The Artist Turning Your Nails Into Accessories

“A lot of people underestimate the power of an interesting manicure,” says Simcha Whitehill, better know as Miss Pop Nails, whose work can be seen in Elle, Marie Claire, and Style.com/Print, and on runways during New York Fashion Week. “I like making nails look like jewelry—accessories that extend through the hands.”

A whirl of the sincere and subversive, Whitehall embodies the next generation of nail artist: a genre buster, whose outsize imagination is matched only by her outgoing persona. “We’re challenging the notion of what wearable art is. It’s not precious—it’s ephemeral,” she says. “I can have whatever’s in fashion this week, and the next week, it changes.”

That persistent flux is what evolves Whitehill’s creative touchstones, from a cinematic confection from the ’80s (more on that in a bit) to the free-spirit of Iggy Pop (whose name informs her moniker) to the chic geometry of Art Deco (a nod to her Miami roots). “The way you compliment another nail artist is to go, ‘Your eyeliner is beautiful,’” she explains. “It’s like saying, ‘I know you’re good at lines.’”

Whitehill’s first brush with polish came prodigiously at age 3, playing on the kitchen floor with the glittery Tinkerbell varnish supplied by her mom, a professional stylist. As she matured, Whitehill began painting neon-colored patterns on her digits, until her prep school put the kibosh on that. “They thought it distracted other students,” she recalls. “I kinda saw that coming....”

Dismissing nails as a childhood hobby, she ultimately moved to Manhattan to become a journalist. A random viewing of Earth Girls Are Easy—about a lovesick manicurist, played by Geena Davis—perked her interest in nails again, which grew into an obsession with several nail-art Tumblrs blowing up online. One day, while typing a story, Whitehill looked at the red polish on her fingers and thought, “I can next-level this.” Thus begat Miss Pop Nails.

Today, she’s part of what she calls a Nail-Art Renaissance. “I’ve loved all that beauty stuff since I was a little girl,” she says. “I kind of had a rekindling of my true love. I was lucky to grow up with makeup, seeing it as a constant opportunity for self-expression.”

Follow Simcha on Twitter and Instagram.