Soothing classical music plays overhead (Mozart I think) and the room is pleasantly warm in contrast to the bite in the air outside. A fuzzy lap blanket hangs over the back of my chair and the woman in front of me has my hand in hers, studying it intently. After a moment, she drops organic shea butter and grapeseed oil from Benin onto my fingertips and starts massaging it into my cuticles. They are, admittedly, a mess - my thumbnails are bitten down and I have a few hangnails as well. My fingers could definitely use some TLC.
Nail and skin care are important at Nail Quick. "Our company's concept is to keep your natural nails healthy but make them beautiful," says Saeko Hashimoto, the salon manager at the Azabu Juban branch of the company. "We make a priority to have healthy nails, so we focus on cuticle care. Other companies mostly do dry nail care, and then go straight to gel."
After the massage, Hashimoto uses an electric tool to push back my cuticles and then brush off the excess skin. She's gentle, and the process feels good, with no pain or blood. Next, she expertly files my nails to shape, then gently buffs my nail beds so the gel can adhere. "With some gels," she explains, "you really need to scrape the surface deeply. But with our gels, it's just a light buffing."
We talk design, and I'm pretty picky, showing her some inspiration pics from nail magazines and listing off my undesirables. "No hearts." I say. "No bows, no ribbons, no flowers, no pastels, no pink." She gets me, and we work together to create a design I'm happy with, landing on a celestial theme.
She starts to apply the house gel, called "parfait gel," to my nails. This gel, she explains, is the company's own concoction. Made in Japan, the gel is "a little harder than regular, and really has a clear shine like glass. The color won't stain, and there is absolutely no color change for three to four weeks. It's healthier for nails, because we don't buff much, don't use primer, this gel is easily removed, and promotes nail strength."
Parfait gel comes in over 30 colors, which can be further mixed to produce the perfect shade. They're also good for "painting," the practice of drawing miniature masterpieces on the canvas of the nail bed. I am especially attracted to the bright colors, glitter, and metallics, but she says that many people go for nudes and neutrals. Gel nails used to be for special occasions, but more and more people are getting them done for everyday, and working people especially want something that they can take to the office. With people who do go for more elaborate designs, seasonal themes are popular, such as snowflakes in the winter or flower petals in spring. The popularity of gel nails has been rising steadily for the past several years, and the Nail Quick in Azabu Juban now does 90% of its business in gel nails, with only about 10% in regular nail polish manicures.
And it's not only for women: men come in too, to get nail and skin care manicures, with cuticle treatments and nail buffing. The salon even offers a "couples package" with filing, buffing, and cuticle care for two.
I ask about training, and I learn that every nailist working at the shop must first graduate from nail school before doing in-house training in at the company's education center. Before being allowed to work on customers, each technician must also pass the company's own exam.
Hashimoto has convinced me to add some appliques and some small studs to my design. I'm worried about them falling off or getting in the way, but she assures me they won't. And as the gel dries in 30 seconds, I can quickly see that she is right - the add-ons are firmly in place with no sign of budging, and oh so pleasingly shiny. Design done, I take a moment to admire her handiwork.
But we're not finished. After setting my nails under the LED lamp, she gives me a hand massage with some of the shop's own hand cream, an unscented lotion made with lychee extract, then dips my hands in paraffin wax (additional charge) "to lock the moisture in." My hands look really weird, dipped in wax, wrapped in plastic, and put in individual heated hand-bags, but when she peels the wax off a few minutes later, my skin is supple and moisturized.
Parfait gel nail courses start at around 7000 yen, but go up as you add on extras, jewels, more detailed designs, and services. But as an additional bonus, first-timers get a discount, students can receive a discount, JAF members can get a discount, and JAL miles can be accrued. Nail Quick Group (Nail Quick, SPANAIL, and Nail Parfait) has over 70 salons around the country, with one named SPANAIL in New York and possibly more to open up overseas in the future.
Here are the details of the store I visited:
Azabu-juban OHMIYA Bldg. 3F,
1-7-12 Azabu-juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045
Hours: 11:00-21:00 Weekdays; 11:00-20:00 Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays
Closed on Wednesdays.
Salon manager: Saeko Hashimoto(Japanese, English)
Here is a link to the list of salons in Tokyo: http://www.nailquick.co.jp/foreign/english.html#tokyo
Properly pampered, I now have pretty, shiny nails that make me feel that much more put together. And with the nail life of over a month, my hands will be looking sharp for awhile.