Known for her elegant, chic minimalist nail art and sunny disposition (you’ll never find her without a smile backstage at New York Fashion Week), nail artist Jin Soon Choi has become a legend in her own right. Having moved from Korea to the U.S. in 1991 with $400 to her name, she began her stateside career in nails working in the hustle and bustle of New York City salons—and quickly recognized a void existed in the salon landscape. Becoming a mobile manicurist before it turned trendy (she would bike to clients’ apartments!), Choi made it her goal to deliver clients the one-on-one care she felt salons at the time lacked. All the while, she nurtured a burgeoning editorial career, establishing herself as a go-to nail artist for such iconic photographers as Steven Meisel and influential fashion designers as Marc Jacobs. Fast-forward eight years from when she first set foot in New York, and Choi opened the first of three Jin Soon Hand and Foot Spas in Manhattan’s East Village (West Village and the Upper East Side locations followed) where clients receive that level of care Choi recognized the salon industry so desperately needed—and that she believes is paramount to all nail artists’ success. Not one to rest on her laurels, she took the next natural step in 2012: Choi debuted her eponymous line of 5-free, highly pigmented nail polishes—and the fanfare followed. Through her more than two decades in the nail scene, Choi has maintained her grip as the “Queen of Minimalist Nail Art”—or, as The New York Times Magazine dubbed her, the “Nail Guru.” Naturally, we wanted to know Choi’s views on all things nails—her must-haves, loves and, most importantly, secrets to success.
What is your favorite nail art design you ever made?
I designed nail art inspired by abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky for the Korean magazine Nailholic.
What’s your favorite job you’ve ever worked on?
My favorite story I ever worked on was “You’ve Got Nails,” shot by Carlton Davis and featured in T: New York Times Style Magazine [in 2001]. It put me on the map, and turned me into an artist, not just a manicurist.
What is your best advice for new nail techs who want to work in editorial or runway?
New nail techs need to have impeccable basic skills. Many new nail techs try to jump straight into creating nail art, but developing basic skills are necessary in order to be successful in this business.
What nail product/tool do you use on yourself all the time that is an absolute must?
I have to keep my hands and cuticles soft and moisturized at all times. I love Diptyque Velvet Hand Lotion—it smells so good. I also use my soon-to-launch JINsoon Cuticle Oil on my cuticles everyday. Moisturized cuticles are a must for me.
What product/tool must always be in your nail kit?
Must-haves for my kit are JINsoon Diamond Nail File and Tweezerman Pushy and Nail Cleaner. Reason is: If your nails are not in a good shape, they’ll look horrible. No amount of polish can make un-kempt/unshapely nails look good. The truth is a good nail shape is always the best starting point for great manicures. I insist on pushing cuticles back to give the nail a good, solid shape.
What is your best advice for veteran techs who feel like they’ve been left behind?
The best tip I can give is to put yourself out there. In order for people to know that you are an amazing nail tech you have to market yourself. Find a social media platform that you like and start creating content. Make sure you are posting consistently and are interacting with your followers. Also, think outside the box. The content doesn’t have to be nails, but it needs to express who you are. Make it your hobby so it doesn’t feel like work.
What is your favorite JINsoon polish color? (You must have one … or more!)
My most recent Sheer Gloss Collection—Dew, Pixie and Mist—are my favorites right now. I really like the trend of “no-makeup makeup” and I love that I created that for nails this summer.
What do you feel is the single most important thing you’ve done that helped you become a successful manicurist and businesswoman?
Working hard with the right direction and vision. I always had a clear focus of what I wanted to accomplish and I stuck to that.
Follow @jinsoonchoi for more nailspiration