The days of simple french manicures are over and everyone from popular artists to your next-door neighbor is experimenting with color, patterns, and appliqués. A pioneer in the nail art game, particularly for men, is A$AP Rocky. He’s been spotted with nail art more than a few times and even has a distinct creative style for his manicures. He leans towards colorful designs on a neutral background— think skulls, roses, hearts, eyeballs, and smiley faces. Ever wonder who’s the creative genius behind some of those designs? Enter Naomi Yasuda, a talented nail artist based in NYC, who’s been working with A$AP Rocky for over a year. Yasuda recently created the intricate designs for Rocky’s creative agency AWGE’s fashion collaboration with buzzy footwear designer Amina Muaddi. It almost had more impact than the shoes.
Her creativity and attention to detail designs have caught the eye of Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Fendi— to name a few. And she was tapped to create Fendi print press-ons for the luxury brand’s collaboration with visual artist Sarah Coleman, the end result, just take a look for yourself: jaw-dropping. Below, we chat with Yasuda about her career, that time she did six celebrities for the Met Gala, and the future of nail art.
How did you pursue a career in nail art? Were you artistic from a young age?
I always loved doing my own nails since I was young, Both of my grandmas influenced me—one of them was a kimono tailor. I was inspired by the details and fabrics of the kimonos she would work on. My other grandma used to create art with dried flowers and exhibit them throughout our home.
How did you break into editorials and campaigns?
As one of the few creative nail artists in NYC 12 years ago, I was able to connect with Lady Gaga’s make-up artist who knew of my work. She gave me an opportunity to work with Gaga— where I then created a network within the industry that led me to where I’m at.
When working on big projects, what does the creative process look like?
Every project is very different. Depending on who or what I’m working on will determine the outcome. I normally refer to the director, stylist, or artist. We’ll collaborate and come up with our final result.
You recently did the nail art for the AWGE x Amina Muaddi campaign. How was it working on that project? Where did the inspiration come from?
I have been working with A$AP Rocky for about a year and a half. He’s always a pleasure to work with. Love how he is breaking boundaries for fashion. Rocky’s always creative and fun with his nails which then allows me to tap in [to] my creative side. We wanted the model to represent Rocky’s style which I feel we’ve accomplished.
How did you settle on each individual nail design and turn it into a cohesive look?
When choosing the designs I brought up past nail art that I did for Rocky. Keeping the color palette and pattern similar was cohesive in tying in the look.
What are some of the best creative collaborations you’ve had thus far?
I recently did a collaboration with Fendi for their Sarah Coleman collection. I never thought I could work with such a luxury brand. I loved the nails I created. Multicolor Fendi print press-ons.
I also made a press-on nail line with Sinful Colors. It’s available at Walmart. A lot of work but I learned so much about product development. I also worked on Kenzo’s short film, directed by my friend Humberto Leon, which was about a family. One of the characters has nail superpowers. I created 3 feet long nails, conjoined spiral nails, key-shaped, etc… It took 2 hours to create one nail. Hard work but fun.
You’ve been working with Madonna for a while, how did that come about and what are some of your favorite nail art moments with her?
My first time with Madonna was at her half-time Superbowl performance. I was extremely nervous, [there was] a lot on the line. But once I was done with her nails, I was in disbelief and had so much adrenaline from the experience that I had to walk all the way back home with my suitcase. I just couldn’t believe that I did Madonna, the biggest superstar in the world. It’s been about 9 years that I’ve been with her and I’m so grateful for how the universe aligned us. I feel blessed that I still have this opportunity to work with her.
One great moment with Madonna was when she was filming her skincare line for MDNA she pretty much told me I have to be in it. I can’t act but she made my first role an easy one.
At last year’s MET Gala you did nail art for different celebrities, can you walk us through what a busy workday like that entails?
[At] last year’s Met Gala I got to work with 6 celebrities. I usually start a day or 2 earlier. One day it was Paloma Elsesser, Alexa Chung, Ezra Miller, Celine Dion. [On] the day of the Met [it was] Lady Gaga, Rita Ora, and also Madonna was shooting a music video. I needed 3 assistants and a personal driver to escort me to my locations. It was definitely the busiest day of my career.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Having my clients express themselves [through] my nail art and making them happy is so rewarding.
What’s a nail art trend in recent years that you love, and one you wish never happened?
I love the jelly nail, I did a lot this summer. I’m not a fan of mixed nail shapes on hands.
In what direction do you think nail art is going for 2021?
People are being more adventurous with their nails. Press-ons will definitely make a comeback next year, especially because of Covid. I believe the [male] nail game will spike and many more men will be comfortable with expressing themselves [through] their nails.