women

Guess what? The French manicure’s back and this time, it’s simpler, prettier and chicer. True story

“Say that again?” I’m so stunned by the InStyle beauty director’s response to the question “What hot shade should I paint my nails?” that I ask her to repeat her answer for clarity, but there can he no mistaking it. “French. Manicure.”

Description: “What hot shade should I paint my nails?”

“What hot shade should I paint my nails?”

Those two words, to me, sum up all that was wrong with the Nineties. Acrylic, square-cut talons, a swoosh of candy pink, finished off with a hard crescent of Tipp-Ex white, beloved by ladies on adult channels, croupiers, Wags and women doing kiss-and-tells. But here I am being told in 2012, that the nails to get me through a/w are the anti-feminist, cash-till- tapping French.

Women wearing Roksanda Ilincic and Peter Pilotto are shamelessly requesting this look. How? Why? “It’s everywhere again,” the beauty director shrugs. “It’s different now. More subtle. Muted. But it’s still basically a French.”

The reinvention of the French started way back in 2010011 the Louis Vuitton runway, when nail guru Sophy Robson enhanced the feminine overtones of the show with tipped retro talons - Dulux White “smile” curves on each nail. Since then, the French has been slowly moving back into front-row territory. Blame Kate Middleton (her wedding nail shade was Essie’s marshmallow-pink Allure, the classic French tone) or the financial incentive to keep nails practical, portable and fit for any event, but this style is hack.

Description: “It’s different now. More subtle. Muted. But it’s still basically a French.”

“It’s different now. More subtle. Muted. But it’s still basically a French.”

Perhaps I’m so reluctant because I adopted it first time round. I’m a French manicure enthusiast in recovery and the idea of returning to the crime scene fills me with horror. Hours spent painstakingly affixing plastic opaque nails with tiny tubes of glue, which burnt on contact with your skin. Fishing out the sticky residue with orange sticks, before filing them down and beginning the process of painting on Mavala sticky pink, topped off with a line of white and a top coat.

In 1997. I could have got through an entire episode of TFI Friday and still not have all ten nails finished. It was laborious and high-maintenance and, well, worryingly, man-pleasing. I’m older and wiser now, I’ve read Caitlin Moran’s feminist tome and sworn off Don Draper men. I want to stick with my trimmed, dark purple, fashion hands and not return to the chains of the French every Friday night.

Two days later, I break. I find myself calling up French manicurist to the elite, Lucy Galsworthy. She is about to fly out to Saint-Tropez to attend to the nails of Tamara Ecclestone and has been charged with Madonna and Naomi Campbell’s Frenches in the past, sol know I’m in capable hands.

Description: I want to stick with my trimmed, dark purple, fashion hands and not return to the chains of the French every Friday night.

I want to stick with my trimmed, dark purple, fashion hands and not return to the chains of the French every Friday night.

She tells me that the key is to keep things “squoval” and pared-down. lt’s not a porn-star look, it’s a clean, organised, woman-you-trust look. “It needs to look neat and discreet and natural - people should think you just have really naturally great nails.”

As, sadly, I don’t have “really naturally great nails” (mine are more middle earth), she enhances them with acrylic tips. Lucy dehydrates my nails to make it take, paints on an acrylic powder with a paintbrush and, initially, I am scared. They look like oligarch wife’s talons. But she files the false tips down and fashions them into an oval until there is just a small off-white strip, topped off with pink (Essie’s Sugar Daddy).

“The secret is in the colour; French manicures were always stark and contrasting, this is about blending — it’s a gentle soft ballet tone,” she tells me. “The acrylic improves your natural nail shape, but no one should ever know. As far as they’re aware, you’re just a girl lucky enough to have great hands.”

Description: The acrylic improves your natural nail shape, but no one should ever know.

The acrylic improves your natural nail shape, but no one should ever know.

And no one does know. One of the InStyle girls comments, “Your nails are gorgeous, like little porcelain doll’s nails”. I choose not to share my secret. And later, on the tube. I notice a hot man seriously clocking my hands. I suddenly feel feminine and well-turned-out, the sort of girl you could take home to meet the parents (he will never know the truth).

And I decide that the new French and I are going to get along just fine.

 

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