The Dutch artist turning nails into mesmerising pieces of art

From talons adorned with intricate vaginas to surreal sculptures hanging off fingers, Lizzo-approved Frédérique Olthuis is redefining how we think about nails.

by Jan Hürxkens
28 November 2019, 8:00pm

“I consider myself an artist first-and-foremost, and I just happened to have found a medium in nail art to channel my creativity,” Amsterdam-based nail artist Frédérique Olthuis explains. With her intricate and offbeat nail creations she has set a new standard for manicures -- one where craft meets art. Whether it be a set of nails adorned with miniature vaginas, a set based on the literary characters of Dutch author Alma Mathijssen, an eccentric manicure of upcycled nails she had been saving for Duran Lantink’s AW20 show or working on a set of nails for Lizzo for a shoot with Alasdair McLellan – Frédérique is redefining what nail art can be with artful skill and a playful sense of humour.

Much like her work, the beginning of Frédérique's career as a nail artist was unconventional. For her 2010 graduation project at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, she created an art installation that resembled a nail salon in which she showcased her work. “From then on my interest in manicures as a medium for my art started to grow,” she says. After experimenting on herself and her friends, her interest turned into an obsession with experimental manicures. After expanding her pop-up nail salons she was named Maybelline's ‘Dutch nail art ambassador’, and spent three years working with the brand.

Her years spent at an art academy had in no way prepared Frédérique for the transition to the fashion industry. “Art school had taught me that what’s sellable isn’t art,” she says. “I spent years there unlearning how to decorate and make things prettier. Now I’m very thankful for that, because my approach to creating nail art is much more conceptual, or at times very intuitive. It’s something that definitely sets me apart from more traditional manicurists.”

When she started working on fashion shows and editorial shoots, Frédérique could finally let her freak flag fully fly and create nail art with no limits to her creativity. The result? The impossibly long rhinestone bedazzled manicure she did for a shoot with photographer Lois Cohen or the nails she did in collaboration with stylist Ogènda using led lights. “Working with so many talented people on those kinds of projects has really made me push myself even further in my creativity,” Frédérique explains.

Frédérique’s creations are unorthodox, playful and, at times, border on sculptural. Take, for instance, the spellbinding work she did for Dutch designer Ninamounah’s AW20 show, where the nails made it look like there was fashionable frosty slime dripping from the models’ fingers. Or a trompe-l'œil where she made use of nails to create a new nail, resulting in a droste effect. And a crazy fluorescent set fashioned by the nail artist that glows in the dark, which she jokingly adds was made “by using a substance that can only be described as some kind of kryptonite”.

Frédérique has even proven that our nail beds can spread a socio-political message, with a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie inspired set of nails that reads “We Should All Be Feminists”. One of her most recent creations features the logo created by Quinsy Gario for the Dutch Kick Out Zwarte Piet movement; Frédérique was donning that manicure herself to one of the protests against a blatantly racist tradition depicting blackface in the Netherlands last weekend. The discussion is once again garnering international attention, with people like Mykki Blanco, Waka Flocka and Kim Kardashian speaking out about the racist nature of the tradition. Though Frédérique was quick to point out that “activism isn’t fashion”, it's still an aesthetically pleasing way to have your voice heard, natch.

Along with fellow innovators and @nailsbymei, Frédérique is a part of a new generation changing what nail art can and should be. The question is, can she see a world where these more extreme and extravagant creations muscle their way into the mainstream? “I’d be more than happy to encourage more people to step out of their comfort zone,” she says, before joking: “I’ll help them give up their dexterity for an otherworldly manicure.”

nail art
Frédérique Olthuis