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The eternal allure of the red nail

NATASHA HUGHES
Last updated 11:11 06/12/2012
Red nails

CONFIDENT AND SEXY: It takes a certain amount of confidence and daring - not to mention maintenance - to pull off a red nail, a la Pulp Fiction's Mia Wallace.

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James Bond's latest squeeze chooses a covetable OPI gold underside, while Nicki Minaj is a bubblegum pink kind of a gal.

But while metallic- and neon-painted nails may make an amusing diversion, and nail art is an expression of individuality, red nails never fall out of fashion - with good reason.

''They signal power and confidence,'' says psychologist Amantha Imber.

We don't doubt it - think Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction or a sultry Marilyn Monroe: wallflowers they are not.

''They show that a woman is potentially bright and fun. Wearing such a bold colour makes quite a statement.''

Red nails are a classic - the ''ultimate colour'' according to celebrity manicurist Fiona Hay - and nail brands continue to offer more reds than any other shade.

But, like all style statements, red nails come with risks attached.

''With normal business attire or casual jeans, red nails add fun and colour but with a revealing outfit they can send another impression,'' Imber says.

Image consultant Suzanne Dekyvere puts it more succinctly: ''Stripper nails.'' She adds: ''If the nails are long, curved and bright red, there's some stigma attached - it's a bit 'pole dancing'. So too if you've got the short skirt and cleavage happening with the nails.''

Hay says red nails are seen as ''too vampy'' by women who don't have the confidence to wear them well.

''You've got to get it right with red - the shade, the application and the maintenance. If you've got the confidence, it's such a sexy and glamorous look; a sophisticated and very feminine colour to wear. People will go with the trends but red's always going to be in.''

Red nail polish was made alluring - and socially acceptable - in Thirties New York by Revlon.

''Charles Revson (Revlon founder) wasn't selling a very deep red polish - he was selling 'Cherries in the Snow' and 'Fifth Avenue Red' - and, with the colours, excitement, fun and a fantasy,'' says a Revlon Australia spokeswoman.

''He was selling the chance that it might turn the right head or lend a touch of class.''

Women were further sold on red with the groundbreaking Fire and Ice marketing campaign of 1952, ''matching lips and fingertips''. The promotion featured Dorian Leigh, one of the most beautiful models in the business, oozing sex appeal in a silver sheath - and splaying fiery red nails across her face.

Overnight red nails became sophisticated and exciting, as they remain.

''I love red nails because they add a bit of drama,'' says Dekyvere, principal of An Air of Distinction.

''Even if you have to be conservative somewhere, it gets a little bit of your personality out. Red is daring. It's very 'look at me'.''

This is why another leading image consultant, Lizzie Wagner, has black-and-white views on red nail polish.

''No way will you wear it to work. Absolutely no,'' Wagner says.

''I've just done a whole series of corporate training around the country and 900 staff think they can wear red nails but they can't.

"You're selling a product, not yourself. Wearing red nails is screaming out as much as wearing red opaques (stockings) to work. In corporate settings, medical rooms, front-line reception and in hotels and hospitality, red nails are not acceptable.''

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Wagner says red nail polish is, however, imminently suitable for special occasions such as a Christmas party and dinner at a restaurant and for ''personal time''.

''But a small chip in red nail polish is like looking at a missing roof tile. They need to be well groomed and well shaped.''

This is Fiona Hay's speciality: she looks after the nails of red enthusiasts Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Gracie Otto, though she insists red is also suitable for day-to-day wear for non-celebrities.

''To get that perfect smooth, shiny finish you've got to prep the nails properly - base, two coats and a top coat - and do it well. Don't get it in the cuticles; it looks cheap and nasty. You're better off painting the red a millimetre away from the cuticles to prevent run-in and once it's there, all you can do is take the whole thing off and start again,'' Hay says.

''With each layer of polish brush a stroke across the end of the nail to seal each coat in. And paint on a layer of top coat each day for extra wearability and to keep the nails shiny and glossy and add another seal on the nail.''

Hay says red nails must be short nails. She also says it is important to find the right red.

''A true red that's bright is right for summer and a deeper red is best for night and winter.''

Colour consultant Bronwyn Fraser says red nail polish needs to suit the skin tone, with blue-based reds best for pale skins, and orange-based reds or brick reds flattering to golden and tanned skins.

''There is a neutral, classic red that suits everyone - pillar-box red,'' says Fraser.

Nail brands are happy to meet the red remit.

Orly has more than 20 ''proper'' reds in its palette and the range extends to burgundies and pink-reds. Bestsellers include Haute Red, a true red and Sweet Tart, a light blue-red red.

Essie has a core collection of reds, as well as a rotating selection through its limited-release collections.

And the large cosmetic companies regularly release fresh reds: Estee Lauder this month launches the Red Hautes nail collection of five pigment-rich reds.

Hot reds are a ''must-have accessory this Australian summer,'' says the media release. Some things don't change. Slick marketing, women's appetites for cosmetics... and the allure of red nails.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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