How the French Manicure Made Its Comeback

A new kind of nail with a checkered history has emerged this summer. The new-gen French manicure, now with options like multicolored and animal print tips, is seemingly everywhere.

For her 26th birthday, Gigi Hadid wore a rainbow of French tips by the celebrity nail artist Mei Kawajiri. Kylie Jenner has often worn some version of a French mani with super-long nails and next-level designs, including Pucci-inspired stripes. Lizzo has been showing off a French pedicure. Carey Mulligan, Hailey Bieber, Kourtney Kardashian and Selena Gomez have all worn the style in the last few months.

“We have seen more requests in our salon for French tip-style manicures and even some pedicures too,” said Nadine Abramcyk, the founder of the Tenoverten nail salon. “It’s always been a classic look with the super-white tip, but people are now making it their own. A classic red tip with a neutral, almost sheer, base is a style we’ve seen often this year, paired with a more almond-shaped nail.

So popular is the French tip in 2021 that the New York Chillhouse salon created its own modification of the style, which can be painted on by a manicurist or purchased as Chill Tips, the salon’s version of a press-on set.

The Going to the Barre set has proved particularly popular, said Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, the Chillhouse founder. “It’s a sheer soft pink — think ballerina vibes — with a slightly slanted, wavy tip,” she said. “It’s so simple and elevated, yet has an edge.”

Mabelyn Martin, the creative director of the New York nail studio Paintbox, has been experimenting with glitters and foils in place of color for its French manicure designs. “Creating tiny designs within the tips is also becoming very trendy,” she said. “Another look book favorite involves contrasting textures by matting out the base color and painting on a thin shiny tip.”

Fans of the French mani love it for its singular aesthetic and often for the fact that such a simple nail can elicit such a strong response. Olivia C. Tonin, 32, a French manicure obsessive in Montreal who owns a nail installation that she posts on Instagram, had experimented with them a handful of times as a teenager but began wearing increasingly complex designs only in recent years.

“The reaction people had toward me wearing French tips made me appreciate it on another level,” she said. “This was only amplified by the overwhelmingly positive response I got from other women — and the negative ones I received from most men.”

One might have predicted that after forgoing manicures amid the pandemic, we’d come back around to the French manicure — a style that has fallen out of fashion in the past, too redolent, perhaps, of strip malls of yesteryear. Chaun Legend, the artist behind Ms. Jenner’s nails, suggested that the style may be transitional, a steppingstone to more complicated and bolder designs that some have been longing for in the age of no painted nails.

For Ms. Jenner’s recent Pucci nails, Mr. Legend alternated patterned French tips with full-coverage designs. “I think I’ve pretty much done it all, from ombré shades to textured prints to swirls, all in a French look,” Mr. Legend said. “Sometimes full-coverage bold colors or designs can be overwhelming on every nail, but making it into a French can lessen the intensity.”

The nail artist Lisa Kon is playing with texture and color, too. “One of my favorite types of modified French manicure is the animal print,” she said. “It always looks very impressive.” She did just that for Ms. Kardashian (a leopard print) and Kendall Jenner (zebra).

French nails are back “with extra essence,” said Ms. Kawajiri, who does the Hadid sisters’ nails. “In 2021, we added cherries, smiley faces and other art on the French tip.”

Fashion’s obsession with the early 2000s may be another reason the French manicure is making a comeback. Fashion is cyclical, after all, and we’re living in an age of Prada mini-bags, silk scarves worn as tops and baby tees sold at a premium on Depop. Nostalgia-inducing shows like “Friends” and “Sex in the City” are having reboots. And videos with the Y2K hashtag have more than two billion views on TikTok.

“Even the most traditional women can continue to get their French manicures and it may not look on-trend, but then a supermodel like Bella Hadid rocks it all summer, and all of a sudden it’s a Gen Z revolution,” Ms. Ramirez-Fulton said.

Some of the appeal of the French mani is that it’s intrinsically flattering. “Leaving the clear part on the nail is more sexy than when you get nail art on fully covered nails,” Ms. Kawajiri said. “French nails make your fingers longer and more beautiful. It’s like magic.”

Mr. Legend added a thought: “The shaping of the nails definitely played a role in modernizing the French manicure,” he said. “We now have coffins, stilettos, squares. The artist inside me prefers deeper exaggerated smile lines for the French. The deeper the smile line, the better.” That means more coverage and less bareness for a more extreme, contrasted look.

So, are you ready to choose a color?

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