Lauren LaRouge has changed the game when it comes to funky nail art. With her groovy nail salon in Parramatta, Nailed by LaRouge, Lauren has set herself up as one of Sydney’s most creative and recognised nail artists. Lauren shared with Chattr her story of getting into nail art, how she set up her business, and what inspires her eccentric style.
Tell me a bit about yourself before you got into nail art?
I was working as an office manager by day—where I was feeling miserable & creatively unfulfilled, but then by evening working as a burlesque/cabaret performer/MC three+ nights per week which I loved, but I longed for a “day job” that I didn’t hate—or even liked. To be honest, I was very lost and very miserable during those 40+ hours a week. I’d always known that I wanted to do something creative with my life and work. I didn’t like using a computer—I wanted to use my hands, and in this technological world I wasn’t sure there would still be a place for me to do that and not starve to death, to be honest!
My dad’s favourite saying when I was growing up was: “you can’t be an artist, because you won’t make any money until your dead!”, which still makes me laugh because in a way, it’s very likely. The odds are still stacked against you as an artist—which is why in burlesque the saying goes—if you want to survive “you’ve gotta have a gimmick” or a niche market.
I was so lucky to be introduced to Nail Art over seven years ago now, as I didn’t dare to dream back then that I could actually find a day job that I adore as much as nail art! To be able to be creative, get paid, and meet wonderful people five days a week is just beyond what I ever expected.
When and how did you set up Nailed by LaRouge?
Around six years ago now. My entire life actually changed one day when I was booked to do a burlesque gig on a boat for “Boat Boys Burlesque”, and honestly I was pretty exhausted from doing a lot of gigs at night as well as some classic boy dramas at the time. Anyway, I ended up agreeing to the gig and it just so happened a good friend of mine called Melissa had discovered nail art on Tumblr thanks to a blog called “Burgers and Nails” where women in the US would submit photos of their nails holding burgers. So, she had been inspired to buy a nail art pen.
The day of the gig, Melissa came over to do some nautical themed nails for my boat gig and they were super cute—especially considering this was her first real go. The nautical theme meant straight blue and white lines (it’s very hard when you’re starting out to keep a steady hand!) so one of the nails was pretty shaky. She was so apologetic about it but I remember saying “no, it’s very authentic — it looks like it was done on the high seas” and we kept giggling about it. That night at the gig, all the burly girls were excited to see some nail art and they were commenting on it; and then it just so happened that one of the organisers of the night, Greg—one half of Boat Boys—and I would have a chat. We exchanged numbers and got engaged six weeks later! Anyway, that’s another story. The next few days following the gig I remember sitting in my grey little cubicle at work, giggling to myself over that wonky nail, and I just fell in love with nail art. I signed up to get my Certificate II in nails the following week and I taught myself the nail art side from plain trial and error, and a bit of Googling. Greg helped me set up my business, which started in a hair salon in Kings Cross which is now a TAB.
Who and/or what inspires your art and fashion?
My nail art, like my fashion, is a bit all over the shop in inspiration. However, I guess it can be broken down pretty basically into ‘big and bold’. I personally don’t care too much for subtlety—which doesn’t mean my clients can’t get some more demure nail art—but I personally live for OTT colour and camp! I used to be obsessed with the stars of the 1950s growing up like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and the glamour of old Hollywood. So, I like to think I mix a bit of class into my brassy aesthetic. Plus, as I also have been obsessed with Drag Queens—way before RPDR—back in 1994 when Priscilla Queen of the Desert was released. I certainly am constantly inspired by that ‘more is more’ aesthetic.
What is the process in creating your nail art?
The number one thing that is most important in the nail art creative process for me is finding out what sort of an aesthetic my client likes. I am here to make your nail art fantasies come true, not mine. Well, sometimes mine on my regulars or if they pick a really fun theme. However, at the end of the day I am very client-focused because this is a time for them to feel as fabulous and excited about themselves and their nails as when I was first introduced to nail art. Once I find out their style and vision (and of course their budget) I can just let my mind work out how to marry all three with the length of their nails too. However, where there’s a will there’s a way and I’ve never met someone with nails “too short” for nail art, which many do worry about. I mean, I’ve done many a kids party and those little ones have next to no nails and what they do have they often bite off, so if I can handle that,I can handle anything.
Have you ever had any wild nail art requests?
Look, my idea of wild is probably a lot more extreme than most, so I do get some interesting ones. Recently I’ve had Space Jam themed nails to Super Kawaii Bondage requests (which was SO cute). I’ve had protest nails for an anti Greyhound racing rally, World Series poker themed nails and many more. However, my favourite request still to date is when my regular client and mate, Chei, got “DICK PIG “ across her nails, but I scrambled up the letters so her co-workers in the office wouldn’t know and you had to strategically place her fingers together to read it! The funniest part is that she’s from New Zealand, so I kept thinking she was saying “DICK PICK” and couldn’t work out why she wanted a pig on her thumbs.
Have you ever had any interesting customers or popular names from social media ask for you to do their nails?
I’ve actually had a LOT of interesting people from social media or otherwise ask me to do their nails—none of whom I’ll name because I’ve turned most if not all down when it turned out they just wanted it for free, or as they like to put it—“collaborate”. I don’t think many people understand what that word means these days. I do all the work and they take a photo you can’t even see their nails in. No thanks. I’ve learnt my lesson from the early days, thank you. However I did this January get booked (and paid well, I’ll add) to sit in a lobby for four hours in case Nicki Minaj wanted her nails done before her performance at FOMO festival. I didn’t get to meet her, but I did get paid and was flattered to be contacted, so that was an interesting experience for me! Not my usual gig!
What is your favourite style?
Oh god so many! Mainly anything bright.
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