The Intricate Nails of Mei Kawajiri: OPI x ADEAM for NYFW

A frenzy of people dart across a narrow and small room backstage at Spring Studios in Tribeca.

Hair stylists, makeup artists, manicurists, and young models all chatter along to the whir of hairdryers, creating a loud but soothing buzz.

As chaos envelops the room, a woman resembling Grace Coddington appears at the entrance to the white-walled room. Her face looks red and frustrated.

“Girls! Please! May I have silence?” She shouts after several attempts of getting at least one person’s attention. “Now, we must do a quick rehearsal before the show. Everything must be stopped and then we can get back to business!”

Over two dozen young and thin models move towards the Grace Coddington look alike. Their frail bodies exit the room following the woman. In the middle of the room, stands a tiny woman with long greyish-blonde hair. She looks around and giggles. She is used to the chaos and quick changes. After all, she is Mei Kawajiri, the lead manicurist for the February 9, New York Fashion Week, OPI x ADEAM show. Many know her as “Nails by Mei” from following her on Instagram.

“It took me about 12 hours to make around 500 nails,” says Kawajiri while holding onto her own nails as if they are the ones being showcased. “I figured, there’s 28 models and 10 fingers on each. I wasn’t sure what size so I just made double the nails just in case.” Luckily she had the help of several assistants. The team created the nails the day before the show.

Kawajiri’s nail art is known to grace the fingers of Ariana Grande, Gigi and Bella Hadid and even the head designer for ADEAM, Hanako Maeda.

Models pose at NYFW
Three models pose backstage with their freshly ornamented nails before the Feb. 9 show.

“Last year, before her [Maeda] NYFW show, she came to my apartment to get her nails done and told me she wanted to have my nail art be part of her show,” says Kawajiri. “The nails ended up bringing her a lot of press. She wanted to do it again for this year.”

The fun and quirky manicurist has been doing nails for over 16 years and says this is one of her more fun shows of the season, especially since she knows the designer well. She has already done work with Tom Ford and has several other shows coming up for the rest of the week.

As the hum of the room has quieted down and the beauty team chat among themselves, Kawajiri discusses the two colors chosen for the show. The colors come from the new OPI Japan collection.

The models’ nails are almond shaped, the most flattering for most hands, says Kawajiri. Nails are either covered in a dark blue or petal color. The dark blue color from OPI is called ‘Chopstix and Stones’ while the petal color from OPI is ‘Judo’nt Say?’

After several base coats of one of the colors on a set of fingers, pearls decorate and complete the look. The pearls add a subtle flair to the nails. Inspiration was drawn from the ADEAM collection where garments showed the beauty of handcrafted details as well as an appreciation for nature.

With such intricate detailing for the nails, Kawajiri says she has no secrets for the drying process. She laughs and pauses, thinking back to her even more detailed and complex nails. “No. I have no secrets or tips!”

As the models make their way back into the room, chaos consumes the area once again. Kawajiri heads back to work, helping a model whose nail fell off while trying on a garment. The whir and buzz of machines and chatter take over the room again. Time quickly speeds up, creating anxiety in everyone to make sure every detail is perfect for the show.

In the venue at Spring Studios for the show, the sun gleams onto the runway and guests. Celebrities, beauty and fashion influencers, find their seats and greet each other like old friends. Among them are Linda Fargo and Rachel Zoe, two notorious names to the fashion industry.

As the show begins, the frail and young models make their way down the runway that is complete with painted birch trees. The models’ garments are made with hues of reds, yellows, and blues as well as plaid patterns. Their nails add a pop of color and detail to the already intricate garments. As quickly as the show started, it ends. Cameras flash, the crowd applauds, and everyone exits.

As for Kawajiri, her work is not over. Later this month, she will head to Paris to adorn the fingers of the models in the Balenciaga show, something she is looking forward to, she says. For now, she will finish NYFW and drink coffee, something that keeps her running.

“Yes, I must have my coffee,” she says earlier backstage. “It’s a necessity.”

nails and cheetah print pants.
A model poses her nails against her cheetah print pants.