As ubiquitous as fashion-forward nail art is right now (heck, we’re even scouring the country for the next nail-art star, think back (way back) to the dark days of 2008. There wasn’t much attention paid to creative designs beyond “French” and maybe — if you wanted to be really daring — a nude coat. Because that’s when ahead-of-the-trend Sharmadean Reid had the wild idea to open Wah Nails, a boutique nail-art salon in East London. This was way, way before the current explosion of expression that’s taken over our hands and Instagram scrolls. The trend consultant and stylist, who got her start with Nicola Formichetti, always had her (very precisely manicured) finger on the pulse of London’s style scene, and as she remembers it, a small trickle of nail art had started infiltrating the fashion network. “I knew soon it was going to blow,” she says, “and I wanted to be at the forefront of that and knew I could make it work.”
A failed Dior double French at a local salon was the kick she needed to open her own place. A huge space that, in 2009, quickly turned into a destination — the ideal spot to read magazines and hang out and throw parties. In short, the complete opposite from the joint you run into for a quick, cheap coat. That year, Wah worked at parties for Nike and Marc Jacobs and did shows at London Fashion Week and opened up a spot in Topshop, Oxford Circus. Suddenly, Wah Nails filled a void people hadn’t known existed. Fast-forward four years and mani fans are telling the world about their #nailart on Instagram and Pinterest, using designs as political and social commentary, and scaling new creative heights (seriously, watermelons!). Reid’s fine with everyone else jumping on her bandwagon — "They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," she demurs — and the question shouldn’t be what’s next for Reid, but what isn’t? With one nail-art book published and another on the way, this entrepreneur — whose summer nails are “lilac and short and neat” — is looking forward to opening a club, traveling the world, and expanding the Wah brand. Oh, and did we mention that she just launched a street casting agency? Check out Oyouth. It’s a safe bet she’ll discover the next hot, young thing before everyone else. Here, Reid talks her game-changing history.
Photographed by Eva K. Salvi
“Ever since I can remember, I have always had a natural curiosity. And growing up as a small-town kid in Wolverhampton [England], I soaked up everything I could. I would spend hours poring over art books in the local library and collect fashion magazines, cutting out my favorite spreads and making scrapbooks. I guess not much has changed; I make sure I absorb culture from music, fashion, art, literature, and wherever I am. I studied at Central Saint Martins [College of Art and Design], moving from my hometown to London when I was 18 and never looked back. I started off assisting Nicola Formichetti, and it all grew from there.”
The Big Bang
“From my trend consultancy work, I knew nail art was going to be massive. Wah was a continuation of the brand I’d worked on since I was at university, so when I decided to make a nail salon, it seemed like a natural extension of the brand, which focused on women, community, and fashion — cool girls doing cool things. That was in 2009, and by 2010, I had a concession in Topshop, Oxford Circus. That was always in the business plan, but I was really happy when it finally happened.”
Beat the System
“I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I had a good idea, and I ran with it. Be fearless and be first are what I’d say were the most valuable lessons I learnt during that year. I apply that to most things I do.”
Mother Knows Best
“My baby always keeps me going, as I want to provide for him and to influence a generation of young girls — that whoever you are, and whatever background you’re from, you can achieve what you want with a little hard work and perseverance. Wah is more than a brand for me, it’s a lifestyle and an attitude that permeates all of what I do.”
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Hair and makeup by Renee Rael