No visit to Seoul, South Korea, is complete without exploring the city’s trend-setting, directional beauty community.
Sure, there are sheet masks and BB creams, but the hottest trend of the moment in the country's capital city seems to be 3-D manicures, ranging from nails accessorized with chunky gemstones, piercings, chains, clusters of rhinestones, pom-poms and, really, anything you could possibly dream of.
Some of the biggest big players in Seoul’s funky nail art scene, like Unistella, for instance, have become Korean celebrities in their own right. Appointments at the Unistella salon can easily set you back $300 for original nail art, assuming you can get an appointment in the first place. But beyond the more-recognized names (you can now buy Unistella products at Korean beauty supply stores around the world) a few rising stars are carving out truly niche audiences for themselves within the Korean nail art scene. Based on some insider tips and a little Instagram research, one such salon is Tam2Na (You pronounce the “2” in Korean, so that’s “TAM-ee-NAH”— named after the founder, Tammy Na).
The salon itself is on a quiet side street not just in the fashionable borough of Gangnam, but in the even more exclusive neighborhood Cheongdam, just a few blocks away from Céline, Givenchy, and the local retailer Boon The Shop. Despite the glitzy locale, Tam2Na’s location is somewhat hidden. Enter through a nondescript door, go up a narrow and dimly lit staircase to the second floor and you arrive in a paradise of glittery K-Pop-inflected nail mania—posters of Korean celebrity clients line the walls, and all sorts of Korean plush toys and posters decorate the space. If Unistella is the glossy, polished behemoth of a Korean nail salons, Tam2Na is the unruly little sister.
“Bling-bling nails!” squeals Tammy Na as we sit down for an interview, giggling and showing off her latest manicure. Each nail has a small cluster of rhinestones on it, one of her signature styles. There are several other women working diligently, all of whom have several years’ worth of training in a traditional nail salon before they are allowed the artistic license of creating 3-D manicures. Ample training comes in handy, because the process itself is no small feat — appointments take at least two hours, starting with a thorough gel manicure. Then technicians work with the client to pick out the “stuff” to put on top, before carefully applying each piece. Gemstones and other large hardware are attached with a special gel painted on the back. Other designs such as inlaid wires or inlaid smashed glass can get more complicated. A particularly popular technique is the creation of scribbles and abstract designs — usually created by dripping a single, viscous thread of polish directly onto the nail with a paintbrush. “It is difficult to select trends, because all my clientele in particular have very strong sense of individual style” says Na. “But I have definitely noticed that vibrant, vivid colors are popular, and less so pale and pastel colors.”
And while Na refuses to take credit for inventing the 3-D manicure, she is proud to discuss her contributions to the trend. “What I try to do differently from other salons is focus on the quality of the nail, to make something that really lasts,” she says. “Most of my clients are regulars who come in every three or four weeks, and they know that my manicures have excellent quality.” She also claims to do the best 3-D pedicure in town, although that one is “only popular in summer when clients wear open-toe shoes,” she says.
It’s almost as if Tam2Na manicures were created for the social media age, created to be photographed and shown off. The salon’s Instagram is Na’s favorite way to showcase her work, and also attract new clientele including Korean celebrities Tiffany Hwang, Yoona Lim, Jiwoo Kim, Hey Park and the entire Girls Generation band.
“I get a lot of K-pop celebrities who come in before they have a big performance and want something to go with their outfit,” she says. “I’m lucky because everyone who comes through my door has seen my pictures on Instagram and is enthusiastic about what I do. I don’t get a lot of people looking for basic manicures here. They come because they love my work. It is very fulfilling.”
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