Polish has become the ultimate fashion accessory.
"Nails are a fashion accessory and it's the cheapest accessory you can buy," says O.P.I's international spokesperson Joey Brown, explaining the obsession with ever more adventurous colour choices. She admits to "still loving the dark trend - plums and browns - but grey is popular now, taking the place of black and navy".
Grey, from charcoal to silver light, won't be going away any time soon, with Chanel's head of makeup Peter Phillips using it as his "hero" shade at Paris Fashion Week this month, guaranteeing it will turn up on-counter months down the track. It's one of the "new neutrals", colours that once would have been considered odd, but, when well suited to the wearer's skin tone, now look subtly sophisticated in comparison to the hyper-brights and extreme darks that abound.
Other "new neutrals" include creamy tans and sea-foam greens.
Brown's own passion for trying the latest look is clearly undimmed after her 26 years with the company which has led the colour craze from runway to suburban shopping mall.
When we talk trends during her New Zealand visit to introduce O.P.I Gels (the latest in a line-up of quick-dry, chip-free, long-wear salon nail applications), she is wearing a dark metallic teal polish. Such moody shades and glimmering finishes figure strongly in winter nail collections from a number of fashion-forward brands. Coppery colours are also showing up in a suitably autumnal way.
The future promises more decorative nail art and stick-ons, says Brown. Another fad that you - or your daughter - can try at home is to alternate nail colours on different fingers and toes. If you have a steady hand try combining contrasting colours on one nail. (She recommends the dark purple Lincoln Park After Dark, with hot coral Cajun Shrimp.)
O.P.I's top-selling colour in New Zealand is Black Onyx, with Black Shatter (worn over a bright) not far behind. Overseas, Shatter is also big, with eight shades now available in the crackle-finish polish.
Brown says the preferred length for nails remains short, with a natural shape that is a little more rounded than what has been the prevailing square-oval end.
Holland is the inspiration for O.P.I's latest collection of nail colours, allowing the clever team that names the lacquers added artistic licence. So we get Did You 'Ear About Van Gogh?, which also explains the choice of collection launch venue, at the Auckland Art Gallery where the Degas to Dali exhibition includes work by the Dutch artist. His name has been attached to a grey-beige neutral described by one guest as looking suitably waxen.
Another good new "neutral" is the cool green Thanks a Windmillion. Stronger shades, such as dark purple or hot orange, also feature in the Holland collection under the names Vampsterdam and A Roll in the Hague. All cost $24.90 each.
With O.P.I being owned by big beauty company Coty, which is a responsible for many celebrity fragrances, the company milks the star association, churning out collections with the likes of the Kardashians, Nicki Minaj and even Justin Bieber. There's also movie hook-ups, the next being a Spider-Man collection mid-year.
HARD AS NAILS
Better, faster, shinier, that's the claim for O.P.I's new GelColor lacquer, which after a week on my nails is still going strong.
I've been down this track before, though, initially impressed with Shellac, O.P.I Axxiums and several other fast-dry, no chip, long-wear nail coatings. The eventual problem is that after a couple of contented weeks' wear I've found on removal with an acetone soak that my formerly healthy nails have been left dehydrated, temporarily brittle and prone to flaking.
O.P.I says its gels are healthier than the other systems and easier to remove. Fingertips are placed in an acetone wrap for 10-15 minutes avoiding a soak and any scrape. Spokesperson Joey Brown said competitors had done a good job in marketing their products, but O.P.I had spent more time perfecting its version. "What we see out there is a lot of hybrids [half gel, half polish]; they are hard to remove, thick in the bottle and harder for the technician to apply."
I found the application of GelColor was easy, but used the same steps as the other systems, involving several coats, each being briefly light cured. Curing time at 30 seconds per coat is faster than standard gels.
I'll wait until it is off before delivering my final verdict, but I think the process will remain, for me, a special occasion one. Natural, healthy, nails will do fine for everyday or I can apply a quick lick of polish, despite the chips that inevitably occur.
It's also a bore (and an expense) returning to the salon for a gel or hybrid polish removal, especially if you're not wanting another application. I don't much like the idea of having my hands regularly under a UV light, but Brown says in using LED rather than UV light, GelColor exposes the skin to no more ageing UVA rays than you would get opening the door on a sunny day and walking out and straight back in. "If you are at all worried, put on a sunblock."
My quibbles aside, many women like the confidence that comes from knowing their nails look neat. Salons report more and more repeat customers are switching away from a straight paint job. The trade in acrylics is all but dead, but that's a plus given the damage they can cause.
One of O.P.I's big selling points is that its GelColor offers a choice of 30 of its most popular lacquer colours.
Brown says the system won't replace Axxiums because that allows for strengthening overlays on natural nails and the thicker finish means technicians can get more creative, mixing in glitters and other special effects.
Good technicians are vital to getting a good result with any system. I've had my nails coated too thickly with gels and they look ugly, especially around the cuticle as the nail grows. It is important that the technician ensures the nail tip is sealed. Though gels don't usually chip, if they are not properly sealed a piece can peel back.
An expert who has used all the systems is Petrina Martin of Magic Tan & Nails, Remuera, whose business, along with Verdo Nails, served as official nail gurus at the New Zealand Fashion Festival. Martin told Viva that O.P.I GelColor was best for people with relatively strong nails as those with weaker nails might need repairs. She likes that it comes off "very easily" and says the gel colours are true to their polish counterparts and glide on easily. "It has been fantastic for toes and will last around six to eight weeks without dulling."
Like the Colour Gloss system which she rates highly, GelColor is best with a builder gel (base coat) underneath to ensure it adheres properly. Miller matches systems to suit client's nails and the experience she has built up using them.
If you experience problems with any of these systems it may be that technicians are cutting corners, so keep an eye on application and ask about the steps involved.
* O.P.I GelColor is a salon-only service, with costs varying, but expect to pay $30-$45 (excluding full manicure), ph 0800 144 562 to find your nearest stockist.
MAKE A DATE
To tie-in with Viva's wedding section this week we asked Amber McIver of Verdo Nails in Parnell what the well-manicured bride was wearing. Tradition still exists, she says, with 90 per cent choosing a French manicure. "It works perfectly with their gowns and looks amazing in photos."
The big change is the continued move away from polish, with brides opting for the likes of Shellac so they can come in two to four days before the wedding to get their hands and feet done without fear of chips. Big wedding bookings are common, with mothers, sisters, and in-laws joining the bride and bridesmaids.
Brides mostly choose the colour for their bridesmaids, with pale pinks most popular - "keeping them tidy and not to outdo the bride".
Women who did not choose a French manicure were usually still drawn to soft pink shades, but some were going for bright reds or hot pinks. "We tend to find that brides who have smaller non-traditional weddings, or who are on their second wedding, then they are the ones who are choosing to do something a little non-traditional."
For the feet also, most brides were choosing a soft pink, with Shellac's Strawberry Smoothie and O.P.I's Hawaiian Orchid often requested. "If the bride is choosing bright fingers we are finding she is choosing matching toes."
McIver also mixes Shellac, blending several shades to create a custom colour to match dresses.
SHINY NEW THINGS
Women who like the freedom of changing their nail colour frequently or avoiding the salon, will likely stick with polish over hybrid and gel coatings. Two new options are set to deliver gel-like shiny results. First out in mid-May comes Revlon ColorStay Longwear Nail Enamel which claims to last up to 10 days when worn with base and top coats. The 24 shades will be priced at $18.50 each.
I've been testing the reformulation of Lancome's nail polish Le Vernis in Love, which launches in late May. It is impressively shiny and a patented brush makes it possible to properly finish even a bright or dark nail with just one coat. This won't last beyond a few days, but it is a real timesaver if you're not keen on the more lasting option of applying multiple layers. Initially there will be just 11 shades, but they are classics, with limited edition fashion colours to be introduced each season. At $28 a bottle, the price is mid-range, certainly not the usual case for a prestige brand where nail colours can set you back a whopping $50.