when painted over a base coat. Printed, patterned and even mirrored transfers can be applied at home to nails, heated and filed to fit (try ).

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