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Is The French Manicure Really French?

I admit that I am spoiled rotten. There are a couple of indulgences I vowed never to give up, no matter how poor or destitute I was. One of them was to have a regular manicure (even if I did it myself). When I was living in Los Angeles, every Friday afternoon at the end of a long work week, I’d head to the Daidone Salon on San Vicente in Brentwood, pull up to the desk of manicurist Janine, and hand over my nails to the expert.

Janine would adorn my nails with nail jewelry, or paint each nail a different color or add a black dot to the tips. There was nothing I wouldn’t try except a “French Manicure,” which at the time seemed too “boring,” “classic” and “normal.” If you aren’t already familiar with it, a French Manicure is evident by a natural colored nail bed with white tips, so as to have a natural look, but enhanced.

I never thought much about where the term for a French manicure came, but I always thought it amusing that in France the nail shops advertise an “American Manicure” while the American nail shops advertise a “French Manicure.” Is it that the grass is always greener on the other side and we want what the other person has? Since moving to France, I made the switch and a French manicure became “de rigueur.” I never looked back at the red, gold, multicolored, or bejeweled nails and went for a more “natural” look.

The funny thing is that the French idea and the American ideal of “natural” are very different, similar to how Americans want their teeth whiter than white while the French think it simply looks stupid and unnatural, and therefore not pretty. I like my white nail tips to be very, very white and very large to be extreme, to make a good showing, which is not really natural. Over the years, I’ve trained the manicurists to respect my wishes even though I know they think it “very American” and silly, just like sparkling white teeth.

Saturday while having my ritualistic French Manicure at my Paris nail salon, “L’Onglerie” (which is now done with gels that are indestructible and last at least three weeks and often more), Christine the manicurist told me a story about how it ended up being called a “French Manicure.” Her story was a cockamamie tale about women bakers who had the flour dust under their nails that became a popular style. I had a hard time believing it, so I did a bit of digging to discover that while the story was sweet, it wasn’t the truth. Jeff Pink, founder of the professional nail brand “Orly,” is officially credited with creating it in 1976.

In an interview with Pink by Modern Salon Magazine, when asked, “What are some of your career highlights?” he responded with:

Without doubt, the French Manicure. The idea of the French manicure look came to me while I was starting Orly back in 1975. Movie and television directors wanted a versatile nail style to compliment a Hollywood star’s entire onset wardrobe. They were looking for a singular look that would coordinate with the numerous changes actresses had to make in one day. Prior to the French Manicure, the manicurists were often changing the polish several times a day to match their different costumes or outfits. As you can imagine, this took up too much time. Once I started having the movie star stylists paint the nails with a white tip and a sheer polish, the celebrities loved it! I realized the most elegant, universal nail look is a natural nail look.”

In another interview, he claimed that “Once it hit the runways of Paris, Jeff knew he had the perfect name: the French manicure!” So, you see, the French Manicure is hardly French. It’s as American as apple pie.

So, what’s the difference when the French call their manicures “American” instead? According to, an “American manicure is a simple nail design mimicking your natural nails, using a flesh- or cream-colored base and a nude or off-white tip. American manicure is simpler and more natural than the French style. It chooses a more neutral look instead of the classic, stark-white tip. It is a new improvement on the older French manicure.”

I don’t buy that. I think it’s every other kind of manicure other than the French look that Pink invented. The claims “The basic difference between a French Manicure and an American one is to do with the color and in some salons the shape of the finished nails might be also slightly different.”

When I first moved to Paris, there were almost no manicurists nor pedicurists to speak of at all, except for a nail desk or two at salons and technicians at podiatrists’ offices! It had cost a small fortune, too, at the time. That’s when I started doing my own manicures and pedicures for about the first 10 years of living here. Fortunately, that has changed dramatically and now there’s almost a nail shop on every corner, much like in the States. The service is more expensive than it is Stateside by comparison, but the technicians are just as proficient and the products as high quality.

In Nice, I found a pedicurist who does the work for a lot less than most of the shops in Paris or Nice because she doesn’t have a fancy-schmancy chair that whirlpools the water or massages your back. Instead, she uses a bin with warm water and her own good talents to keep my feet in perfectly smooth condition. She laughs that I really don’t need her, given how I treat my feet with daily scrubs and conditioning oils, but I still refuse to give up the treat every time I’m in Nice.

French women have taken to having their nails done regularly just like we had done 20 years earlier. And who knows, maybe they will adopt our American look and go for the white, white tips, too!

Useful addresses (and tell them I sent you!):

Institut l’Onglerie – Paris Bastille
Responsable: Mme Jennifer SCHOLLER
Adresse: 18 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75011 Paris, France
Téléphone: 01 48 06 90 20

Sakura Nails
Responsable: Mme Itoé
Adresse: 1 Rue Raynardi, 06000 Nice
Téléphone: 04 89 08 02 93

A la prochaine…

Reflection of Adrian Leeds in a knife at a table in Café CharlotAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®



Janet & Michael HooverP.S. We’re looking for a loft or atelier style property in Paris in which to tape a House Hunters International episode — valued between 350,000€ and 400,000€. If you have such a property or know of one, please contact me. Merci!


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