The French manicure has long been a favorite of nail salon frequenters and DIY enthusiasts alike. But somewhere down the line, the simple ivory tipped slick of ballerina pink polish morphed into aggressive-looking square-cut acrylic talons beloved by Z-list celebutantes and reality TV “stars’ and quick fell into disrepute.
In recent seasons, and much to the joy of the fashion-savvy secret French mani fans, the look was reclaimed by couture fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel, catapulting it back in to the forefront in a more subtle, muted form.
Despite what the name may suggest, the French manicure has little to do with France. According to Jeff Pink, the founder of pro-nail care brand Orly, it was actually him that came up with the idea when he was working as a movie makeup artist on set in Hollywood back in 1975. We sat down with the manicure legend on his latest visit to Dubai, where he told us the full story of its creation and revealed his trend predictions for the coming seasons.
Orly has been on the market for nearly 40 years, congratulations! Let’s go back to how it all began. What drove you to get into the nail industry?
Back in the seventies, I had a dream to open a chain of perfumery stores in the United States. But in the US everything is sold in department stores; it’s not as personal. So instead I decided to go into the professional industry by opening a beauty supply store. I started working with studios in Hollywood and I realized that the nail business was still in its beginnings and had a long way to go. At the time, the only things available in nail care were base coats, top coats, and nail color. No strengthener, no quick dry, no treatments at all. There was one very primitive product on the market called Juliette, which protected the nail with a layer of glue with a thin paper on top. Even though it was successful, it was a big mess. So I decided I needed to do something better, and I created a strengthener by mixing nylon fibers in a base coat. So when it was painted on to the nail, it created a protective mesh that really worked very well. The second product I ever developed was the ridge filler, which was basically baby powder mixed with a base coat which smoothed the nail bed. And things really started to take off from there.
You’ve been credited with the creation of the French manicure. How did that come about?
I used to supply the studios in Hollywood with different cosmetics. One day a director came to me and asked me to create a versatile manicure that would look good with any dress. Back then, they would change the nail polish with every outfit change, and that was very time-consuming.
So I went back to my store and started experimenting and I looked at the white pencil that was around at the time that women would put under their nails to whiten the tips. I liked it but I wanted a stronger look, but at that time there was no white nail polish – nobody used it. So I called the factory and asked them to send me a gallon of white nail polish and the supplier said to me “Jeff, are you crazy? Who’s going to wear it?” So I developed the look with the white tip and took it back to the director and he loved it. Luckily for me, Barbara Streisand and Cher both appeared on the Johnny Carson show wearing French manicures and after that, everyone wanted one. By the way, the original name of the product was The Natural Nail Look Kit, which was descriptive but not catchy. I recreated the look on the Paris runways and on my way back to the US, I decided to call it the French manicure.
How do you think the industry has developed since then?
Nail care has become more accessible to women from all walks of life. It can be tricky to do your own hair, for example, but it’s easy to do your own nails. We came out with different colors, textures, glitter, neon, and we gave women a tool to express themselves. Nails are an affordable luxury. Should you choose to, you could have a different color morning, noon, and night.
What’s been your most popular color ever?
In the seventies, I developed a range of colors which I called the Winery collection and I gave each polish the name of a movie actress like Monroe Red or Crawford Wine, both of which have been in our top ten best sellers for the last 35 years. They’re classics.
Is there a trend you’ve seen that you really dislike?
It’s a very personal thing. Some might like dark colors, brights, or matte looks. In my opinion the worst thing you could possibly do to your nails is to not do anything to them at all.
After creating so many products to care for nails, what is the latest innovation?
I’m still very involved in product development as it’s something I really love, and we have our own research lab where we create new technologies. We just came out with the first BB cream for nails. It has brighteners in it, it smoothes the surface, protects the nail, and gives a very subtle, healthy sheen.
When it comes to color collections, we invest a lot in researching trends, fashion, and so on and then we interpret it and tailor it to our clients’ needs. When we create a new color, we test it on over 200 people in our company for quality control. We also have great new argan-based cuticle oil and hand cream, which are very hydrating and nourishing.
So what trends are hot for the coming seasons?
For the summer we have the Baked collection, which is a selection of bright neons infused with heat-treated pigments and special minerals that deliver a super smooth application in amazing summer shades. For fall, we have the Smoky collection, which is inspired by the makeup palette collections, pastels, and smoky eyes. We actually introduce the new colors internationally two months ahead of the United States.
Where do you think nail care is headed with regards to technology? What more can be added?
We are constantly coming out with unique colors and textures. We look for new ingredient stories. Last year we came out with the FX collection, in which we used ground glass to create a very unique texture on the surface of the nail and made the polish last longer. With imagination, the sky is the limit.
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Photos: Courtesy of ORLY