TFW backstage beauty: We join the Tips Nail Bar team and go behind-the-scenes to do nails at Lucian Matis

Photography by Jenna Marie Wakani
Photography by Jenna Marie Wakani

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My obsession with everything nails has been well-documented over the last few months, so you can only imagine the backflips of joy that occurred when top manicurist Leeanne Colley called, asking me to be part of her team for the Lucian Matis Fall 2012 show. Colley’s salon—Tips Nail Bar—is widely regarded as one of the best places in Toronto to get your nails done, as she and her staff approach manicures like an art form. Of course, it also helps that they’re frequently styling nails for fashion editorials (our covers included!), runway shows and ad campaigns across the country.

Photography by Jenna Marie Wakani

If you’re looking for the next trend in nail art, Colley is the one to ask—which is exactly what Lucian Matis has been doing for three seasons. A week before the show, Colley previewed the Fall 2012 collection and then set to work designing nails that both complement and call attention to different aspects of Matis’s pieces. For yesterday’s show, this resulted in three different nail designs: black lace (provided by Matis) over a yellow nail, a yellow and black crocodile print, and feather-extended tips.

Leeanne Colley at work backstage at Lucian Matis; Photography by Jenna Marie Wakani

All designs are painted onto fake nails: It’s a time-saving practice that ensures every nail is perfect in length, shape and paint job, while also allowing models to easily pop off a pattern when dashing to their next show. (Instead of glue, they’re stuck on with a double-sided adhesive tape that’s commonly used for crafting.) On the other hand, it means Colley and her team spend days upon days painting nails. For Toronto Fashion Week they’ll be working eight shows, which tallies up to a total of 2,400 pre-painted nails. The fakes range in sizes so that each set is custom fit to the model—and this is where I come in.

Left, Paige Dzenis working on nails for Lucian Matis; Right, Tips Nail Bar team member Oksana and Dzenis backstage

Backstage I get into uniform, which includes a miniskirt-esque tool belt (trend alert: cargo peplums?) loaded with everything a nail tech could need. The Tips team sets to work, grabbing models’ idle hands while they sit for hair and makeup. The first step is to strip their fingers of any polish and lightly buff each nail—this ensures the adhesive will stick. My model is Karen, and by chance this is her first runway show. I follow Colley to the racks to confirm which looks Karen will be wearing so it can be coordinated with the right nail design. Next, Colley shows me how to measure each of Karen’s nails for fit, laying out an entire set before the application process begins.

Left, Paige Dzenis works on nails for Lucian Matis Fall 2012; Right, the finished look on model Karen

One at a time, I carefully place an adhesive dot in the center of Karen’s nail and then position the fake, making sure to line up the edge at the cuticle. The fake tip is rolled down on top of real, and securely pressed into place. The adhesive is strong, but no match for any absent-minded grabbing. “Be very careful with your fingers!” Colley warns each model. “If you have to take off your pants or tights make sure one of the dressers do it!”

A model carefully uses her phone backstage at Lucian Matis Fall 2012; photography by Jenna Marie Wakani

Once every model is completely nailed, it’s time to watch their hands like a hawk. Colley can almost sense when someone is about to reach into her purse or attempt to adjust any outfit. She leaps across the room to intervene and, when necessary, fix any errors. I carry the tray of spare nails like a platter, but thankfully they go unused and only a few cosmetic touch ups are required. All that’s left is to convince the girls to walk with their nails on full display. “You don’t walk with your hands like this, do you?” Colley teases, demonstrating the closed-fist pose often seen on runways. Each model shakes her head no, and promises to keep her hands open. The backstage frenzy hits its fever pitch, the doors open and the show begins.