Manicurist Jin Soon Choi flips the bird to nail art with her line of classic lacquers

Nails: Manicurist Jin Soon Choi flips the bird to nail art with her line of classic lacquers
Nails: Manicurist Jin Soon Choi flips the bird to nail art with her line of classic lacquers

It’s a nail art–filled world, but Jin Soon Choi isn’t buying it. Manhattan’s favourite manicurist launches her own lacquer line, and Celia Ellenberg makes an appointment.

See Jin Soon Choi’s nail polish collection »

“I hate filing,” says Jin Soon Choi, seated for a pedicure. The nail industry veteran with nearly 25 years of polishing experience winces as an aesthetician at her Upper East Side salon drags an emery board across her well-maintained toes. It was her first bombshell of the day; the second followed shortly thereafter. “High fashion doesn’t go with nail art,” she deadpans, thus denouncing the abstract expressionist movement that has taken over the backstage nail game for the past four-plus seasons (never mind the pink, silver-trimmed manicures at Chanel’s Fall couture presentation in July).

So when conceiving her own 12-piece shade range (from $18,, Choi focused on “beautiful colour and high gloss,” setting it apart in the current market—where at-home gel kits and magnetic varnishes are standard fare—by formulating it without chunky glitter and selling it minus coordinating art pens or DIY sticker sets. At a time when pure, unadulterated polish is relatively rare, Choi is ushering in a new day of style through simplicity. “I want to challenge [people] with a classic but modern way of thinking about fashion,” she says. It’s an area in which she happens to be particularly well versed; not only is she Steven Meisel’s go-to editorial nail artist, she’s also the trusted runway resource for designers like Prabal Gurung and Derek Lam.

There have been collaborations before. Choi did a collection of colours for M.A.C three years ago, and has also consulted on ad campaigns and colour conception for Joe Fresh, heading up its first New York Fashion Week cameo backstage at Doo.Ri’s Fall 2011 show (“I love Canadians,” Choi says).

After working the red carpet with boldfaced names including Jennifer Connelly, Salma Hayek and Scarlett Johansson, and racking up editorial credits (InStyle, Vogue Italia, Vogue U.S., to name a few), Choi has condensed her experience into two shade ranges. The Quintessential collection includes mani mainstays such as crimson Coquette, Bordeaux Audacity, blackened red Risque and warm beige Nostalgia, as well as two sheer offerings in the form of Muse, a soft ballet slipper pink, and Tulle, a transparent nude. “These colours never die,” Choi says of those core hues.

Then there’s the A La Mode range, which is more trend-driven and pays homage to the saturated paint jobs of classic cars—and the catwalkers Choi has long been driven by. “Each colour kinda shows their personalities,” she says of varnishes like Metaphor, a dark green-grey named by ’90s stunner Guinevere Van Seenus; Debonair, a deep purple christened by Karlie Kloss; and Rhapsody, a steely blue attributed to Coco Rocha. A Power Base base coat and Top Gloss top coat round out her collection.

While the shades aren’t groundbreaking, the innovative formula is impressive. “I’m an expert, so I have to do something a little better, right?” Choi jokes, referring to her “five-free” lacquers—a step beyond the industry standard of “three-free.” They are devoid of toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde, as well as formaldehyde resin and camphor. In their place, the Power Base contains methiopeptide, an amino acid extracted from keratin to strengthen the nail bed, and PhycoCoral, a deep sea–derived UV blocker that helps extend the life of a manicure.

“We have a double patent,” Choi boasts of the nearly chip-proof results of her labour of love, which has been almost two years in the making. So why wait until now? “It’s all about timing,” she says—and hers couldn’t be better. The overwhelming innovation spawned by the great nail boom of the late aughties has created a niche for “regular polishes and true high fashion” that’s just waiting to be filled.