Long before nails were her creative medium, Sylvie Macmillan had a fascination with hands. “They’re so expressive, even more so than our faces,” she shares in admiration of their unrestricted ability to unveil our authentic feelings.
Working with her hands paired well for a pursuit in technical arts. During her studies in special effects, the London-based artist became engrossed with prosthetics; in particular with miniature model making. Ultimately, adding up her goals of working in fashion, model making, artistic freedom and collaborating with women, nails became the perfect solution to the equation of her creative endeavors.
Now, from micro-sculptures to bedazzled talons, Macmillan creates fantastical nail art for the likes of Miu Miu, Burberry, Etro and Off-White™ working on the hands of Rosalia, Bella Hadid and Shygirl. Not one to follow trends, the nail artist, instead, amplifies her creative convictions by blending fantasy and function.
Read more to hear how Macmillan went from working with prosthetics to fashion favorites and her hopes for the future of her craft below.
While you’re here, check out our favorite beauty collaborations of 2023.
How did you transition from prosthetics and model making to nail design?
When you’re model making, your job is to follow an exact brief, not to participate in the design process. It was something that I felt was missing from my work so, I started to think about what I wanted from my career. I wanted to do something similar to model making and use the same materials but I wanted to be on set and work in fashion, beauty and character building. I also wanted to work with lots of women. So, in the middle of this Venn diagram, was nails.
Once you made the decision to focus on nails, what was the process like to execute your vision?
I did my training to learn about the important things like health and safety. Then, I practiced for about six months and started on Instagram which gained traction quite quickly. This was about seven years ago, when there wasn’t such an abundance of people doing similar work, especially in fashion. I had the right skill set, at the right time, with the right ideas.
Finding what you want to do is a process of not only finding what you like but about eliminating things, too. I thought I would really like prosthetics but I felt like it was lacking in creativity because you’re there to execute something hyperrealistic without any personal flair and it’s an incredibly male dominated space. But with nails, luckily, it’s one of those spaces that women have built.
Sylvie Macmillan for Burberry
At what point did you feel confident to call yourself a nail artist?
For years, I felt I was faking it until I made it. It wasn’t until I was put in the New Wave category at the British Fashion Awards that I felt a real marker of respect in the field.
I call myself a nail technician, rather than an artist. There’s something about the word that I really like. Wether it be in the arts or in science, technicians are always the ones who really save your ass. I really don’t mind what people call me as long as they don’t call me “nail girl.” So often people call me the “nail girl” on set and I’m like “Would you call someone the ‘hair boy’? I don’t think so.”
What’s your favorite set you’ve ever done?
My shoot for The Altered States Magazine. There’s this correlation between living your fantasy and having long nails – even if you work with your hands and it’s not realistic. I also saw a correlation between nail paint and car paint. I love it when people have these mundane cars and make them outrageous with the paint work. There’s one shot where the hands are holding the steering wheel and the thumb nails are wrapping around it. They were really difficult but really fun to make.
Outside of editorial, what aesthetic trends are you seeing in nails right now?
I’m actually one of the worst people to talk to about trends. You can be easily influenced by things you see on Instagram which is why I don’t follow any nail artists. How am I supposed to make something new if I’m too influenced by other people’s work? I also don’t like the conversation around trends. If square nails are “out” for example, are we really going to tell someone who loves square nails that they shouldn’t wear their signature look? Trends are a fun thing to try out but let’s not belittle people’s convictions.
What’s your dream collaboration?
Dolly Parton. She is truly everything. It’s so unlikely because I’m sure she’s had the same nail tech for decades and those same long, square, bright raspberry pink acrylics. But, for me, her attitude and her work are unparalleled. Dolly is queen.
What about the hand is an interesting medium to you?
I always look to other sectors for inspiration. What are people doing with their hands in nature, with cars, in film? Hands are so expressive and unrestricted, even more so than our faces. When you laugh you slap your knee with your hand, it’s so instinctive. We’re socialized to train our facial expressions but our hands have very visceral reactions; they are a total giveaway to how you’re feeling.
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