News & Politics

Black Beauties: Black Nail Polish

Forget pink—the color on trendy fingernails and toenails is black. One polish by Chanel is so hot that there’s a waiting list.

By Gigi Anders

Lindsay Lohan started it. Or maybe it was Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren, or—really—David Beckham.

Black nail polish. It’s everywhere. On celebrities, in fashion magazines, and, believe it or not, on Washington women’s finger- and toenails.

The must-have item is by Chanel, retails for $18 a bottle, and is called Black Satin. Unlike un-Chanel predecessors of punk years past, this one’s chic: a rich, saturated, ultra-shiny black with a trace of blue that looks like patent leather.

Introduced last August as a limited edition, Black Satin took off. Saks, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom sold out. Chanel’s Web site sold out. (How many bottles exactly? The company won’t release sales figures, so let’s just say beaucoup bottles.)

“Nobody had any idea it was going to be as explosive as it was,” says Susan Sterling, an international makeup artist for Chanel. “I think it’s been such a success because fashion is so rock ’n’ roll right now. People love that elegant but edgy touch.”

Demand is so high, says Ashton Spencer, a Chanel adviser at Nordstrom in Bethesda, that two shipments—50 bottles—sold out in two days from people on waiting lists. “Women bought four and five bottles at one time,” she says.

Spencer says one shopper—who, ironically, works in a nail salon—gave Spencer the numbers for her husband’s office, her daughter’s cell, her home, her cell, and her office—just in case the scarce varnish reappeared. (The woman could always hit eBay and pay $50 to $100 for a single bottle.)

Salons report a boom of black on fingers and toes of all ages. Gary Walker, co-owner of Ilo Day Spa in Georgetown, says more than half of clients who get regular mani/pedis request black. Says Walker: “You’ve got the Chanel girls, who walk in with their own bottles of Black Satin and $3,500 handbags and $400 sunglasses—they wouldn’t dream of using anything but. The others use what we sell, which is O·P·I.” O·P·I’s Black Onyx, at $7.50 a bottle, closely resembles Chanel’s Black Satin.

Faith Diamond, a “forty-ish” Maryland real-estate developer and Ilo client, was initially dubious about going into the black.

“I’m on construction sites all day,” Diamond says. “I wear baggy jeans and big shirts and pale-pink nails. But my manicurist was like, ‘Black is the only color to be wearing!’ I love it. Black nails empower you the way high heels empower you.”

Washington’s nothing if not power-possessed. On the other hand, the town’s not known for its avant-garde style.

“We thought the color was nice, cool, and different but that there’s not a good market for it here,” says Niousha Khoshkish, a Chanel sales associate at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase. “So we were really surprised to sell out of our first shipment—we got about 100 pieces. We called Chanel for backup because we had a waiting list for the waiting list! At first it was all younger customers, but soon we had mature women wanting it, too.”

Mindy Peterson, a Northwest DC dental hygienist and fashionista, embraced the trend with both hands.

“At first I worried black nails weren’t appropriate—I have my hands in people’s mouths all day,” says Peterson, 55. “But I wear gloves. Patients who happen to notice my bare hands always compliment me.”

Peterson keeps her nails short (not past the fingertip), meticulously groomed (no chips, fresh top coat always), and doesn’t try this look at home. Black polish is unforgiving and must be applied by a professional or you risk Halloween comparisons.

“You can’t deny that black polish is a bit goth,” says Allure beauty editor Victoria Kirby, a Black Satin fan. “But this new version is sophisticated, fun, sexy, and has great texture. It’s glamorous and daring. Not everybody can wear dark lipstick, but anybody can pull off dark polish.”