Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 13 News List

As hard as nails

Crystal nails are the latest must-haves for many young women eager to have the edge in the beauty game

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nature of fashion is change and it doesn't move much quicker than in Ximending, where Taipei's hipsters swell the crowds and seek out the latest trends, whether it's clothes, arcade games or music. Shops that are out of fashion shut down one day and open up the next catering to the latest fad, smelling of sawed wood, glue and paint.

"Crystal nails" are in at the moment.

Tattoos are out and parlors are going out of business. In their place, small salons are springing up that offer crystal nail extensions made of acrylic, in a rainbow of glossy colors, a geometry set of shapes and styles. Women sit around tables chatting, sipping tea perhaps and are seemingly idle, but in fact they are busy discussing what set of nails are best suited to a wedding, or how to look after them once they are applied.

"This is the latest trend," one nail-painting saleswoman in Ximending says, with the enthusiasm of someone who has discovered something important. "All women want to be beautiful and after taking care of your body, hair and skin, this is a good way to stand out from the crowd. Now everyone can have good nails."

Women probably started painting their nails as soon as they discovered them, but the first recorded instances of them doing so are are said to be in China 5,000 years ago. In the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) nail color indicated social status and the empress' fingernails were red and black. In Rome and Egypt military men painted their nails before a battle.

Today, it's the US that leads and acrylic nails were developed there in the 1970s, arriving in Japan 15 years ago. "Our background was in beauty care and hair and we introduced crystal nails about eight years ago," says Hu Xi-qin (胡錫欽), the manager of Kari Share Nails (凱瑞莎兒藝術指甲), which has six outlets in Taipei. "It did not catch on at first and it's still quite a small market, but it's growing and becoming a must-have for many women."

Hu says the reason for the increasing popularity of nail extensions is the upturn in the economy, more leisure time for women and changes in the workplace, meaning most jobs now do not involve hard manual labor and therefore broken nails. Also, fake nails used to be stuck to the tips or over the nail and could look ungainly and were liable to fall off. The new method is to build an acrylic extension to the nail, which looks and feels natural.

Kari Share employee Rina Zhou (周玉雯), 21, who studied at business school in South Africa, has just started nail painting, an apprenticeship that can take three to six months. "Before, women used to get their nails done for a special occasion, like a wedding, but now it's more of a natural thing to do and it's not necessarily fancy."

Our model for the day at Kari Share is Cobus du Plessis, an editor at the Taipei Times, who is encouraged by his girlfriend to find out what hard work beauty can be. His trained nail technician is Lin Fang-wen (林方玟), who has been at Kari Share for six years and helps run training sessions for the 40 employees gathered at the company headquarters on Chengde Road. She says most of her

customers are young, but not necessarily. She says they are not all women, either. "We see quite a few transvestites."

"People have different reasons for getting their nails done. It helps them feel better and more beautiful. It's also good to go with friends so that you can talk and compare. I like painting, so I like the job. Also, we can gossip and sometimes our customers become our friends," Lin says.

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