WAH Nails Founder Sharmadean Reid Spills On Her New Book, The Future Of Nail Art, And More!

WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid.
Photo: Via WAH Nails

Long story short: I’m obsessed with WAH Nails. Ever since I found out about the London-based nail art salon, I’ve been following (OK, stalking) their Tumblr for nail inspiration. I CANNOT get enough of their cool, punky-haired girl gang who dish out hundreds upon hundreds of killer mini masterpieces a week, so I knew I had to meet the founder behind one of the biggest nail art movements of the decade, Ms. Sharmadean Reid. Lucky for me, she stopped by NYC to promote her new book, The WAH Nails Book of Nail Art, and I chatted her up inside the luxurious W Union Square hotel while other ladies got their nails did. Truth be told, the beauty entrepreneur (who also works full time in Nike’s energy marketing department) is even more smart, poignant, and straight-up gorge IRL than she is online. She gave me ALL the deets about her new step-by-step nail art book, how MTV largely influenced who she is today, and what the future holds for WAH Nails (spoiler alert: It’s nail stickers!).

WAH Nails’ nail art.
Photo: Via WAH Nails

MTV STYLE: Describe the WAH Nails aesthetic to someone that’s never seen or heard of it before.

SHARMADEAN REID: I always say it’s like having a punk attitude with hip-hop aesthetic. I do everything myself, but it’s a street, sassy, downtown girl vibe. I’m into the same s*** I was into when I was 13. I knew about Supreme even though I’d never been to New York, so that’s the kind of girl it’s like.

What about the nail art? What makes yours stand out?

It’s very illustrative. We could easily do Japanese 3D nails, we can do anything, but what we’re best at and what we’ve created is a hand-painted, illustrative style. Whatever you want on your nail, we can paint it.

So, why a step-by-step tutorial book?

I made a feminist fanzine for cool, street fashion girls, and my background is in magazines, so I just love print, and I always wanted to do something print. Several publishers actually approached me to make a book, and quite a few people wanted to make a TV show.

Whaaat? A TV show? Are you going to do it?

Maybe, I’m not sure. It’s quite stressful. I just don’t like any stress! And if anything stresses me out, I’m like, “All right, I’m not doing it anymore. I’m over it.” But books are natural to me—my vice is books. I just buy thousands. The publisher we decided to go with is Hardie Grant because she let me do whatever I wanted. Everyone else had it in their mind what they thought it should be, and I thought, “But it’s my brand, and I know what it should be.” Every element of that book is WAH. It’s not anyone saying, “This sells a lot so we think you should do it like this,” and I really wanted girls to be able to take the brand home with them because we don’t have a full product range. The business is just me, and I can’t grow it that big, but what I can do is make something that’s on Amazon internationally and any girl can spend 10 pounds or 10 dollars and buy it.

Sharmadean Reid shows us her current nail game!
Photo: MTV Style’s Instagram

How did you choose which 25 nail designs to include in the book?

Oh, it was so hard! It was really difficult. I wanted it to be quite basic, so I set myself this rule that if the nail could be broken down into five steps, then it’s easy. It was designs that I thought really represented us and some that we created from scratch, like this Aztec print. I remember the day that we came up with it. It was Megan, my friend who worked with me on the beginning of this, she was wearing a pair of leggings with the print on it, and she’s like, “That would make a really good nail.” And we did it, and that design just blew up.

Where else do you look for nail art inspiration? Blogs? Tumblrs?

I look at the nail blogs sometimes, probably twice a year.

What! That’s IT?!

Yeah, because if I look more, I get a bit stressed out. Usually I’ll find inspiration mainly from fashion and art. I would say take a surface design approach to it, rather than thinking of it from a beauty angle. I go to a lot of exhibitions, like the Yayoi Kusama one at Tate Modern, and think how loads of those paintings could be transferred onto nails. That’s how I work.

You said fashion inspires you too, so which designers are your fave?

Prada. I always look at Prada for prints and inspiration. We did a Prada banana nail that was my idea. I’m always so busy, and I don’t always have time to implement the ideas as soon as I have them, but with that nail, I was like, “Oh my god, that’s going to make such a good nail. I gotta do it now before anyone else thinks of it,” and I did! So it went crazy on the blogs, which is good. Peter Pilotto, I love. His prints are incredible. Christopher Kane. It’s mainly designers who work with color and print because as much as I love Givenchy, it’s not a nail.

Is music a huge part of your inspiration process?

There’s a music page in my book! WAH isn’t just about nails, which is why I wanted to make a point to photograph my girl crew. They’re all my friends! I’m not going to hire some models to do my nails because I don’t give a s*** about models. What I give a s*** about is that I have so many cool girls around me, and they’re all doing interesting things, so I’m going to feature them. MTV really informed my childhood. I’m SUCH an MTV baby, I can’t describe it. I was raised by a single mom in a small town, and we didn’t have much, but we had cable. MTV was a really big part of my life. Massive. I just remember videos of everything growing up, and you can see from the style of the book—it’s so ’90s, so MTV style.

Sharmadean Reid’s new book ’The WAH Nails Book of Nail Art.’
Photo: Via “The WAH Nails Book of Nail Art’

Lots of people are saying that nail art is just a trend, do you think that’s true?

I think a statement like that is very generic because nail art has been around forever, but not the nail art that is now. If we’re looking at the last big wave of nail art, which was probably in the ’80s to the ’90s, it was very much airbrushed. It was quite ghetto. It was really tacky. It was a lot of Asian salons just doing the same thing over and over again. There was no conversation. There was no creativity there. Nail art now, to me, is anything that’s not just a plain polish—even if it’s just one gold stud on a nail. Secondly, I’d say it’s not a trend because I opened up the salon three years ago, and we still sell as much, if not more nails now than we did when we first opened. My books are selling really well. It was number one in the Fashion and Beauty charts on Amazon [UK]. I understand the process of how trends trickle down to market, and when we opened the salon, it was definitely that top 10 percent of style taste-makers who were experimenting with their nails the way we were doing. Now any girl in any small town will get them done.

So, what’s next for WAH Nails?

We’ve been working with Models Own, which is a British brand, and we’ve got this nail pen and crackle. We’re going to do a few of these designs as nail stickers. Unfortunately since they’re going into Boots—it’s like a Duane Reade pharmacy—our product range has to be commercial, which is quite frustrating. We’ll probably sell them on our website, and I think they’re coming out next month. We did do a collaboration with Minx, which is these three nail stickers, which we will also put on our website.

The WAH Nails Book of Nail Art is currently available for pre-sale on Amazon.com and will be released on July 10, 2012!

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