I have body art on the mind. I’ve made an appointment, met with an artist that came highly recommended, and chatted about specific designs I want done. No, this wasn’t a consultation for my newest tattoo– this is the normal routine for Toronto’s hottest and busiest luxury nail art studio, Pinky’s Nails. Located on Richmond St., their tiny space houses seven artists and more decorative tchotchkes for nails then you’d find on the set of Art Attack.Pinky’s Nails Lizzie Renaud with shop dog Wilma. Photo Credit: Maxwell Lander
Pinky’s owner Lizzie Renaud is not who you’d picture behind the city’s newest luxury nail art studio. Short and tiny, she’s covered in tattoos. Neck, knuckles, elbows, chest…you name it. We met for coffee on a rainy afternoon for an all-out girly gabfest about art, nails, tattoos and shopping. Not coincidently, Lizzie also owns Speakeasy Tattoos on Church and Harbord. While you might think her two businesses couldn’t be further apart, Lizzie has quietly upped the nail art game by treating her salon like a tattoo parlour.
“A lot of places have a set menu of designs that they do and redo all the time,” Lizzie says. “I wanted it to be like a tattoo shop where everyone has their own specialties and designs that they do. I want customers to be like ‘I hear Jen does great leopard print, I want to go to her’ or ‘Justin is amazing at doing a galaxy design so why would I try anyone different?'”
Pinky’s Nails seemingly appeared overnight. After a trip to England where Lizzie saw legendary nail art from WAH Salon, she decided to take her savings and open up her own spot where she could have free range over customers’ nails. When her sister Nikki heard the idea, she promptly quit her job to help manage the new business. Weeks later, Pinky’s was born with Lizzie and Nikki at the helm. Tattooing for just under ten years now, Lizzie has a strong design background and can occasionally be found funking up clients’ nails when she’s not inking at Speak Easy.
Further separating herself from the nail salon pack, Lizzie employs an unusual staff rather than your run-of-the-mill nail technicians. Most of them come with a fine art schooling background, with others running personal blogs about their love of nail art. One in particular, Justin, has a Tommy Ton-like quality of being able to name the shade and label of almost any nail polish he spots (as Ton does with designer shoes). Artists are given free range over their designs and each comes equipt with a dozen nail wheels depicting samples of their work for clients to choose from. When she first opened her doors, Lizzie divided her stash of 150 nail wheels to her artists….and a month and a half into it, realized she needs to order more.
Both Lizzie and Nikki recognized very early into their business that social media prowess is a must. After tweeting constantly about their designs, Pinky’s is currently armed with 2,781 Instagram followers.
“Our Twitter presence is definitely a huge group effort,” Lizzie said. “They [staff members] all have the apps on their phones so they’re constantly manning the account. What blows my mind is the amount of people who come in because they’ve seen something on Twitter or Instagram that they loved and just had to come in to request. It’s opened us up to people we didn’t specifically target. We get a lot of girls coming over from Buffalo who have seen the pictures.”
Nicole and Liz’s nails
It always helps when some Toronto-famous faces tweet in support of a local business. MuchMusic’s Liz Trinnear and MTV’s Nicole Holness and Sharlene Chiu recently tweeted their own nail art courtesy of Lizzie’s artists.
During Pride week, Pinky’s offered special deals for any drag queens who came for a mani and currently maintains a very strong gay male clientele. Their first month also Pinky’s provide nail art services for the maximum price of $30. Prices have since changed to reflect each individual design, but clients can still get a discount if they opt for a design of the artist’s choice.
Lizzie has begun to ask clients to email pictures of outfits they hope to match their nails to for special occasions. Send your photo and a few design ideas, and personalized nail art will be waiting for you at your appointment. This unique service is just another way she’s bridging the gap between nails and tattoos. Her strongest innate quality, bred from her years working with needles and sterilization, is her attention to cleanliness. Lizzie can’t stress enough how clean she needs her work spaces to be.
Interestingly, widening the gap between her salon and others, Pinky’s doesn’t offer the usual menu of services. No pedicures will be found here and manicures are kept as basic as possible. Arcylic tips are available though, especially with the new craze of severely pointed nails.
Lizzie and Nikki are still evolving Pinky’s Nails and are hard at work trying to think up new indulgences for their clients. A liquor license may be in the works for groups of girls interested in getting beautified while pregaming a night out. Since Pinky’s shares a floor with a hair salon and a spa, Lizzie hopes to start offering bachelorette packages to include massages, hair, nails, booze, and even a limo.
“It’s so funny to see how quickly the gestures of our clients’ change as soon as they get their nails done,” Lizzie laughed. “It’s such a fun business to run. I let my artists go absolutely apeshit with their designs and, in return, they blow my mind with what they come up with.”
Bianca Teixeira writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @BeeLauraTee.