my kit: nail artist madeline poole on russian nail salons and hand selfies

In the second installment of My Kit, a new feature in which we get industry pros to share their best products and trade secrets, we hang out with #manicure pioneer Madeline Poole.

by Alice Newell-Hanson
22 June 2015, 7:20pm

photography brayden olson

While it's easy to call Madeline Poole a nail artist, she's really more of a creative director of tiny spaces. From her roughly ten-by-five-foot office in Soho (itself a case study in how to do a lot with a little), she sketches out elaborate inch-long manicure designs for editorials and helps dream up the nail trends that will be taking over your Instagram two years from now. "I feel more like a designer than a technician," she says, "I conceptualize things."

Those things could be the squiggled, ribbon-inspired nails she created for a recent Adam Selman presentation, intricate floral patterns inspired by Dries Van Noten skirts or a runway concept for Stella McCartney, where she regularly heads up the team backstage.

Poole fell into nails after graduating from art school in Baltimore and moving to Los Angeles. "I was doing a million odd jobs and broke as a joke," she laughs. "One day, I was on set assisting a prop stylist and there was air-conditioning and catering, and I just thought, 'If I can do this every day it would be lovely.'" A few days later, she set up her own mini salon in her apartment and started doing her friends' nails and posting pictures to Tumblr and then Instagram.

If hand selfies are a thing now, which apparently they are, Madeline was one of the genre's pioneers. "No one was really on Instagram when I started," she says, "When I look back, my pictures are so bad - so many filters and borders! I've learned so much over the last few years. You can take a very, very bad picture of a hand." While the many traumatizing #handjobpose images you can see on Instagram today are proof of that fact, there probably wouldn't be four million #manicure posts if it weren't for Poole - and hers are undoubtedly some of the best. We sat down to talk about her hard-learned trade secrets.

There's always a new nail trend blowing up on Instagram - what's next?
There are a bunch of companies coming out with a glaze that looks like the inside of a lava lamp. You put it on over white or silver polish and the paint swirls into these amazing patterns.

What countries make the coolest nail products?
Japan is so good, but Korea is secretly the best. Russia is also amazing — it has its own unique style. There is a really interesting nail gel sheen in Russia that I can't find anywhere else. It has a pearly, milky, metallic finish and I've only seen it at this one salon. There's a very unique way of doing nails there: super clean and elegant but also very Russian — they use a lot of red, crystals and florals...

What's the coolest look you've done for a shoot recently?
It's not out yet so I have to be vague but it was a punk story with a 90s supermodel. It was the first time that someone said, "You can do whatever you want on the nails" and truly meant it. I showed the photographer this acid-wash, tie-dye design with flowers on top of it and smiley faces, and he was like, "Go for it." Usually people are very safe, which I get. But doing a clear nail over and over again becomes a little boring.

Will you ever start your own line?
One day! I'm exposed to a lot of products and I've done a lot of research on trips to Japan, for example. So I have a crazy collection of things - from unusual colors to weird gemstones - that I'd love to make into my own products eventually.

What five products do you use the most?
1. Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat... It dries really fast and doesn't chip. It also doesn't smear nail designs, like a lot of other top coats.
2. Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover… It just makes your cuticles disappear! I don't know how, but it does.
3. Dr. Hauschka Neem Nail Oil… It's great for cuticles and nail beds.
4. Aesop Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm... I mix it with oil for hand massages.
5. Striping brushes… I buy these very generic empty nail polish bottles online that come with really thin brushes - they're perfect for drawing details. I put acetone in the bottles, to keep the brushes wet, then you can use them with any other nail color and they won't clump.

Any other pro tips for DIY nail art?
I use metallic electrical tape from the hardware store for creating strong lines. And angled brushes dipped in acetone for cleaning up edges. Plus, glitter pens are great because they're really dense with sparkles. Sometimes though, if I want full disco nails, I just paint my nails either metallic or clear then dip them in loose glitter.


Related: Makeup Artist Francelle Daly on Amazon Beauty Finds and Growing up Goth


Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Brayden Olson

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madeline poole