Jenny Longworth explains the science behind nail art and how to build a successful beauty career.
The hyperfocused career of nail technician and manicurist Jenny Longworth is proof that if you're good at something, you should stick with it. She has polished and bedazzled the nails of Rihanna, Adele, and Jessie J and crafted eye-catching creations for Gucci and Topshop runway shows. Not bad for someone who got her first set of acrylic nails as a teenager simply because she thought they would put an end to her nail biting.
Longworth's creations (which include pearled-covered nails and ink-dipped fingers) are always meticulous and chic. Perhaps that's because she began manicuring her own nails out of perfectionism, figuring she could do a better job herself. Well, she was right. After taking an evening nail tech course, Longworth switched from chasing her acting dreams to enrolling at London College of Fashion for makeup design.
What has followed is a career of working with loyal-AF celeb clientele/friends (Rihanna and Longworth once got tattoos at the same time) and creating show-stealing nail art. She generated serious buzz after the Gucci Cruise 18 show in May where, as lead manicurist, she worked with creative director Alessandro Michele and others to create 3D nail art using antique jewelry. And in between all the shows and editorials, the Birmingham-raised artist has found time to act as a brand ambassador for Revlon and consult for major brands. Longworth talks to us about carving out a niche for herself, how i-D was her first break into the industry, and why she welcomes the death of the nude nail trend.
What does being a creative nail artist in this industry entail?
I think people underestimate the technical part of it. People are just like, "So all you do is nails? Not makeup, too? Just nails?" It's actually very scientific — knowing your product, how the nail lasts, and what to do when things go wrong.
How did you get into focusing on nails specifically?
Obviously I was good at it, but it was kind of the timing and feeling that I could progress faster in nail tech than I could in makeup. People were just starting to take to the idea of having someone on set dedicated solely to nails. Before that, people were just getting a makeup artist to slap on nail polish. Of course there were great nail artists, like Marian Newman and Andrea Fullerton, but you could usually count them on one hand. My first editorial work was for i-D back in 2005.
On Instagram you talked about minimalist nail art being the look of summer. What other nail trends should we keep an eye out for?
I think nail art in general is coming back in style. It went really dead for a while. Everything was "nude 90s" and "chic." I think the Gucci Cruise 18 show was really influential - every month on Instagram I see some kind of embossed nails or Swarovski crystal nail art.
You also worked on that Gucci show! What was it like interpreting Alessandro Michele's vision and then seeing it be heavily referenced?
It's so satisfying to me. As a nail technician, doing a nude nail over and over can be a bit disheartening and make you go, "What's the point?" But to do something really creative and see people put their own twist on it and have it trickle down to the mainstream? That's what fashion is really about.
Working with Alessandro is exciting. With him, it's all about adding something else and adding something else. He'll give me some direction and I'll go away and play with mints and finishes and shades. Nails are really like adding another accessory and layer for him. I think that's really beautiful.
What changes have you seen take place in the beauty industry?
Before, we literally had to physically go out and make our contacts. Now, it's easier. [Young artists] have the whole world at their fingertips. But in a lot of ways, it can be a bit detrimental because people pick up bad habits. You can't "learn" something off YouTube. How do you know what they're doing is the right and safe way?
Speaking of the internet, your Instagram account has almost 30K followers. How has social media influenced you and your work?
I have a real love/hate relationship with it. In a way, it is positive and exciting. All the new nail techs coming in are having such a different experience and social media is opening up way more avenues for them. But it's now at the point where brands will only sign people if they have an Instagram. I feel bad for the makeup artists who have been working for years when bloggers who have been doing this for [a short time] get a contract. But that's what brands are interested in, because it gets more attention and eyeballs — so it makes sense. Like I said, I have a very love/hate relationship with it.
What are your favorite i-D shoots you've worked on?
I love the one I did with Kate Moss — that was mega! Oh, and my one with Adele. Actually… I think that was the first time I met her. That was the start of a long period of work between us.
Where do you want to see yourself in 10 years?
My dream is to have my own nail product line. Everyone is like, "Why don't you just do it now?" but I think it's about doing it at the right time. It's a big commitment, financially, and at the minute I'm really enjoying my job. When I'm at home, I can relax. I'm nearing 34 now, but I'm still like 16 in my head! I don't think I'm ready for it. It's about baby steps. The ambassadorship with Revlon has taught me things like how to promote a brand and sell products. Now, I'm doing consulting for a brand and am really learning about making formulas and testing different shades — which is exactly what I wanted to do next. So... I'm getting there.
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Photography Pietro D'Aprano/ Getty Images