I'm Completely Obsessed With Classic Red Nails -- And You Should Be Too

It's all thanks to Céline ads, Daria Werbowy, and Diana Vreeland. Plus a little beauty history lesson for you, too.
Publish date:
December 4, 2013
shoppables, fashion, Dior, nails, Celine, Diana Vreeland, red nail polish, Cult Nails, Revlon

Red is the great clarifier -- bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful. I can't imagine being bored with it -- it would be like becoming tired of the person you love. I wanted this apartment to be a garden -- but it had to be a garden in hell." –-Diana Vreeland

Céline ads have a running tradition of setting undeniably stylish trends, with the images being anticipated in their own right, beyond the clothes or accessories that the ad is promoting.

Juergen Teller stepped in as in-house photographer for them in 2010 with his somewhat strange decision to crop out the heads of the models, featuring actress Milla Jovovich, model Sigrid Agren and poet Emma Balfour. Juergen’s fashion photography is usually associated with blown out cheeky Marc Jacobs ads, understandably as he has shot them since 1998. For Céline, he maintained his signature lighting style but classed up the mood to fit the coveted lady-like brand.

When Daria Werbowy became the face of Céline in 2011, clad in a loose patterned tunic and matching drawstring pants, holding both a skateboard and a structured handbag, a beautiful collision of two perfect things occurred. Daria’s look was a combination of classy, chic and cool. She wore little to no makeup and had her hair pulled back into a slick short ponytail; her expression was daring and calm. Each season since, Juergen and Daria have pulled off sensational ads for Céline.

For Fall 2013, Céline released ads showing Daria against vivid Moroccan tiles wearing tartan wool capes, furs, thigh high boots, bright whites, and hairstyles ranging from a twisted topknot, a ponytail, to little low braids. What immediately jumped out to me about this season’s ads was the addition of a little more makeup. In opposition to her otherwise clean face, Daria’s bright red lip and long crimson talon-like nails stand out in the photographs like a lighthouse in the fog -- a beautiful, expensive fog.

Although red lips and red nails are both extremely classic looks, when paired together (along with super trendy clothing) they give Daria a mature yet distinctly stylish and current appearance. There always exists the trap of looking like a grandma when you get too matchy-matchy with cosmetics, but Daria plays the pops of color off so well that I want to throw out all my other nail polishes and say EEF YOU to nail art.

Nail polish has been a popular beauty product since the 1920s and '30s when manicure establishments were opening up in England, France and America. Fashion legend has it that red-nail obsessed Diana Vreeland, arguably one of the most influential fashion editors in history (and definitely the most interesting and awesome woman hands down), is responsible for enabling this boom in nail polish availability. [Note from Abby: If you haven't already you must watch the DV documentary "The Eye Has To Travel", currently streaming on Netflix.]

She claims to have brought with her, from her French manicurist Perrera, half a bottle of quick drying nail polish to America when she moved stateside. The only polishes available in the US took several hours to dry, making manicures only feasible for the wealthiest women who could afford to keep their hands still for such a long time.

Vreeland presented the last drops of her precious red polish to the best chemist in the nail polish game, Charles Revson. He mimicked the recipe and created the fastest drying polish that America had ever seen. With a quick name change, Charles launched Revlon in 1932 and the rest is drugstore history.

Diana Vreeland had a special love for the color red. From her always polished nails to the rouge she liberally applied to her cheeks and even ears for an almost theatrical look, Vreeland made red her signature. She designed the living room of her New York apartment using all things red to create what she called her “garden in hell.” (Check it out here.) While she was never considered a conventionally beautiful woman, she had such a sense of beauty in her work and personal life that even her strangest ideas reveal her as a timeless goddess of style and art. And it totally inspires me.

For this Diana/Daria inspired look I wanted to keep everything clean and just draw attention to the reds of my lips and nails. I painstakingly tended to my nails for the past three weeks to get them to the desired talon-like length.

I contemplated popping on some drugstore falsies for the more exaggerated effect seen on Daria, but then I realized that I still needed to do important life stuff like texting. I love red makeup but for some reason a lot of reds turns out looking really pink on me. I try to find reds that are considered “true” with of hint orange. For the base nail color I settled on OPI’s Big Apple Red. It has a crème jelly finish and great coverage. I would call it the truest drugstore red available. I have my eye set on trying Dior’s Tralfagar, but it’s a bit out of my price range at the moment.

A shiny nail lacquer can be endlessly mesmerizing. When I have super shiny nails I find myself staring at them all day like an idiot. Gazing at my hands on the subway or (rudely) throughout dinner conversations. I’ve wanted to experiment with a matte topcoat but I can’t really get into such a dull finish.

Luckily my new favorite nail polish brand, Cult Nails, has come out with a happy medium. Cult Nails is a fabulous company with creative and beautiful lacquers with substantial formulas. I was first introduced to them through the promise of a totally opaque black polish in just one coat, Nevermore. They made good on their claims and I started collecting their pretty polishes one by one.

They call their matte topcoat Wax That because it’s supposed to look like your polish has been sexily dripped with candle wax like you’re evoking some teenage Wiccan ennui. Wax That takes Big Apple Red from bright and bombastic to a more subtle and chic vibe. The only slight drawback to the polish is that it’s not a quick-dry formula so you either need to have some liquid quick dry on hand or just wait a few extra minutes to keep your manicure safe from nicks and smears.

Take a look at Cult Nails if you want some special polishes to add to your collection. They go for a reasonable $12 a bottle and they are DBP, Formaldehyde, Toulene, and Camphor Free. Is that 4-Free? I can’t keep up with #-Free game. They have two fab looking red polishes, Evil Queen and Quench. I have yet to try them but I’m sure Daria and Diana would approve.

Have you been wearing exclusively red polish for the past two decades? Do you like Cult Nails’ polishes? Do you love fashion/beauty history as much as I do? Should I dye my hair red? Release the fury below.

Follow Pia and her hashtag invention #realgirlnails on Instagram via @piabergman.