It’s impossible to keep up with New York Times inanity. Every day there’s something to be incredulous about — like “truth vigilante,” “men invented the internet,” or the time David Brooks said his 12-year-old son’s “heroes include John Boehner and Tupac Shakur.” Trying to read it all is like drinking from a fire hose, never mind producing comprehensive blog posts. To make a greater dent in the backlog, I am launching the “Trend of the Week” series. Each week, I will explore a recent (or not-so-recent) craze presented to us by the Paper of Record.
Today, we examine “Once Staid, Nail Polish Becomes Fashion Accessory,” by Style section colossus Ruth La Ferla. Nail polish has become a fashion accessory, as opposed to what it was before (a life-saving antiseptic, wound sealant and emetic in survival situations). La Ferla opens with an anecdote about Elizabeth Jagger, the daughter of Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger. “When she was no more than 10 or 12, Lizzie Jagger liked to paint English landscapes on a set of fake nails that she toted with her everywhere.” That’s adorable, but it happened over ten years ago — what is Liz Jagger doing in this article? Did La Ferla get her digits from Trudie Styler or Marianne Faithfull, and now she just wants to let us know what BFF’s they are?
In any case, Jagger’s “brush” (!) with nail greatness has ended. “Eventually she abandoned her hobby, partly, she joked, ‘because I couldn’t see a future in it.’ Oooh, Lizzie, if only you’d had a crystal ball. These days you might find yourself besieged by a veritable army of product developers, all eager to pick your brain.” You’re giving career advice to someone who made over $100,000 posing for Playboy? I would imagine model/actress Liz Jagger, face of Lancôme cosmetics, is at peace with her humble lot in life.
Anyway, these hypothetical product developers are besieging the hypothetical Jagger in search of “ways to turn nail polish… into a must-have capable of transforming nails into miniaturized canvasses for some of the nerviest experiments that fashion permit.” More nervy than that guy who dressed men up in pastel pencil skirts, padded Frankenstein sweaters, cropped dog-print vests and spiked rugby helmets? Fashion used to be nothing but outrageous experiments. I can’t believe they’re falling behind like this.
Indeed, “In recent months, cosmetics makers have invested in lacquers a kind of daring all but unheard of a decade ago, introducing innovations from glitter and crackled surface treatments to stick-on nail art and even scents, and imbuing their products with every color known to nature.” So while clothing designers were giving us homeless chic, lobster-claw shoes and high-waisted Bart Simpson underpants, cosmetic makers have been working on… glitter nail polish and stickers? Thanks for reinventing the wheel, guys. It’s nice to know that if all human culture is destroyed in a world war, the surviving remnants of our race will be able to reconstruct the works of Lisa Frank.
Innovations include such hues as “muddied orange, toxic green and shrieking mauve.” These colors do indeed sound radical, and if they don’t work out as nail polish, I suggest their makers go into the extreme sports drink biz. Such products are “snapped up by consumers intent on releasing their inner Nicki Minaj”; buyers are also lusting for “three-dimensional effects” (magic eye pictures, I can only assume) and “quirky patterns.”
“’Nails come in any way, shape or form,’ said Karen Grant, a senior analyst with the NPD Group, which tracks cosmetics trends.'”
This reminds one of nothing so much as the short story “If the Post-Impressionists Were Dentists,” in which one artiste insists a patient’s “bridge should be enormous and billowing and wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire!” I would love to know how this “anything goes” approach translates to manicures. Nails in the shape of a Möbius strip? A Mandelbrot set? A geodesic dome? A baobab tree? The Gömböc, a homogeneous self-righting object? Nicki Minaj wannabe walks into a nail salon, says “I want each nail in the shape of sphere eversion.” CHAOS ENSUES. The top geometry experts of the day, working around the clock to appease the fashionable masses. A veritable army of product developers would be knocking down the doors of algebraic topologists, demanding they invent novel forms. This is a great time to be a shape inventor! (Posing for Playboy still pays better, though.)
“[There was] a 67 percent increase in the sales of department store brands in 2011 over the previous year, and a jump of 29 percent for their mass-market counterparts, according to NPD, which tallied the combined sales at $710 million. The advent of brashly adventurous, and sometimes garish, colors and designs coincided roughly with the collapse of the Dow.” If La Ferla is referring to the 2008 collapse, other noteworthy occurrences in that year include the attempted assassination of Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Michael Phelps’ eight-time Olympic gold medal win, a total eclipse of the sun in Canada, Bill Gates’ retirement, and the My Bloody Valentine reunion tour. We shouldn’t just, like, assume everything is about the stock market. Any of these other events could have caused, or been caused by, the nail polish boom. For instance, were any of these nail product developers superstitious Canadians, or hardcore MBV fans? Did nail artisans’ devotion to their craft inspire Michael Phelps to strive for victory? Was Bill Gates waiting to retire until he could be sure sales of department store nail products would remain robust? It may take historians decades to untangle all these threads. (Further complicating matters, there was a different market crash in 2011, also known as the year Estonia adopted the Euro. Can we get Paul Krugman on this case?)
“The eye adjusts, and today the acid tints and swirling patterns that five years ago were outré have entered the mainstream.”
Thanks to the eye’s 540 million years of evolution, I can see in the dark, like, one second after switching off a lamp. How fucking long do you think it takes to adjust to a “swirling pattern”? In any case, the human retina can indeed process incoming visual imagery, and as a result there are a lot of products to choose from. “Indeed, there are more colors than in a pack of Skittles.” If my math is correct, that’s… more than five. This is even less impressive than the swirling patterns. I think La Ferla should have written, “There are more colors than there are Skittles at the Skittles factory, and some of the colors of the nail polishes are the same colors as Skittles, although thousands of them are not, due to fluctuations of the Dow.”
“…many of which can be applied in one’s bathroom.” Where does La Ferla suppose I applied nail polish before, on the deck of my yacht? “There’s a hot new breed of foods available at the grocery store, many of which can be eaten in one’s kitchen!”
After all this science and political economy, La Ferla gets down to nitty gritty, telling us about polish shades inspired by crazy stuff like menstrual blood and dirty laundry. “Elsewhere novelty seekers can choose brands like Layla, which offers holographic images, and Deborah Lippmann, which sells polishes embedded with iron particles. Hold a magnet over these, Ms. Lippmann, the company founder, explained, and its shape will appear, as if by magic, on the nail’s surface.”
“As if by magic“? I assume that’s a rough paraphrase, and that Deborah Lippmann’s actual explanation was a bit more lucid. At the risk of making a dated Insane Clown Posse reference, or being burned at the stake as a sorceress, the science behind magnets has been well understood for quite some time now. Anyway, there it is: an image of stripes, as if by magic. Readers who assumed they’d get a magical full-color reproduction of whatever was on their favorite magnet — cat photo, phone number for pizza delivery, a guy saying “College: The Best Seven Years of My Life!” — will be sadly disappointed. Also, the “holographic effect” referred to here, while undeniably cool, is nothing more nor less than an iridescent line.
Again, if any trend-chasers were expecting a polish that makes a cool picture, like the hologram unicorns that captivated us so in our youth, they are bound to feel chagrined. La Ferla should never become an art critic. Portraits in which the eyes “follow you around the room” must really blow her mind, and she’d probably end up getting confused and telling people Michaelangelo’s David is five-dimensional and will literally make love to you on the floor of the Uffizi Gallery.
“Even the most circumspect women are gravitating to nail salons to request piercings or 3-D effects.” The most circumspect? Like, the uptight mom in an 80’s sex farce, or the prissy fiancée in a rom-com about a guy who realizes he’s in love with the free-spirited florist he met two weeks before the wedding? This person is going into a beauty salon and asking for Hologram Tupac and safety pin piercings on her nails? The audience for the next Austen or Brontë adaptation is going to be so confused.
A spokeswoman for some salon “recalled that one customer arrived with a photograph of her boyfriend, asking to have his image replicated on her thumb.” I think this woman might actually be one of the least circumspect. I once saw a truck at the car wash that had been airbrushed with images of other trucks, but I didn’t go around telling everyone that “even the most circumspect motorists were now embracing the exuberant self-referential truck art trend” or whatever.
“Until about a month ago, Julie Solomon, a client at TenOverten in TriBeCa, favored translucent pink nails that discreetly complemented her black-on-black wardrobe [N.B. I think she is referring to translucent polish; you can’t make your body’s organic tissues turn see-through, no matter what color scheme you are trying to match]. Reluctant to try something new, she finally succumbed, and last week had her nails glitter-coated.” Glitter again! “‘I was taking a chance,’ said Ms. Solomon, 44. ‘But I got so many compliments, especially from women asking where they could have the same thing done.'” Have you guys noticed that the women interviewed in the Style section will go to a salon for literally any fucking thing? They can’t blow-dry their own hair or tweeze their own eyebrows. If somebody manages to turn putting on chapstick into a demi-permanent aromatherapeutic salon treatment, bitches will be signing up for waiting lists.
Likelihood that trend exists: 9/10
Importance of trend in grand scheme of things: 1/10
Adherence to trend piece formula: 10/10 (check out flawless Paragraph of Statistics and ITCET!)
Best aspect of author’s writing style: Is friends with Elizabeth Jagger
Suggestion for improving author’s writing style: High-school science refresher course