CloseImage 1 of 3 Connie Lee, owner and head nail stylist at Bling Your Nails, left, attaches a crystal on to the nails of student Ceritacha Ppell, of Hayward, during a 3D nail class at Bling Your Nails in Castro Valley, Calif. on Wednesday Feb. 21, 2012. less Connie Lee, owner and head nail stylist at Bling Your Nails, left, attaches a crystal on to the nails of student Ceritacha Ppell, of Hayward, during a 3D nail class at Bling Your Nails in Castro Valley, Calif. ... more Photo: Stephen Lam, Special To The Chronicle Image 2 of 3 Connie Lee, owner of Bling Your Nails in Castro Valley, Calif. displays an album of past nail designs during a nail training class on Wednesday Feb. 21, 2012. Connie Lee, owner of Bling Your Nails in Castro Valley, Calif. displays an album of past nail designs during a nail training class on Wednesday Feb. 21, 2012. Photo: Stephen Lam, Special To The Chronicle Image 3 of 3 Bling Your Nails puts 3-D art at your fingertips 1 / 3 Back to Gallery
It's hard not to notice Castro Valley nail artist Connie Lee. From the parking lot of her shop, the near-blinding blaze of light radiating from her nails flashes like a beacon for her aptly named salon: Bling Your Nails.
It's also a sign that the latest Japanese fashion trend, 3-D nail art, has landed in the Bay Area.
"No girl is going to reject bling," Lee says, as her two students laugh in agreement. "It's like diamonds - everybody likes sparkles."
Commonly called Japanese 3-D nail art, but also wildly popular for at least a decade in Hong Kong, where Lee is originally from, and Korea, the unique multistep application method - generally, a process for gel and another for acrylic sculpting - allows artists like Lee to create anything a client desires, much like a sculptor with clay. You won't find any polish here.
Lee first applies the gel base layers, incorporating any color or glitter. To create 3-D nail art, Lee first dips a fine brush into acrylic liquid and then into an acrylic powder. A tiny pliable ball forms on the tip of brush, which she quickly positions on the nail. With a few expert strokes, she manipulates the acrylic ball into any shape she desires.
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"To fulfill a girl's dreams, that's the best thing you can say to a girl: 'You can have anything you want.' "
Her clients are an eclectic mix of professionals and students, young and old alike. Her oldest is 93.
"Everybody who does this has the same attitude: We're not scared what anybody thinks about us. It gives a little spice in your life. It's a definite conversation starter."
With prices starting at $48 for a basic gel set and appointments taking about 1 1/2 hours, most clients opt for dainty crystal accents and glitter. On the more extreme end, at an average cost of $100, she's done Hello Kitty, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Giants' Panda, the A's, the Raiders, a lapdog and even Lady Gaga. A set of her signature Swarovskis, which cost $12 for a large crystal (her own nails are adorned with at least a half-dozen, not counting the dozens that frame her license plate or her smart phone), runs in the $150-plus range.
It's become so popular that Lee, who opened her nail salon two years ago and has a minimum two-week wait to book an appointment, began offering monthly classes, which run about $100. She also started manufacturing her own 3-D nail art molds the size of an oblong eraser. Aspiring artists can apply their own acrylic mix and, within a few seconds, pop them out like ice cubes from a tray.
"No one else has this," says Cerita Chappell of Hayward, who is on her second class. "Anywhere you go, if you have bling on your nails, you get attention."
Attention may be the obvious reason that 3-D nail art is gaining momentum with the masses - Lady Gaga famously sported a set in her "Poker Face" music video - but Lee points out that the manicure also lasts - about a month, and, yes, you can wash dishes - and says it's safer than getting traditional fake nails, which are also made with acrylics.
With traditional acrylic nail applications, the chemicals are so strong, the state mandates technicians wear a mask and gloves, and that the salon be properly ventilated. Acrylic 3-D nail art, on the other hand, uses a much smaller amount in comparison and is applied over a gel manicure, so no mask is needed. Plus, the gel itself makes fake tips unnecessary and nail repair easier.
"A year ago, people didn't know about Shellac (gel manicures)," Lee says. "This is the exciting thing that everyone's been waiting for. This is the future."
Bling Your Nails: 3705 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley. (510) 918-6774. www.blingyournails.com.
Source : http://www.sfgate.com/style/article/Bling-Your-Nails-puts-3-D-art-at-your-fingertips-3671294.php