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How Billie Eilish’s Nails Defined Her More-Is-More Aesthetic, According to Her Manicurist

From Gucci logo tips to a chrome manicure for Vanity Fair’s March cover, Eilish is playing the long game. The pop star’s nail artist Tammy Taylor explains how it’s all done.
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If Billie Eilish transcends the usual bounds of stardom—her scope is almost galaxy-like, extending across air waves and social channels and newsstands—then her trademark nails drive home the point. What communicates larger-than-life reach better than two-inch talons? On the cover of Vanity Fair’s March issue, the musician’s square-tipped chrome manicure peeks out from her fingerless gloves, gleaming like a set of blunt-edge knives wielded only for show. Eilish’s nails are more than a mere accessory. Set against the form-obscuring streetwear that has made her a fashion magnet, they have the textural counterpoint of a pin to a balloon; in the improvised riffs of her music videos, the acrylic tips serve as a kind of choreographic flourish—jazz hands remastered by a pop icon. 

“Billie is a nail girl, through and through: She talks with her hands, she sings with her hands, she dances with her hands,” Tammy Taylor, Eilish’s go-to manicurist, says in a call from Orange County. In a way, the two are wunderkinds separated by time: Taylor opened her first nail salon in 1981, at age 18 (a year younger than Eilish); two years later, she launched her namesake product line, which has become a global player in the professional space. In 2019—the year that Eilish released her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?—she reached out to Taylor by Instagram. They met up later that week. “I did a full set of long—of course long—beige, matte, teardrop stiletto sculpted nails,” Taylor recalls with an upbeat laugh. “I was like, ‘O.K., Billie, this is how you have to zip up your zipper.’ I gave her a little lesson in long nails.” 

Eilish learned it well. By the time the Grammys rolled around in January 2020, she knew how to juggle five awards while wearing long, green tips patterned with the Gucci logo. The following month, she turned up at the Oscars with a glinting crystal at the tip of each black nail—a combination of seriousness and flash befitting the next James Bond theme-song performer. 

 

The pandemic scrapped plans for Eilish’s around-the-world tour (she was just three shows in when the world collectively sheltered in place last March), but that didn’t put an end to nail experimentation. Aside from those stretches when the ukulele and piano call for short nails, there’s creative opportunity at each fingertip. “Billie has her ideas on everything,” says Taylor, who filters Eilish’s imagination as she hand-sculpts each set using her own acrylic-gel base. (One recent exception: The transparent nail fantasies seen in last week’s video for “Lo Vas a Olvidar,” the new track with Rosalía, were the work of nail artist Sojin Oh, using custom glass pieces by Grace Wardlaw.

The real Eilish retrospective is set to arrive late next month with the documentary The World’s a Little Blurry, but now is the time for a look back at her defining nail moments—complete with Taylor’s tips for recreation. Along with her exact gel-polish shades, we’ve also added shortcuts using regular polish and press-on nails: all for turning up the volume on your inner Eilish.

billie eilish vanity fair
Eilish in Vanity Fair's March 2021 cover story. PHOTOGRAPHS BY QUIL LEMONS. STYLED BY GABRIELLA KAREFA-JOHNSON.

In Vanity Fair’s March cover story, Eilish’s nails have an elemental simplicity—like chrome fenders on a California hot rod. To create the burnished effect, Taylor applied her base coat I’m Not Tacky! to the sculpted nails; then, using a sponge, she dabbed on chrome powder, hand-buffing it until it began to gleam and sealing it with a high-shine top coat. For those preferring regular polish, these two metallic versions simulate that molten-silver look.

After sweeping the 2020 Grammys in head-to-fingertip Gucci, it was hardly a surprise that Eilish turned up in this fall’s series of short films directed by Gus Van Sant and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. “Those were my all-time favorite logo nails,” Taylor says of the musician’s primary-color look on hand-sculpted acrylics. Taylor overlaid two shades of gel polish; regular polish in cherry red can replicate the effect, as can a set of square press-on nails. Stencil at your leisure.

Nothing says Billie Eilish like her signature lime green. In the poster for her 2020 global tour, the musician’s nails glow against the dusky red background—and even if the pandemic wound up canceling performances, the idea of a wearable beacon in the dark seems like the right idea. Taylor created a gel polish in the pitch-perfect shade. For regular polish, here are two takes on neon from Moon and Duri, along with Nail Candy’s press-ons for an instant hit.

What to wear when frolicking alone inside an empty shopping mall? A set of marbled, mile-long nails that read “NOT UR FRIEND.” The phrase comes from a line in the song “Therefore I Am,” featured in a video that dropped in November. The Gothic script was Eilish’s idea—a juxtaposition of “elegant and cool,” Taylor explains. For an easy homage, Chillhouse’s two-tone tips or Kiss’s sculpted talons are start, as is pale beige polish. Nail decals finish the look. 

Crystal-accented nails for the 2020 Academy Awards
Crystal-accented nails for the 2020 Academy Awards. BY AMY SUSSMAN/GETTY IMAGES.

A century ago, Chanel ushered in the Little Black Dress; when Eilish slips into the label, expect the Long Black Nail. At the 2020 Oscars, when the musician appeared alongside her brother, Finneas, to sing a cover of “Yesterday,” her two-inch talons glinted with a crystal at each tip. Taylor used an inky black gel; Tenoverten’s regular polish in Bond (a nod to Eilish’s role on the No Time to Die soundtrack) and a gel-like Chanel top coat mirror that effect. Swarovski is the icing.

Burberry plaid nails for the 2020 Brit Awards
Burberry plaid nails for the 2020 Brit Awards. BY KARWAI TANG/WIREIMAGE.

In the Gesamtkunstwerk that is Billie Eilish’s fashion game, the nails are the literal extension of what else is happening on the body—down to the plaid lining of the musician’s Burberry trench. For the 2020 Brit Awards, Taylor mixed up a custom beige gel polish for the sculpted 1.5-inch nails; she then layered on a stripe of white polish and razor-thin nail tape in black and foil red. For those opting for regular polish, these shades are a close fit to build the look.

Eilish in a Gucci floral print at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards
Eilish in a Gucci floral print at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards. FROM NBC/GETTY IMAGES.

When Gucci florals extend from bucket hat to mask, naturally they also turn up on Eilish’s manicure. “I pulled the design off that designer fabric,” says Taylor, who color-matched gel polishes to a reference photo for last fall’s Billboard Music Awards. She first laid down a pale green shade, overlaid with a matte top coat; the glossy flowers were painted on using a darker green mixed with a high-shine top coat. Those using regular polish can experiment with matte finishes (like this top coat by Static). And for the detail work, a fine-tipped brush is essential.

For Eilish’s entree into serious nails back in 2019, a neutral manicure made sense—high-impact and soft-spoken at once. Taylor uses the gel polish Fawn Beige on the musician, which gives even sculpted talons a kind of naturalistic effect. For an instant approximation, Press On Honey’s nails are available in a range of shapes, from long coffin to oval; the square-tipped Kiss manicure are another option. And for a clean, straightforward paint job, J. Hannah is a favorite. 

Eilish with a rare broken nail on tour
Eilish with a rare broken nail on tour. BY MARIANO REGIDOR/REDFERNS.

Devotees of statement manicures know the attendant hazards that can arise, including the occasional broken tip and underlying stress to the nail bed. (Eilish has chronicled it all online—much like the rest of her life.) Taylor recommends her nourishing cuticle oil; Olive & June also makes one in a pocket-friendly format. In between manicures, a restorative base coat and nail cream can help settle the foundation. Lastly, Taylor suggests regular application of her Thymolize formula, to keep the underside of the free edge clean.

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Tammy Taylor