Nail art has the ability to express creativity and identity on the body's tiniest palette. No one knows this better than Victoria Houllis, the founder and owner of Sydney-based nail art studio Mannequin Hands.
For Victoria, nail art has been a lifelong passion. Having grown up enamoured by the creative potential of the craft, she initially took clients on as a side gig before opening her very own studio in 2020.
Since the beginning of her journey, she's been building up a client list that includes Dua Lipa, Julia Michaels, Flex Mami, Rowi Singh and more. Her work has been featured in Vogue Australia and Paper Magazine, and she's partnered with brands like Lazy Oaf, Poppy Lissiman and more along the way. Her at-home press-on sets have completely popped off in the last year as well, to add to her already impressive resume.
With a bright future on the horizon, here's a deeper look into how Victoria carved her own unique path in the industry.
Refinery29 Australia: What made you fall in love with nail art?
Victoria Houllis: I fell in love with nail art when my aunty and mum had their nail technician come to our house. I was obsessed with watching her work and would rearrange all her polishes in colour order.
Refinery29 Australia: Did you pursue nail art as a hobby prior to trying to make it your full-time gig?
Victoria Houllis: Yes! I studied journalism and worked as a copywriter and then a marketing manager before I made nails my full-time job.
Refinery29 Australia: Run us through what your average day looks like.
Victoria Houllis: I kick off my day with pilates (doing nails is not cute for the back). I’ll then grab an oat chai and head to the salon. I’ll package up any orders and then I’ll see my first client at 10 am. After that, I’ll have back to back clients every 2 hours from 6 pm to 10 pm, depending on the day! Then I’ll head home (thankfully I’m within walking distance), eat dinner, do my skincare and crash.
Refinery29 Australia: What was the inspiration behind Mannequin Hands and what did you intend to achieve with its creation?
Victoria Houllis: I mainly just wanted a creative outlet that made people feel good! It was a while before I considered it a full-time career or even a brand, but when the ball got rolling, it hasn’t seemed to stop. Everything I come across seems to spring a new idea into my head about what I can create. It’s sometimes exciting and other times frustrating that I can’t move at the pace my head is running at!
Refinery29 Australia: What was it like launching your Newtown studio in 2020?
Victoria Houllis: It was anxiety-inducing! After the first lockdown, it felt risky and took me out of my comfort zone quite literally, given that I'd worked from my bedroom prior to that. My parents and I renovated it, so it was really physically exhausting, but at the same time, it was nice to create a space that was completely my own conception. It was a dank spot before the renovation, and transforming it was really satisfying.
Refinery29 Australia: Your style is so bold, brilliant and colourful. Where do you look for creative inspiration and ideas?
Victoria Houllis: It’s always art and fashion for me. Emulating prints, textures, line work and themes has always been my favourite jumping-off point.
Refinery29 Australia: You've worked with some incredible clients including, Dua Lipa, Julia Michaels and more. What's the most challenging and exciting part of working with high-profile clients and realising their vision?
Victoria Houllis: The most challenging part is probably just the sheer awkwardness of working in a room full of people all working around this one person. With my clients, it’s normally just us two, so it’s intimate and calm. But when you’re all huddled around one person, generally doing nails on the floor so hair and makeup can work around me, it’s a totally different energy.
With their vision, it totally depends on the job. On set, it’s really up to the creative director or stylist, and sometimes you’re just adding the final touch. Other times you’re taking their inspiration and making it tangible!
Refinery29 Australia: What have been some of your biggest challenges and triumphs over the years?
Victoria Houllis: The biggest challenges have been around scaling — I’m super impatient so I want to do it all, and I want to do it now. So sometimes I need to pull back, work out what’s possible and go from there. My biggest triumph has been creating my nail decals; it’s so crazy how much work went into such a small product but as a perfectionist, it’s nice to see people notice the little details.
Refinery29 Australia: Do you have a favourite kind or style of nail art that you like to work on?
At the moment, it’s texture. I’m obsessed with playing with texture and airbrushing!
Refinery29 Australia: Are there any future ventures you can see yourself working on?
Victoria Houllis: I’d love to have more conversations around beauty! Maybe do a little nail art education? Maybe a Wayne’s World-esque beauty talk show? Maybe a coffee table book or a nail art exhibition? Look, there are a million half-baked ideas up top, but more products for sure! It’s so much fun to be able to create nail art that people can access anywhere! My books are full, but I want to get on more fingertips, so this feels like the perfect way to do it.