The pink-and-white French manicure has been a salon staple ever since Orly founder Jeff Pink introduced the look at the Paris fashion shows in 1978. As the demand for nail art has exploded in recent years, however, the service’s popularity has waned, dropping off many salon menus all together … that is, until now. French manicures are popping up all over Instagram feeds lately, with celebrities and salon clients once again requesting the look. “Fanny packs, power suits and bike shorts have all come back into fashion, and so have their popular 1990s beauty counterpart: the French manicure,” says celebrity and editorial nail artist Miss Pop.
What’s different about today’s iteration of the French manicure? “Definitely the shape of nails has evolved—it’s more crisp and defined,” says celebrity nail artist Chaun Peth. “And creating a deeper smile line helps give French tips a more modern look, in my opinion.” Peth’s go-to color combo right now: sheer pink Tammy Taylor French Strawberry Meringue on the base with white Presto #004 at the tip. “My favorite shape to do for a French is the narrow coffin,” he says. “I think it’s flattering on almost everyone.”
The color palette has expanded, too—anything goes: Neons, brights, glitters and even patterns are gracing smile lines, with nude, hued or sheer bases all a go. “The three French manicures I sent down the runways at New York Fashion Week weren’t the traditional pink-and-whites I learned in beauty school,” says Miss Pop. “They still celebrate the nail white, but they’re much more flamboyant. I painted exaggerated smile lines, ombrés, negative space and bright colors to breathe new life into the classic design.” At Prabal Gurung, Miss Pop painted a thin, white exaggerated smile line over a tinted strengthener—Zoya Naked Manicure Perfector in Pink, Buff or Mauve. And at Oscar de la Renta, she created French-inspired looks with vibrant tips: a brush-blended ombré French tip using creamy orange Zoya Arizona, coral Sawyer and pink Laurel, and a coral tip with a bold dot at the cuticle line on a nude background.
While the classic French manicure has certainly evolved since its inception, creating a crisp smile line remains the key to achieving stellar results. “I usually freehand my French tips with the brush straight from the gel polish bottle, but for beginners, I recommend the White Art Gel Liner from Presto and using a cleanup brush with acetone to wipe away excess,” says Peth. Another approach: “To get an elegant curve on my French, I start by painting up from the sidewalls in an arch with a striper brush,” says Miss Pop. “Then, I use a rounded stroke across the center to connect the curves.” Ready to freshen up your French? The only limit is your imagination. “Go for glossy negative space,” suggests Miss Pop. “Switch out the traditional nude and bring out the natural nail’s blush tones with a tinted strengthener. Or, forgo the white and snag a shade for the French—if you really want to go big, grab 5 or 10 and do each nail tip in a different color.”
–by Lotus Abrams