Lessons From Korea's Most Famous Nail Guru

Alicia  Yoon

It’s Korean Beauty Week here at Byrdie HQ! Each day this week, our Korean-beauty correspondent, Alicia Yoon of Peach and Lily, will be sharing the most interesting findings from her recent trip to Seoul. Consider this a deep dive into what’s really happening over the pond—from the newest product innovations to the beauty goods real Korean women are obsessing over. It's now Day 3, and you're about to meet the woman behind that shattered-glass manicure you're seeing everywhere—not to mention countless other impossibly gorgeous manicure ideas.

We don’t do too much with nails at Peach and Lily, but Eun Kyung Park’s nails were too intriguing not to explore as part of my beauty-trend-hunting trip back in Seoul. There are a lot of talented nail artists in Korea, but what stood out to me about Eun Kyung Park, founder and creative genius behind her nail studio and salon, Unistella, is her way of treating nail art as a true art form without compromise. She allocates two whole hours for every customer who walks through her doors (even if some sessions might end up being shorter), finds inspiration for her artwork in the unlikeliest of places, and is always experimenting with a wide range of media to create stunning art on nails.

Park has started trends in nail art that have taken Seoul by storm and are starting to trickle west: everything from #glassnails to #gemstonenails to #negativespacenails to #holenails.

Her Story

Although it seems like she came out of nowhere to become the talk of the beauty town, Park's journey took 14 years. When she was just 16 years old, she knew she wanted to become a nail artist. She borrowed her dad’s credit card to pay her way through nail academy thinking she’d pay him back (which she did) after she started her beauty career. In just three short years after becoming a nail artist, she was invited back to her academy to teach classes when word got around town about her talent and innovative ways of using acrylic paint to create surprising designs on nails. For the next decade, she taught at academies, gave lectures, and constantly pushed the nail industry forward by using different media on nails.

 

While she was teaching, she noticed that models in magazine spreads had bare, untreated nails, and she started calling publications to pitch that models should have nails that finish the rest of the thoughtfully created looks. Vogue Korea was the first magazine to call her back six years ago. In Korea, we have Park to thank for top stylists now including nails more prominently in overall looks. It’s no surprise that for the last seven years, she’s been a fixture backstage during Seoul Fashion Week. 

After all that she’d done in the industry, she took a bold step forward, and without any partners or funding, she took out all her savings to start her now star-studded studio and salon, Unistella. And she’s not looking back; she’s excited to keep experimenting and create more beautiful nail art, and will no doubt keep Seoul (and beyond) watching with anticipation.

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PHOTO: @aliciayoon212

The Glass Nails Phenomenon

I asked Park what the inspiration was behind the “glass shards” nail look that she created. With a pensive look, she told me that she’s always been fascinated by the multi-coloured iridescence in abalone shells, and for years, she had been looking for the right medium to recreate that look on nails.

One day, she saw a candy-wrapper that looked a bit like these shells, and she excitedly went home, cut up the wrapper, and glued them to her nails. The wrapper was too thick, but that was her "aha" moment this summer. She realised she could use cellophane paper to create this look, and used fragmented stained-glass architecture as a source of inspiration to best reflect light.

What happened next is amazing. Nail artists started to come to her studio to figure out what paper she was using, and the next thing you know, the particular cellophane paper provider ran out of stock… all because they were being bought up by nail art enthusiasts and salons alike. Within three short months, beauty conglomerate Amore Pacific gave her a call to collaborate: They would make pre-cut cellophane paper DIY glass nail pieces ($3) with her as part of their brand, Modi. Within the last four months, these nails have earned their own Instagram hashtag, #유리조각네일, and thanks to Park, we can all have some bling on our nails without cumbersome little stones that inevitably come off while you’re doing the dishes or taking a shower.

Park thinks the glass-nail trend took off because it’s eye-catching without being inconvenient. She’s working on developing more simple negative-space looks that are equally eye-catching, because the negative spaces jog the imagination as the mind works to fill in those spaces. She has also created the marbled nail look (#gemstonenails) in the past, and thinks it could be interesting to combine different elements of marbled or textured looks into the negative-space look as well. Whatever is next, we’ll be watching with bated breath, Park!

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