Mei Kawajiri

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4 mins read

Mei Jawajiri is a Kyoto born, professional celebrity manicurist.

When she was younger she found a nail book in the bookstore and she realized she wanted to do something with art for her career. At first she thought she wanted to be a tattoo artist but her mom didn’t want her to do it. She knew she wanted to have art on her body all the time, so she decided she should be a nail artist.

Mei went to nail school at the age of 19. At the time, nail art wasn’t big, but she started doing her nails crazy, and many people asked her if she could do the same on them. She started in Japan, Kyoto. Then she moved to Tokyo when she was 21 years old to work at a nail salon, and then when she was 23, she opened her own nail salon in Harajuku, called FOXXY. Her prices were a little lower than the others, though.

A friend of hers came from New York to Japan to visit—he was a photographer. She was surprised because everything there happened fast for him, while the same wasn’t happening for her. Kawajiri decided to visit New York then: the first time she came by herself, carrying many nail pictures and showing them to people. She went to stores, and people told her that she should definitely move to New York because nobody did that there. She went back to Japan and started applying for her visa—she got her artist visa after one year and then she moved.

She lived in Brooklyn, and started working at a nail salon in Soho called Valley. They were her sponsor for her visa.

One of her first real clients was Alexa Chung. It was for a photo shoot at the salon, but she already knew of her, because she was big in Tokyo.

After four or five months she decided to go freelance because she wanted to do different jobs outside of the salon that she couldn’t do there. She hired her agent because the New York Post wrote about her and she got so many emails that she couldn’t handle them all by herself. Once she met her agent, she started going to people’s houses because people were asking her if she could do their nails but she had no place to do them because she lived with four roommates. Then she started working for photo shoots and doing collaborations.

Her passion even helped her learn English as she communicated with her first clients.

A long list of celebrity clients requires her services: Bella and Gigi Hadid, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Rosalía, Karlie Kloss, Marc Jacobs, and stylist Lotta Volkova.

Her signature nail style is long, pointed, and glittery, embellished with 3D diamonds and decorated with kitschy designs in colors that pop.

Kawajiri’s nail art is fascinating because of her extreme precision, as well as her use of sculptural jewels. Unlike most manicurists, she does not use stencils or stickers. Each illustration is hand-painted, no matter how complex or detailed. She paints ultra-realistic images and can execute any custom design. Clients typically bring images for inspiration and sometimes ask her to reproduce other artists’ works, knowing Kawajiri can get it right every time.

Needless to say, you can find her work on every fashion publication you can imagine.