From nail art, nail trends, gels, acrylics, UVs, LEDs, everything you were too afraid to ask about nails is here!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was summer 2020 and I was headed to the nail studio of Rachel F, aka Effy Nails. She was going to be my gateway into the notorious world of nails that I had been secretly acquiring a penchant for through none other than the ‘gram. I met Rachel at her studio on Sonnenallee and as she did my nails we chatted about everything from the perks of owning your own business, to illustration, COVID, social media and vegan burgers! The admiration that I hold for a woman who is able to chat while turning my dry, chipped nails into a psychedelic work of art is nothing short of momentous! Effy Nails, Ich liebe dich <3
Hi Rachel, let’s start by telling us where you grew up and when you moved to Berlin?
I grew up in Essex which is in the south east of England. It’s very close to London, so close in fact that Chelmsfords is a bit empty because everyone goes to London. It’s half an hour on the train, so we were in and out of London every weekend growing up. I’d be doing pop-ups there and shoots.
I moved to Berlin 6 years ago after I got asked to come here to do a couple of pop-ups, which means I was doing the nail bar at events. After that I got asked to do the nail and beauty treatments for the cast of an immersive theatre show that was happening at the Schaubühne. So I spent all winter coming back and forth doing that. Eventually they even wrote me into the show. I had a part where I had to play an extreme version of myself, which meant that I was still doing nails but in the character of someone who is obsessed with beauty. So that was what started Berlin off for me back in 2013. After that finished, is when I thought that I want to move to Berlin and just see what it’s like and that’s it, really. I didn’t think I’d be here this long. I think everyone says that.
How did you become a nail artist?
I was working in lots of not very cool jobs before I decided to go back to college when I was 21 and train as a beauty therapist for 2 years. I went into college with the idea of becoming a make-up artist when I left but during the course I was like, actually, I like all of this other stuff and so I started working in a salon. Once I was there I got to know what I liked in that experience. Nails was the area that I could be a bit more creative and go off on shoots and talk to people, listen to music, etc. I didn’t have to be silent because when you are giving facials and massages and stuff you can’t be chatting away or listening to whatever music you want. So it just sort of naturally went that way for me and then I remember the year that nail art really took off which was 2012. It just went absolutely mad and that was the same time that I was just starting to learn it and really turn it into a job.
Is there a right of passage that happens to become a nail technician or can you dive straight in?
To become a nail technician you need to be qualified to do anything with nails, which means you can do acrylics, gels, a natural manicure and all of that stuff. Now days, there are so many good short courses. You don’t need to do a two year course in everything just to eventually get to do nails. If you know that that’s what you want to do then you can streamline.
When did you open the nail studio that you have in Berlin?
When I first moved to Berlin I was going to peoples houses for a few months just to get to meet the people that knew me from Instagram. Then in my first year living here I worked at Soho House at the nail bar in their store. As soon as I saw that they have a nail bar at Soho House, I knew that I wanted to get that job. I just knew it was meant for me. But at first they turned me away because they said that I was overqualified. Two weeks later I looked online and the job was still up, so I emailed them again and then they gave it to me. Ultimately, I was bored there because I need more stimulation than doing a plan manicure every so often. But it was also a nice way to meet people, one of my best friends now is someone that I met there. So it was a brilliant starting point for me.
I moved into the current studio that I have with Johanna Knuttson who is a hairdresser two years ago. Before that I had another spot on Paul-Licke-Hofer also for two years, until the lease ran out, basically. And before that I was working more as a freelance nail artist of photoshoots, events, and pop-up stuff.
How did you come up with the name Effy Nails?
Yeah, I confuse a lot of people with this because my name is Rachel! This actually goes back to an UK teen drama series that aired back in the early 2000s, called SKINS. I was watching the first season and as soon as I heard the name Effy, which is one of the characters’ names, I instantly fell in love with it. So when it came to naming my business, I thought, I’m not going to be naming a kid, or a dog or anything else soon, so I’ll put that name into naming my business. There’s no real deep and meaningful behind it besides that I just liked the name.
What are some of the perks of running your own nail studio?
I love the creation of the website, my Instagram, my artwork that I make. I can book time off when I want it (in theory). And I get to go on these photoshoots now and again, so I get a change of scene.
For the non-experienced, what are some of the simple differences between gels and acrylic nails?
Acrylics are when you have a tip put on the end of a nail, its for instant long nails. So if you don’t want to spend time growing out your natural nails then you could have the length put on instantly. Gel (or “hard gel”) is different to soak-able, colour gel (such as brand names like Shellac, Gelish or OPI Gelcolor). Hard Gel can not be soaked off.
LED or UV are the light rays used for drying nails and it’s nail terminology for speed. So LED is quicker than UV so it will just dry quicker.
You also illustrate and have a project called Dance Floor Mirage that you recently put out… what was it like putting together a virtual vernissage?
When I left school I did an art and design course and I absolutely loved it but ultimately I didn’t know what I could do with it. Once I was in the work cycle aka the machine. I just sort of forgot about it, you know what I mean? I guess after I moved to Berlin I sort of started dabbling in drawing again & now I make time for it and it’s cool. I make it fit into what I am doing, so I make little calendars and zines. It’s fun.
Dance Floor Mirage is a series of portraits of people in their dance outfits, a lot of them are made up but some are also real. For the ones that are real, I got people to send me a photo of themselves in their dancefloor outfit and then I got them to send me a short bio, as well. I was actually a bit nervous about captioning the illustrations because I thought I can’t be too harsh and grill people. But it was just a lot of fun and I love to draw. Drawing this series really was my savour during lockdown. I would get up, take the dog out and draw. Then I decided that I was going to make it sound fancy, and make it into an online vernissage. I thought it would just be a fun way to do it because I couldn’t go anywhere, or show it anywhere so I decided to make it an online thing.
Ultimately, I’d like to make some money with it for the Berlin Nightlife Collective, so people who work in the nightlife industry and everything that is connected to that. It’s an industry that’s really been affected greatly by COVID-19. A lot of those people didn’t get the IBB sofort government funding money, like I did.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work…
Oh, god, that was a shocker… I mean obviously the same thing happened to a lot of people. But I went from being fully booked to zero overnight. And no one was sure when we could open again. In the beginning I freaked out and was like, ‘I can’t do nails ever again! What am I going to do?! My life is over!’ It took me a while to come down from that. The way that I coped with it is that I had to forget that I did nails, and just be like, ok, I’m going to retreat at home for a bit and then hopefully come out of all this with somewhere to still do nails from. It was way more catastrophic in my head than it actually played out the first time around. Let’s see, let’s wait what happens next…
How did your clients handle the break… any common streams of thought?
A lot of my clients when they could first come back in to see me had missed having their nails done a lot. I think a lot of people see it as a form of therapy. It’s not just your nails, it’s chats, and it’s all confidential – nothing I talk about here is going out of the room, so it’s a little unwind time. But I’m not seeing half as many people as I was before because my hours are much shorter.
This year has been very monumental not just with COVID but also BLM, which saw social media become a place for activism. How have you been dealing with everything, has it changed your awareness of what you share online…
Yeah I went into overdrive, I was posting even more. And actually that was what made me think, ok, get over yourself (because I was mopping around) and it was just like a real wake up call. I was sort of reading bits and bobs and wasn’t really talking about it, and then I had this guilt thing and I thought, this isn’t very cool. Get over yourself, get out there, join the conversation, listen to stuff and share what you find. I wasn’t on social media before that really but then I was like, ok this is my thing now, get back on it. It’s for a purpose. In my work I sit with people who don’t read the same things as I read, or I don’t read the same things as they do. So it’s a nice place to share information, actually. If someone finds something interesting or cool, just share it. Especially when it’s such a big and important cause. Now days, it’s died down and you again have to go out physically to find the posts that you want to engage with and the people that you want to hear from.
What’s the worst nail trend you ever witnessed?
I really don’t like white tips, so just the classic french tips. I like that design with other colors. But yeah, anything that is princess-ey. Nail art in 2012 is a thing I used to have to talk people into getting. Before that it was all french tips – french tips on toes, french tips on your manicure. Now I’ve made a point of saying that I don’t do it on my website (laughs). I mean, if someone really wanted it, obviously, I would do it because it’s their nails, but I would be like, really? Look at all these beautiful colors that we could use…
What have you come away with in 2020 so far?
My values became clear as day after I thought everything was going to be burnt to the ground and I wouldn’t have anything to come back to. Everything just fell away, all the bullshit, all the different worries that I had had up until that point. I just thought, ok, health, family, creativity, freedom. That’s it. It’s easy to make yourself super busy and not really think about what you’re doing.
What’s your favourite podcast that you’ve been listening to…
There’s a podcast called Shade and that’s about what’s happening in the arty scene. Then there’s Through The Lens of Race, so that’s really interesting. Jameela Jamil, she’s got this page called I Weigh, and she’s been doing I Wei podcasts this year. She gets different guests on that talk about the history of trans and non-binary & about fat shaming and all of these really interesting topics to listen to and learn from. And the way she hosts it as well, she’s funny and she’s not afraid to make jokes and be really honest with people.
Favourite cheap meal in Berlin…
Neue Republik Reger is a vegan burger place I really like. It’s near Wildenbruchstr. I live in Treptow now and it’s probably one of the only places to go in Treptow. Otherwise, it’s me and my cookbooks. That’s my thing. It came from necessity at first but now I genuinely really like it.