best of new york

The Best Nail Artists in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty

For Gemstones

Sarah Nguyen; @chrmdbysarah

Sarah Nguyen worked at Ammon Carver Studio before setting up a studio in her Bushwick home, where she specializes in ornate, bejeweled manicures. Brand consultant Jenn Jann first saw Nguyen’s work on a friend’s set of opal-adorned nails based on a family heirloom. Jann immediately booked with Nguyen; her first set (from $150) by Nguyen was a nude-colored Japanese gel with one gem on each nail (Japanese gel is known to last longer than other professional gel products), but she’s since progressed to more intricate designs, like a set fashioned after the 2018 Met Gala theme “Heavenly Bodies” — specifically a cross necklace by Dolce & Gabbana. “She knows how to interpret my ideas without making it so literal,” says Jann of the mix of gems (rubies, emeralds, and pearls — but no sapphires so that it wouldn’t look gaudy) set on nude polish. “If I brought those photos to somebody else, they would’ve just followed the pattern of the jewelry as closely as possible. Sarah understands how to balance everything out.” Even with the glued-on hardware, Jann says, her manicures typically last five weeks, thanks to the way Nguyen places gems on areas less prone to chipping, like the middle of the nail instead of the tip.

For Nail Art in Under Two Hours

Miki Higuchi;

Before going freelance, Miki Higuchi worked at the Lower East Side studio Akiko Nails, known for its custom nail art. Two years ago, consultant Katryna Howard was actually getting her nails done by another Akiko manicurist when she saw how quickly Higuchi worked on another client. “I could tell based on her intricacy and how fast she was, from manicuring cuticles to painting nail art, that I needed to book with her,” says Howard, who asked the receptionist for Higuchi’s name and returned soon after for a light-purple cloud design on one hand and orange slices on the other (from $100). Former beauty editor Alexa Tietjen agrees, calling Higuchi, who takes appointments from her Greenpoint home, meticulous but still remarkably speedy. Tietjen has gone to Higuchi since 2016 and says that with other manicurists, getting gel removed often takes half an hour. “With Miki, this takes like 15 minutes,” she says. “You could be out of there in an hour.” Tietjen’s most recent set with Higuchi was a red-and-gold Dragon Ball Z design with flying nimbus tips, and the entire appointment took an hour and a half — the same amount of time, Tietjen says, it takes other salons to do one set of solid-color nails.

For House Calls

Naho Watanabe; @_art_for_nails_by_naho

This past April, influencer Anthony Urbano booked an appointment at a studio near his apartment for custom Japanese-gel nail art. He got paired with Naho Watanabe, who painted his nails with smiley faces, leopard print, a checkerboard, and squiggles exactly as hoped. Watanabe now works out of a shared studio space in midtown but takes house calls with her Manhattan clients, booking her studio sessions around them, and Urbano has switched to booking Watanabe’s in-home appointments (from $90). About a week ahead, they’ll trade messages with nail-art ideas so Naho knows what to bring. “She knows my style now, so she often sends me DMs from Japanese nail-design accounts, so I can start thinking of my next set,” says Urbano, who most recently got a design with chrome drip and flames. On the day of, Naho brings a rolling bag of supplies, with polishes, a UV-light station, and brushes, and just needs a decent amount of table space to set up. (Urbano likes to use his coffee table.) Urbano’s sessions typically take two and a half hours, during which time he watches TV, listens to his Spotify stations, and gets to “chat more freely with Naho, since there are no other clients around.”

For a Signature Nail

Jacqueline Pham at DJ Nails NYC, 34-59 Junction Blvd., North Corona;

Nail artist Jacqueline Pham’s designs (from $150, plus from $50 for designs) range from neon French tips to butterfly graphics, swirly line art, and even holiday-themed spiderwebs and gingerbread-cookie paint jobs. So when actress Serena Kerrigan decided in 2020 that she wanted a signature nail design — something that would pop on-camera when she was creating Instagram Live content — she took her request to Pham. The two of them created what’s become Kerrigan’s trademark set: a mix of red heart-shaped tips painted on stiletto acrylic nails, which Kerrigan says she’s gotten at least 20 times. (She’s even spotted someone replicating the design while dressing up as her for Halloween.) The hearts are Kerrigan’s favorite design, but “I still appreciate that Jacqueline pushes me to try new designs outside of my usual routine,” she says. For the release of Kerrigan’s Let’s Fucking Date card game, for instance, Pham designed a custom set that spelled out the game’s name. She included paint and gems on the underside of the nails, Kerrigan says, because “she knows that people are going to see underneath my nails when I’m showing products.”

For Hermès and Nike Logos

Alex Smith at GBY Beauty, 526 W. 26th, Studio 517;

During lockdown, podcaster and streetwear designer Jourdan Ash ordered a set of custom hand-painted press-ons from nail artist Alex Smith, who sold them online while she couldn’t see clients. The design was a riff on BAPE’s camouflage pattern, and Ash liked it so much that once appointments became available again, she booked a session with Smith for gel extensions (from $120 for single colors; from $170 for custom designs) and has gone back for Nike Air Max–inspired nails, a set with “Pisces” written in a nameplate font, and a $2 bill design (Louis Vuitton’s monogram and the Hermès logo are other popular Smith designs). The designs look stamped on, Ash says, but Smith paints everything by hand without stencils. “She’s so detailed I know my nails are never going to look like another girl’s nails,” says Ash. Alyssa Ackerman, Hypebae’s social-media coordinator, has gone to Smith for over a year now — most recently for a set in gold, dark teal, and brown based on the Nike x Jacquemus collaboration — and says the same thing: “If I’m tapping through Instagram and see someone’s nails, I can tell if it was done by Alex or not.”

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The Best Nail Artists in New York