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Celeb Nail Artist Dawn Sterling On The Past, Present and Future of Nail Art

Nail art is at the height of its popularity right now and in-your-face manicures are everywhere. But manicurists for the most part still toil behind t

Nail art is at the height of its popularity right now and in-your-face manicures are everywhere. But manicurists for the most part still toil behind the scenes. We recently had the chance to chat with Dawn Sterling, who's been doing nails in the trenches for about 11 years, starting at a local nail salon in Brooklyn.

At the age of 16, Dawn wandered into the hippest salon in her neighborhood, and before long was doing pedicures. She eventually went to school, got a license, and worked in some of the top nail salons in Manhattan. She branched out into fashion editorial, doing manicures for Vs, W, Elle and celebs like Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Kirsten Dunst. So suffice to say, she knows her stuff. We asked Dawn for her take on the best products, DIY tips, and the future of nail art.

Fashionista: What have you seen change in nail art? Dawn Sterling: [For my private clients] nail art has always been major. But in the last three years I’ve really seen it branching out into fashion. The last year it's been hitting America really hard—it was already getting big in Europe and London. And Japan is the nail art capital of the world. I order nail art magazines from there just to look at it. But really...what they’re doing is what we’ve been doing in the neighborhoods forever.

Do you see a higher demand for nail art in fashion publications? Lately I’ve been doing American publications, and I’ve been getting more nail art requests. For Vs magazine I did graffiti nails inspired by Kid Robot. Elle wanted the nails to match the fashion. That usually only happens in London.

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What are you favorite must have nail products? I like the OPI cuticle nipper package. I love the Seche Vite top coat. I use it on set, it dries super quickly and it has a high gloss finish. I use Bond Aid by OPI to make the polish last longer; even with acrylics I use that first to make it last longer. And Illamasqua--their whole nail polish collection. I love the pigment in their colors. I’ve been using them for years.

What nail polish brands last the longest? The only salon brand that I think lasts a long time is Essie. Illamasqua lasts a long time, too. But you can make any polish last a long time if you know how to treat the nail properly. A lot of people have oily nail plates which doesn’t allow the polish to stay long. When you’re moisturizing the cuticles, you have to then dry the nail plate afterwards and use a good sticky base coat. Butter London Nail Foundaion is pretty cool. The polish sort of grabs on to the foundation. When you put the top coat [on] you MUST seal the free edge and then if you have a top coat at home, apply it on the third day and [the manicure's] really going to last.

What do you think is the future of nail art? Are people still into it? It’s not going anywhere, although it has slowed down a bit. They’re doing one finger nail art or alternate fingers. Before, it used to be every finger covered. Now it’s more conservative, with just a little pop.

Feeling inspired? Share your mani masterpieces with us! Here’s how to submit pics: Tweet a photo @fashionista_com with the hashtag #nailart, email the photos to, or click the button below to upload from your computer!