These Independent Artists Are Nailing It

Originally published on White Noise

July 2018

Instagram is their shopfront and their salon is someone’s living room – their place or yours. But the inexorable rise of the social media nail artist has mostly remained an East London phenomenon. Arnelle Paterson paid a visit to one of the exceptions: Triple N Salon.

With nearly 10 years under my belt, when it comes to acrylic nails, I’m a veteran. Stiletto, coffin, oval, ballerina, square, French, plain, and huge chavtastic gems – I’ve had them all. You’ll usually find me on the high street amongst a stream of Vietnamese chit-chat, low prices and minimal interaction. Today, however, I’m ready to take it to the next level.

Mobile and home-based nail artists have been popping up all over my Instagram feed with a brilliant array of designs and colours, but until now they’ve been primarily in South and East London, and I’m not prepared to make a nearly two-hour trip.

Triple N Salon is one of the few independent nail technicians in West London that offers the kind of nail art you’ve got pinned to your Pinterest board, and I’m pretty pumped.

The woman behind it, Niki Nikolova, opens the door to her home nail business in Isleworth, which started in February this year. She describes nails as her passion, a hobby that she’s had all her life. It’s no surprise when she tells me that she grew up around hair and beauty: Niki’s mum owned a salon in Bulgaria complete with nail technicians and she used to observe them working their magic. In fact, she’s only had someone else do her nails once or twice. I think I’m in safe hands.

Bulgarian-born Niki moved to the UK nine years ago, and that’s when she started to experiment with nail art. “Back then, my English wasn’t even entry-level. It was really bad. I couldn’t understand English for a few years!” she admits. “It was time for my GCSEs and they gave me a list of subjects that I had to choose from, and I was thinking: what subjects can I pick where I don’t have to speak English?” she laughs. “And I thought: art! Oh my God, that’s it! I’m going to start drawing. My teacher was such a great lady that I fell into it.”

She went on to study computer animation and effects for films at university, but nail art was always at the back of her mind. Later, after bagging an office job in Colchester, she had a revelation: “The guy that was sitting next to me, every single second that he wasn’t working on an actual project he was researching stuff. He was into the job, and I wasn’t,” she confesses. “I was trying try to sneak a look at nails, or thinking about what I was going to do to my nails that night. I was really good at my job, but that’s not enough. You have to like it as well.”

After a year, Niki decided to get her hands off the keyboard, and into some adhesive. “I wanted to be my own boss. Being able to schedule my own time – I absolutely love it. I usually prefer to work in the evening. My brother is five years old and when he’s not at school and someone has to take care of him, we can take turns.” Judging by the beaming family photos surrounding the room, it’s obvious that family is important her. “It shows me that in the future when I have kids, it’s going to be so easy. I also love going on holiday, so this is perfect. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission, I can just book!”

I ask her about a typical workday. “On most days, I work 11 or 12 hours back to back.” My eyes widen at her response. “But it’s so fun, I love it! And sometimes those hours are travelling between clients, so it doesn’t really count.”

It’s not only Niki’s new-found freedom that she enjoys. “There was this girl that had an operation on her toe and her whole nail was gone, so she needed something because she was going on holiday,” she recalls. “It was just so sad – you want to look pretty! So I did an acrylic extension and she was so happy. It made my day.”

Want to be a nail art pro? “It’s just practice. Everyone has different nails and you have to know how to work with that. You can’t do one or two people and expect to be good.”

Niki’s technique is completely different to what I’m used to. Each small movement is carefully calculated. I’m impressed that she remembers the exact size and even hue of ombre that I wanted. It feels different too, less plastic, more nail-like. Showing me an array of samples, she realises how indecisive I am. Is it that obvious? “I’ve got three shades of pink. I think the middle ones are more like the ones you showed me,” she smiles. Phew.

Niki warns me that my nail-biting habit may affect the longevity of my acrylics, although I’ve never had that problem before. She also gives me some pre-holiday advice. “Be careful with sun lotion, same with chlorine or swimming in the ocean. Don’t bang them against anything, or open cans with them.” I leave feeling pretty inspired.

After the appointment, it quickly dawns on me how immobilising nails this long can be, from putting necklaces on to keeping them debris free (the chicken eating experience just isn’t the same). One of my nails fall off in the shower sooner than I expected, and I blame London’s hot climate. Niki advises that I get some nail glue prior to my Marrakesh trip and it does the trick. Nearly a month later, my gel polish tootsies remain intact. Long nails don’t work for my everyday routine, but you can bet you’ll find me with a full set before any special occasion.

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