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This Kylie-Approved Nail Artist Shows Us How To Stand Out This Spring

Meet Paris's favorite California girl.

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Walking into This Is Venice, Lily Nguyen’s L.A.-inspired, girly-gangsta nail salon in the heart of Paris, was a bit of a disorienting experience. I rang at the street entrance – a facade decorated with stylized moldings and classical reliefs – and let myself into a small, picturesque courtyard. Entering the apartment to my left, I took the spiral staircase, my steps muffled by soft carpeting and the sense of awe most people feel when ascending elegant Parisian properties. Nguyen greeted me on the second floor, breaking the silence with an exuberant "hello," and ushered me into her salon.
 
Prints of palm trees and surfers were arranged next to a mammoth collection of nail polishes in a dizzying array of fluorescent colors. A pair of psychedelic rollerblades hung casually beside a pink flamingo poster and a set of bright turquoise lockers. And the synths from The Chainsmokers’ Roses were pulsing through the overhead speakers. Nguyen’s dog, a Corgi and Border Collie mix named April, scampered around my feet, and Nguyen asked me, in an English tinged with equal parts Californian sunniness and French allure, if I wanted anything to drink. 

 
At only 25 years old, Nguyen is the nail artist and founder of This Is Venice, a Parisian salon renowned both on Instagram and IRL for Nguyen’s unique designs, ranging from clear polish with sparkly tips to pearl-encrusted crosses with gothic rose borders. Her business has even received the ultimate L.A. stamp of approval: last year, Kylie Jenner featured Nguyen on her website and app. I visited Nguyen at her salon for a late morning chat over coffee, where this Parisienne (who's really a Cali girl at heart) opened up about her journey to Venice, shared her advice on getting into nail art as a beginner and proved why nail art (and not a Gucci handbag) is this season’s real must-have accessory.
 
“Growing up, I was always the artistic one – I spent most of my time drawing instead of listening to my teachers,” Nguyen recalled, laughing. “When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do... but I knew it would be something creative.” She started out as a visual merchandiser at Bershka, applied for art school (it didn’t work out) and then transitioned to working retail at Vans. It was in 2010, while surfing the Internet, that Nguyen first stumbled upon pictures of nail art. “I tried it... and I never stopped. It became a passion that became an addiction that became my full-time job.” After a whirlwind initiation to the craft, she founded Venice in 2011, cutting her Vans safety cord in 2012 to dedicate herself fully to her new profession. “It came very naturally,” she told me. “I just took it step-by-step and it led me to where I am now.”

Images: via Tumblr
 
The L.A. aesthetic is a big part of Nguyen’s brand, but it’s not just savvy marketing: it comes from a place of personal resonance. “'This Is Venice' refers to Venice Beach. California’s been such a big part of my life – the first time I visited was in 2003.” Nguyen remembered being immediately enamored by her surroundings. “Oh my God!” she enthused, imitating her younger self. “It was just like my dreams – palm trees everywhere!” Now, Nguyen travels to L.A. every year for a month or two to visit friends and recharge her batteries. “The mentality is very different,” she mused. “Americans are really hard workers, they’re helpful and they share their contacts. It’s changing a bit now, but for the longest time in Paris even if people could help you, they wouldn’t – because you might take a spot that they could have had. People in Paris are more reserved and cold, and people in California are really warm, welcoming and friendly.”

 
Nguyen’s California-girl enthusiasm became even more evident when I showed her my nails apologetically: short and stubby, not a trace of polish let alone art to be seen. Unfazed, she immediately pulled out a bottle of Dadi Oil (she swears by it for its moisturizing properties) and began applying it to my nails, explaining to me why I shouldn’t be intimidated by gorgeous Instagram #nailporn. “You only see the nails, but you don’t see the entire person. The girls who come to me are ‘normal girls’ – they work in offices, in classrooms, in fashion, in finance [...] If you’re a beginner, something with pastel colors or a linear design that’s a bit more graphic would be an easy way to get into nail art.” She recommended using soak-off gel polish from NCLA (whose products are 100% vegan and free from seven commonly found toxins) to create more elevated, artistic designs. “Normal polish isn’t as refined. Soak-off gel is the best – you don’t have to be careful about it. You can do the dishes, you can clean up your entire house, and you won’t chip if you do a good job with the application.”
 
Nguyen's passion is contagious, and I began to understand why. To her, nail art isn't an occasional luxury – it's a medium of self-expression that should be valued as much as the outfits we pull together or the hair and make-up looks we create. “Your nails are an accessory, and I feel like they’re really the final touch to complete your entire look. Buying a new bag is so whatever – if you get your nails done, you’re having an artist get creative on ten little canvases! Everyone can have a bag, but not everyone is going to have cool-ass nails.” For Nguyen, nail art is just part-and-parcel of her style. “Nails or fashion, it’s all the same. It’s my personality on the outside – this big mash-up of girly and gangsta, hip-hop and pop, colorful and black, and Paris and L.A.”

 
It was now early afternoon, and Nguyen was preparing a bite to eat before welcoming her first client of the day. I finally asked her the question I had been dying to pose: so did she really do Kylie Jenner’s nails? Nguyen gave a rueful grin. “Oh, I wish! They just interviewed me, but it’s already great that she recommended me like this – I’m really grateful. I tried to say, you know, if Kylie wants nails, I’m here when she comes to Paris... or L.A.”
 
That was in 2016. For Nguyen, 2017 is about new opportunities for growth, and she’s been working hard on translating some of her ideas (which she’s decided to keep under wraps for now) into reality. “It’s so easy to stay in your comfort zone, but I feel like we need to put ourselves in danger if we want to grow.” In one sentence, Nguyen summed up the reason for her success thus far – and why you should expect to see her pimping Kylie’s nails in L.A. very soon.

Shop Nguyen's expert-recommended selection of products for nail color and care:
1/11
NCLA Redicalist Holographic Polish - $18
Shop
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NCLA Drop-Dead Gorgeous Soak-off Gel Polish - $21
Shop
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NCLA Stuck on the 405 Soak-off Gel Polish - $21
Shop
4/11
NCLA Treatments First Base - $16
Shop
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OPI Top Coat - $10
Shop
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Colorclub Many Moons Ago - $8.50
Shop
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Floss Gloss Neon Nacho Polish - $8
Shop
8/11
Dadi Organic Nail Cuticle Oil Treatment - $10
Shop
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Dr. Hauschka Hydrating Hand Cream - $25
Shop
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Sky Organics Organic Castor Oil - $14
Shop
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OPI Expert Touch Lacquer Remover - $6
Shop

You can follow Lili Nguyen on her blog This Is Venice and on her Instagram @thisisvenice. If you are in Paris, you can book a nail appointment by emailing nails@thisisvenice.fr.
All photos by Diana Liu.
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