Interview by: Sasha Kremenetsky
Britney Tokyo is not a nail artist; she’s a nailist. In Japan, where complex 3D nail art is as commonplace as a French manicure, artists learn to create nails specifically designed to work with the latest trends in fashion.
Britney was forged out of that industry and is well known throughout the U.S. for her integration of 90’s nostalgia and edgy graphics to create pop-art inspired designs.
I caught up with her to learn more about her favorite trends, latest projects, and the difference between Japanese and American nail art.
Describe your style in three words:
Kawaii, weird, unpredictable.
What is your all-time favorite color to paint on your own nails?
Classic red. Red nails go well with women of all ages, and also works with any situation. No matter what the trend, red nails will always be my favorite!
How did you end up discovering your passion in nail art?
I’ve always loved to draw since I was a little girl. My parents even had to stop me numerous times. If there was no paper, I would even start drawing on the carpet. I think I was influenced by my grandfather who used to be an artist and my grandmother always had the best style and took great care of her nails as well. On the weekends she used to always do my nails. When I was in elementary school, I would always secretly draw art on my nails, although it was not allowed at my school. So I am really grateful for being able to do nail art as a profession, and at the same time there is no other job for me!
What was the nail tech certification process in Japan like?
I went to nail schools in both Japan and here in the States, but i was surprised at how different everything was. In the States, the study of health, such as disinfecting, was the main subject of learning, but Japan focused mainly on the skill practices of acrylic, paint nail art, and 3D nail art. If I look back now, I am happy to have graduated both schools since I learned a lot in different categories. Another difference is that in the States, you need to achieve a license in order to work. In Japan, all you receive is a certificate, but it is also divided into three levels, depending on your skills.
Was it ever scary for you to take that leap and move to Los Angeles, a place so far away from where you grew up?
I never felt scared or intimidated, but I do feel that language is a huge barrier, but I have nail art, which can express my feelings without having to speak.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed working as a nail artist in the U.S. as opposed to Japan?
In Japan, people rarely go to just get a manicure or French nails done so the word manicurist does not exist. In place of manicurists, there are only “nailists.” Nailists are kind of between a manicurist and a nail artist. In Japan, nail art is part of everyone’s fashion, so designs depend on the current trend. During a certain trend, nailists will do the same design on numerous customers, but in America most clients look for originality, so it’s entertaining for me as well since I can do a different design every time and a lot of the clients here want to be surprised and ask to do anything for them!
How does living in L.A. inspire your designs?
Living in L.A., I naturally want to use bright colors. A lot of the L.A. fashion uses a lot of bright colors, right? I think it comes from that. I don’t think I can get that from living in Tokyo or N.Y. I think the great weather here brings that out.
Which nail designs do you always enjoy painting the most?
When clients tell me just the theme or colors they want, I get really excited. I love to do designs that I have never done before.
Now that the whole gel nail phenomenon has migrated to the United States, how do you feel when you see so many American girls rocking Japanese style gel nails or 3D art?
I’m so happy!
What’s one nail trend that originated in Japan that you think every girl should try at least once?
I think 3D nails. Also all girls in Japan do nail art for pedicures too, so I think everyone should try that too.
Who are some other nail artists that inspire you?
My partner Natalie Minerva aka Nail Swag! She does a totally different style than me, but we have the same vibe. That is why she inspires me.
Speaking of which, you’ve been working a lot with Natalie lately and have dubbed your collaborative efforts Tokyo Swag. What does Tokyo Swag mean and what will you guys have in store for the nail community?
Tokyo Swag is really just naming our working union that we already had. Natalie and I have been doing nail tours throughout the country this past year, and we consistently do pop-ups together. In addition to that, we tacked on education classes to show other nail techs the creative aspect of nails!
Do you have any advice for women trying to find their way working in a creative field?
You should always try new things. I always try new products and try new skills. Although I mess up sometimes, I keep trying and challenge myself. I believe that is how we all learn.
What can we expect from Britney Tokyo in the future?
I will keep doing new and fun designs and wish to share my skills to many people who are interested in nail art so that is why the nail classes are the first step. Anyways, you’ll find out!
Find out more at britneytokyo.com