Only six years ago, nail artist Harriet Westmoreland was a single mom in her native York in need of a career that could support her family. Now, she is an Instagram phenomenon, a collaborator with luxury brands like Hermès and Chanel and the manicurist for celebrities like Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and Zendaya.
Her short and stratospheric rise is a consequence of her unparalleled ability to turn the most traditional styles, like nude nails and French manicures, into captivating works of art. For Westmoreland, every manicure is an exacting process that entails finding the perfect shade to match a client’s skin tone, prepping the nails with products that correspond to the client’s nail texture and shaping the nails to elongate a specific finger shape.
In addition, Westmoreland has also developed a range of signature painting techniques that add dynamism and freshness to seemingly simple styles. Her ‘blush’ technique is a prime example of this, which shades out a drop of a nude polish in the centre of the nail to create a delicate, glowing effect.
By the end of every session, clients have a manicure that perfectly complements their particular hands and, often, their particular jewels. As Westmoreland notes in our conversation below, nails and jewels are a natural pairing. Exceptional nails exacerbate the elegance of an exceptional ring, bracelet or watch, and vice versa. While both nails and jewellery offer their wearers an immediate beauty that can be looked at and enjoyed all day, unlike hair or makeup which needs a mirror or photograph to be seen.
Below, Westmoreland shares that insight and more in a fascinating conversation that spans her personal journey to success, her unique approach to traditional manicures and her tips for making your hands look better than ever.
Having your nails done is like having little jewels at the end of your fingers.
Growing up, I would go to my grandma's house every Friday to Monday and on a Saturday morning she'd do her nails with this small manicure kit. She was just very glam — one of those women who are completely polished all the time, like she had been dipped in lacquer. She would always ask if I wanted her to do [my nails] and for me it was a bit of beauty that I could join in with at that age. Since then I've just always been obsessed with it.
No, I’ve actually only been doing nails for around six years. I've got two boys, Noah and George, and to be honest after I split up with George's dad I needed a job. I was left thinking ‘what can I do?’ and my mom suggested I try doing nails.
I'd always go into salons and the shaping was never quite right, or if I asked for a nude they'd just put on a block nude and they never really had a nude shade other than Bubble Bath (a popular OPI colour). So I started thinking maybe there's a clientele out there that wants the same thing as what I want.
Yes, I was always creating content but it really started taking off when I began working in London and had clients that wore the most amazing, beautiful pieces of jewellery. They wanted to showcase their jewellery along with their nails on Instagram, so they would say ‘let’s go pick out some pieces of jewellery to take a picture with’ and they would take me to these amazing safes and rooms filled with lots of Carolina Bucci actually and different jewellery brands too.
So from there, creating content became even more of a thing for me because it's a really interesting, different way to showcase jewellery and watches and nails. I mean, having your nails done is like having little jewels at the end of your fingers already.
I spent a lot of time prepping the nail to get that perfect, smooth, even finish so that when I put the gel onto the nail it sits correctly. I like dry prep, which means I don’t do any soaking of the cuticles and I don't use a nail file. I have two tools that I use, and then my cuticle nippers remove any skin.
I also spend a lot of time connecting the right products to the clients' nail type. Whether they feel flaky, dry, brittle, strong, oily, or whatever their nail type is, there are going to be certain bases that sit better on their nails. If you don’t do that correctly the polish will chip really quickly.
Then it’s about the colour match. When I’m creating a nude nail I’m thinking about what’s going to look good with a client’s undertone — whether it's a pink undertone, a yellow undertone or something else. So I want at least 50 nude shades to be able to choose from to find the perfect shade to complement their skin tone, just like when you go into a department store and you've got all the different foundations for different skin tones.
The shaping of the nail is also super important because people usually want to elongate the nail so it looks as long as possible; and the fashion at the minute is for people to have their nails as short as possible but to look like they've got a long nail bed.
Then I finish with a super glossy topcoat, scrub and oil wash as a full hand cleanse.
It’s such a wearable style and you can make it work for you. If you go away for work and you can't get a manicure for weeks on end, then a nude nail is going to work for you. I suppose it’s also luxury with a low maintenance finish.
When I created that I was thinking about how when you apply blush to your cheeks you have this lovely, flushed glowing effect. I thought surely we can do the same for our nails, because sometimes if I put one coat on, or two coats on, it looks good, but I'd love to be able to create more of a glow.
So I spent some time experimenting with different techniques and finally found a product and a technique that I was happy with. What it is, basically, is that you drop a ball of product onto the nail and then work the product out so it's slightly more opaque in the middle and more transparent towards the outer nail. It creates something that’s subtle but [noticeably] there.
BIAB [from The Gel Bottle] which is the only gel I enjoy using for the blush technique. You don't need a base coat with it, so you can get that super thin but smooth effect. Also the Extreme Shine top coat from The Gel Bottle is the one that I use.
I think just make sure you take enough time. If you do a manicure step by step, it will be good.
Just from watching my clients, I know that we all look at our nails a lot. You can spend a lot on makeup, hair, skin, whatever, but you never really see yourself unless you're looking in the mirror. Nails, though, are quite a nice thing for you to enjoy all the time, the same as jewellery. So put the time into it.