On its face, Claws has always been a show that a viewer could enjoy on mute. It’s a campy, noir ensemble show that never strayed away from being Too Much. In fact, Claws is a show that’s nearly impossible to describe — a darkly comedic show about four women working in a nail salon in Manatee County, Florida, and what happens when they get into the money laundering game sounds too good to be true, and yet it always was.
Niecy Nash’s Desna is a fiery, protective business bitch with a hidden ruthlessness that emerges first out of desperation but turns into primal desire as she goes up against Dean Norris’s Uncle Daddy, a bisexual and openly philandering leader of the Dixie Mafia obsessed with maintaining the status quo and power at any cost — even if it means his family has to be punished for it. Metaphorically and literally, the Claws come out. But don’t let that description make this sound like another Ozark — no, Claws is a brightly colored, aesthetically-forward show that dares to mix textures and colors in order to match the heat of the environment of South Florida.
In the show’s four seasons, it remained darkly funny even in the most serious of experiences — the final season has one character emerge from a drug overdose-induced coma only to see her friends fighting around her… only they’re not her friends, but puppets. The ensemble cast of Nash, Carrie Preston, Jenn Lyon, Karrueche Tran, and Judy Reyes take on modern masculinity and the concept of power in every episode, and look damn good doing it.
Of course, a show like Claws isn’t made in a vacuum — an extensive team of hair and makeup artists, along with a stellar nail artist team headed by Morgan Dixon all worked hard in the New Orleans heat in order to make a visually pleasing series. Refinery29 was lucky enough to talk with Preston, Lyon, Tran, Reyes, and Dixon about the show’s nail art legacy, how the nails went from concept to execution, and what they believe a Vengeance nail look would actually look like.
R29: This show, to be cliched, allowed the nails and makeup and styling to be a fifth character on the ensemble — what was it like working on such an aesthetically-minded show?
CARRIE PRESTON (Polly Marks): The thing that was so great about the scripts from the get go, is in the stage directions, the writers would put what the nails were for each of the characters. We would read the scenes and then we would read those stage directions and it would be, “Polly: ‘eyes are watching you’ nails”, or something like that. It would describe the nails like that, so the nail artists knew what to create for us and we knew how that was going to inform the scenes. The audience might not ever pick up on that, but it was certainly all these details that then we would take and layer into all of what we were doing, and what the designers were doing. And that was something I certainly had never seen before, and probably will never see again.
KARRUECHE TRAN (Virginia Loc): I feel like those nail directions or inspirations also influenced a lot of our outfits as well.
JENN LYON (Jennifer Husser): I started out the show in clip-in extensions, and then as time wore on, I just kept asking for more hair and eventually, we landed on a wig, and then a wig on top, and then a leave out. Budd Bird, who was my hair guy, is a genius, and he'd be in the trailer all day, just crimping and getting ready for tomorrow. You put it on our head, and then it's like a beautiful, heavy helmet that never succumbs to humidity or anything. I am fully a drag queen. And now when I don't have tons of makeup or lashes on, I'm just like, I'm a little boy.
JUDY REYES (Quiet Ann): Well, that's where I am, I'm a little boy the entire time. I made the choice with the hair, to go cornrows or twists, or curls, or mohawks. That's how I would have it — and to Karrueche's point, in terms of how the character was described, a little more subtle, but aggressive. Before each episode, we would plot. What's going to be the hair? Because if you're going to do the hair, it's probably going to be there for the entire episode, and we have to wrap it, make it tight enough so that it'll last, but not so tight that I can't sleep.
R29: How did you guys interact with your hair and your makeup and the nail team about the curation of the character and their personal style?
LYON: We owe them everything.
LYON: We would come into that trailer looking like little pieces of seaweed in the New Orleans humidity, and we would leave like, full drag beat to the gods. Karrueche got jewels stuck to her face, Carrie has a crazy glitter moment. We got to collaborate with them, and then we would kind of close our eyeballs and then open them back up and it would be done, and it was just stunning.
PRESTON: Carl [Variste], who did my hair — I felt like I had a shadow. I'd turn back and it would be Carl, and he liked to scare me. Because he would be ... every little hair, he would be combing it. Because that was where Polly was really trying to hold herself together, her aspirational idea of what a together woman would look like: It all landed with what she did with her hair.
LYON: Karrueche and Stephen [Moleski, makeup artist] just whispered to each other about what the look was going to be like, like we were gonna steal it or something.
TRAN: I was into my looks. Virginia's a millennial, she's Gen-Z. So every little detail counts and I love the fact that our team was so collaborative from the hair, the makeup, the nails, the wardrobe. It was just so much fun to just really put all the pieces together. Everyone really came with their A-game — like Terez [Ordon] had these amazing hairstyles for me, although the wig drove me crazy, because it was like this heavy helmet on my head all day. But you know, it's who Virginia is.
MORGAN DIXON (Lead Nail Artist): There's a lot of moving parts in terms of the cast having to try on their specific looks and some things might work for them, some things might not. My job as the nail designer is to make multiple looks really that I just could see working with the episode at hand. They were more conceptual in the beginning, but then they became just part of who [the characters] were, part of their outfits.
TRAN: We were blessed to have such an amazing team all around that really supported us and really individually understood each character. All of us, we're all crazy colorful, we've got our own thing going, but it's also very specific. Collectively, in some random way, they just make it look good together. But individually, it's like, what is going on?
DIXON: I've had a lot of people ask me, how many nails do you think you've made? And I literally lost count in season two, because you have to factor in background people. There might be a random person they want to throw in there. They might change the gender of somebody.
R29: How did the process of creating the nails work, from ideation to execution?
DIXON: Basically, we start weeks in advance, and in the initial meetings, we just figure out what's going on and people start throwing out their ideas from the production team to, like I said, hair and makeup, to the grips, to costumes. Everybody's just throwing out the ideas that they see after they read the script. For myself, after reading the script, I am just making notes and just trying to figure out what I envision.
A lot of them just gave me free rein to just do what I wanted. And for myself, I love to create a few different looks though, because I'm just such a perfectionist and things just might look different once a whole outfit is complete.
R29: Why do you think nail art has also become a form of emotional expression for people, and why do you think that especially resonated with the Claws audience?
DIXON: So the artistic aspect [of nail art] has really been something that really hits home for me. I love visiting museums, I love going to galleries. I can't afford any of the art in a lot of galleries, but something I can afford is to go get my nails done and to get artwork on my nails. You can obtain this piece of art.
PRESTON: I think because the show is dealing with an elevated tone from the get go, the look of the show helps sell the over-the-top stories. We needed that to signal to the audience — hey, we're going to take you someplace higher. We're going to take you someplace bigger and grander, and it's going to be a whole Florida noir vibe that you're going to be getting.
LYON: I also think the look, and the nails, and the hair, and everything is also about like… not asking for permission to be as bold as you want. Take up space, be as fly as you want, even though you work in a strip mall. There are ways that women have learned to take agency in their own lives, even if they don't get it from other people, and the more they stopped asking for permission and the more they started, in their own flawed way, taking their own power, the looks started to grow and grow. And I think that a lot of people can resonate with that.
DIXON: It's beautiful to me to see how much of a capsule it is going to be in the future of the trends. Because again, who knows where nail art is going to go? I really love the freedom that I have to create looks too. I see myself as a multimedia and conceptual nail artist. When I say multimedia, I just love textures, I love colors. My personal signature set is just a mix and match set.
R29: Do you have a favorite nail look from the series?
PRESTON: I can't, I don't know, I can't choose one. I'm sorry, there's too many good —
LYON: No, we couldn't choose one, but each of us had our own shape.
PRESTON: That's right.
TRAN: I'm a coffin girl.
PRESTON: I was oval.
LYON: I'm long square.
REYES: I'm short square. I didn't wear any nails.
LYON: Niecy was stiletto, I think.
PRESTON: Niecy was stiletto, which is the crazy one.
DIXON: I love that I was able to do anything. Girl, I don't know what you're all about, but I was able to put feathers. I put a huge disco ball on Desna's nails. I had stones that made a set of nails feel like they were like 10 pounds.
I think one of my favorite sets was that I got to put a framed picture of Juanda, [Uncle Daddy, played by Dean Norris]’s beloved Juanda, after she passed away. He had just Wanda in this wood grained, a picture of her on his nail, on his little pinky nail. I did Faberge eggs on one of the villains. They were so beautiful, but something that was so bittersweet is in the episode, she's getting them taken off. So I had to literally be there to see them clipping and picking them apart. And those nails, those are $1000 dollar nails, if you think about the work, and the time and the material... I didn't want to use some stuff we could just throw random stones from Michael's on, for something that's just going to be a quick background that you're barely going to see. But that broke my heart. I had to show them how to take it all off, too.
R29: How do you think the nail shape informed your characters?
REYES: That shape makes sense to all our characters, and all our choices and how we progress from episode to episode.Morgan was not only brilliant, but had the energy to make a set of nails for each every single one of us, and have them styled for every look. It was incredible. We would go to each other, and say, “Let me see your nails today.” And then she would have to make like two or three sets, sometimes, because you know, in the middle of a take or rehearsal, it'd be like “nail down,” and you'd have to fly in with a new nail because it disappeared in the ether somehow.
LYON: And then you go get undressed at night and it's in your shapewear, or your wig, or your sock.
TRAN: ...I think that only happened to Jenn. I have to keep my nails on point now. Like all the time. Because we're on a show called Claws that's about nails, anywhere I go, they're like —
TRAN & PRESTON: “Let me see your nails.”
TRAN: It was the worst when we were filming, because we couldn't have anything on our nails at all. So I'd be at the airport, and some girl would be like, “Hey girl, I wanna see your ‘Claws’!” And they're like these really shitty, plain, basic nails. I'm like, err, okay!
REYES: I don't have that problem.
R29: What would a Vengeance nail look like?
DIXON: You know some polishes that, you catch it at different lights, it's like a different color? To me, it's like, you're expecting something, but then there's this, the vengeance is just that second side of fierce. I don't know what color specifically, but I could see it being just this red to yellow kind. Just something that is giving you way more than just a black color.
LYON: I think it would look like little outlines, like chalk bodies, little outlines of dead bodies on the concrete!
TRAN: I would say I'm going to go with a Desna nail shape, Stiletto. Red blood dripping ...
LYON: I think there would need to be charms. Like maybe there's a blood, like a drop of blood charm hanging off at the end of each one, maybe.
TRAN: That's Virginia’s style, too.
REYES: I’ll stick with that shape, but getting longer squares, like the round edges, black and like with machetes and things like that. Pictures, like very, fancy. Different but still that matte color, that matte black, which I love.
DIXON: The Gel Bottle has a color called Sonia which I love and don’t know how to describe. It's just this pigmented glitter that literally looks like there's green, red, orange, purple, gold. I don't know how to describe it, but if you saw it, you'd be like, oh my God, there literally is green, purple, orange. It's like, what the fuck color is this?
It's this boldness and yeah, it would have to be a total effect — A polish, like a realistic polish too, but has to be something only nail techs and engineers can do. Leave the vengeance to the professionals.