As the go-to manicurist of fashion editors, top photographers, preeminent designers and A-list stars, Jin Soon Choi is a celebrity in her own right. But in talking to her, you’d never know it. Down to earth, enthusiastic, humble and totally cool in a real girl’s girl kind of way, the Korean-born, Manhattan-dwelling Jin makes you feel like an old friend in a matter of minutes.
We connected with Jin, who recently teamed up with Nordstrom to sell her award-winning eponymous collection of JINsoon nail polishes, each named by one of the models she regularly works with. In honor of the new partnership, Jin created a gorgeous nail-art design exclusively for our Beauty Blog. Here, she reveals her inspiration and how-tos for this unique look—and fesses up about her own nails.
BEAUTY CONNECTIONS: This nail design is so artistic—it looks like a [modern abstract expressionist] Jasper Johns painting.
JIN SOON CHOI: Well, I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you’re right! I’m a huge fan of modern abstract art—MoMA is my favorite museum and I go there all the time, so maybe I was subconsciously influenced. More than anything, I wanted to create a design that was simple, modern and artistic, one that really shows the raw brushstrokes. I love the idea of irregularity, because it lets you have more creative freedom and it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. In fact, that imperfection only makes it better: your mistakes become your art!
Well that’s good news for all of us shaky-handed coffee drinkers in Seattle…
(laughs) Or anywhere! Another thing that inspired me: I was at your Seattle store recently and noticed how much modern art there was hanging on the walls. I wanted to make a design connection to that.
Map, 1961 by Jasper Johns (image courtesy of MoMA)
And the blue shades, what inspired those?
My family lives in Olympia, Washington [south of Seattle], so I’m out there often and love it. I was thinking about the rain and all the surrounding water [from Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean]. And the sky out there is so big and open—completely different from my city life—so I wanted to convey the idea of all those colors in an abstract way.
Just curious: How do you do your own nails? Are you into colors or more nude looks?
Actually, I don’t wear any polish…I’m always doing other people’s nails, in the salon or on shoots, and I want to be able to focus completely on my work and not worry about messing up my own manicure.
What about for special events or a fun night out?
Even then, I don’t wear polish—it takes too much time and I’m just too impatient. I always try to keep my nails cut short, to look neat and professional. To be honest, as I’ve gotten older I’ve also become a bit self-conscious about my hands. When I have more time, I want to develop some good skincare products for hands and feet!
Backstage at the Vera Wang spring ’14 show (photo collage courtesy of Jin Soon Choi)
Lots of the magazine covers and fashion shows you’ve done recently have featured nude nails, which deviates from some of the trends for this season.
I really do appreciate colors for nails, but truly high fashion is all about simple, classic, elegant beauty, especially in Europe, where I do a lot of my shoots [with fashion photographer Steven Meisel, who uses Jin for nail styling on all of his editorials]. The clean-looking nail is so much more my personal style. It’s funny: I did create some glitter polishes for my holiday collection, and some of my friends were like, ‘Glitter? You?!’ I told them, ‘Don’t worry, it’s subtle—and still very me!’
Speaking of being ‘you,’ you seem remarkably unaffected considering all the attention you’ve gotten and the star circles you work in.
I just want to hold on to my identity, to be real—I’m still just a manicurist, after all! I feel so blessed by the amount of support I’ve gotten as I’ve launched my company. All the models I’ve worked with were so excited to help me name my products, even though I couldn’t afford to pay them. They just wanted to be there for me as friends.
I also want to stay true to my longtime clients and try to get into the salons at least once every other week. I have an emotional connection there: when you do someone’s nails every week, you hear about her life, her work, her kids, and you get personally invested in her. It’s important to me to keep in touch with my customers—they’re like family!
How to Create Jin’s Exclusive Nail Art:
Step 1: Start with a clean background, painting one coat of JINsoon ‘Tulle’ Nail Lacquer (a neutral, milky nude polish that doubles as a base coat) on all nails.
Step 2: Begin applying your ‘brushstrokes.’ The key to this effect is to make sure you wipe your brush on the lid edge really well so you don’t have too much polish. Jin begins her brushstrokes at the top but says you can go any direction you like: top to bottom, side to side—remember, it’s YOUR art! Use JINsoon ‘Rhapsody’ Nail Lacquer, a deep navy named by model Coco Rochas.
Step 3: Add more brushstrokes with JINsoon ‘Blue Iris’ Nail Lacquer, a brilliant marine color named by model Saskia de Brauw.
Step 4: Layer on some final brushstrokes with JINsoon ‘Poppy Blue’ Nail Lacquer, an electric, minty blue named by model Tati Cotliar.
Step 5: Finish with JINsoon Top Gloss & Coat to seal in the colors and protect your masterpiece.
Want to check out more amazing nail polishes? Shop our full JINsoon collection.