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Black Nail Polish: A Brief History

What other beauty product can boast a history that includes Chinese royalty and Freddie Mercury? Simultaneously countercultural and aristocratic, black nail polish is making yet another comeback.


Ancient China
For VIPs Only
Nail varnish originated in China; some dynasties reserved black and red for royalty.

Trippy Chic
Moody London boutique Biba makes black nail varnish for its groovy clientele.

Bohemian Crossover
Flouting several conventions in one go, glam kingpin Freddie Mercury wears black varnish, but only on one hand; Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and other rock-star gender benders also polish.

Ominous Glamorous
Bauhaus releases “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a throbbing goth anthem; their fans incorporate lots of black everything for both genders.

Comfort Goth
White contacts and black nails: the basis of Marilyn Manson’s safe-for-the-mainstream wardrobe.

The Drugstore Version
Urban Decay releases Perversion, a vinyl black polish with purple highlights named after a Gravity Kills album.

High Fashion, Part I
The models in Gucci ads sport immaculately manicured black nails.

Still Rock and Roll
Despite cropping up on fashion models, black nail polish still says “rebellious rock,” as evidenced by indie band the Deathray Davies’ album, titled Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory.

July 2003
A Manly Manicure
Football superstar/dandy David Beckham is photographed for L’Uomo Vogue with black nails.

Red Carpet Accessory
Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie keep their bad-girl images by mixing black nails with couture outfits.

Summer 2006
High Fashion, Part II
Chanel introduces Black Satin ($18), whose limited-edition status virtually ensures the kind of waiting-list frenzy that greeted its legendary 1994 Vamp.


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