a love letter to Chow @ Cute
I've never been a fancy nail girl. I grew up doing art and was used to having paint and dye on my hands. My natural nails are babyfine and inclined to tear off on their own, but my work is really hard on them on top of that. I was resigned to a life of "this is why we can't have nice things (on our nails)" and I was okay with it.
A little over a year ago my friends and Cute owners, Maria & Jason Darling, were still in the construction stages before opening their salon, Cute Nail Studio. They wanted to test out their products on some friends and family to see if their chosen gel system was up to scratch. I got an appointment and arrived early. It was interesting to be there during mid-construction, there was still plastic on the furniture, the fridge was in the waiting area, and they were beginning to unpack all of the supplies. I didn’t know the name of my manicurist, it just had one letter where the name would be. They were like “oh, she goes by Chow” and then it made sense, the letter that was used on the confirmation email was the first letter of her deadname.
Now, I’m not a typical “salon type of girl” and being friends with the owners doesn’t guarantee I’ll vibe with their employees. So I was slightly concerned with whether I would connect with my randomly chosen manicurist, because their aesthetic is pastels and kawaii and all of these happy soft femme things. On top of that, I’m the type of goth that detests everything pastel (well, besides hair) and my salon is decorated with skulls and spiderwebs and all black everything. Was my aesthetic going to be an obnoxious chore for them? Was I going to have anything in common with this Chow girl at all? I figured I would have to try out a few of their techs before I found the one that “got me.”
Chow walks in and I’m already slightly relieved... She has short hair, glasses, no makeup, kinda boyish but with colorful tattoos and clothes like an androgynous kawaii version of Milhouse.
We get along like a house on fire, the very definition of “fast friends.” Despite vastly different backgrounds, it turns out we have a lot of parallel life experiences. We both grew up with an inside view of the beauty industry, Chow was raised in hair salons and my mother was a professional makeup artist. We both spent part of our early 20s living in the UK and immersed in British culture. We both are gaming nerds, although I’m more of an ex-gamer now because I simply don’t have time anymore (*cry*). We both love cyberpunk, scifi, and dystopian novels and comic books. And finally, despite our skills in the feminine arts, we both skew more towards the non-binary part of the gender spectrum.
Time passes, the salon opens during SXSW and has an immediate cult following. I remember they announced their signature selfie wall was finished and open for business, and a few hours later I was the first person to (officially) use it... dressed as Siouxsie Sioux because of course I was on my way to a thing.
I keep getting manicures by Chow because we are trying to figure out a solid nail system that will actually stick to my nails. By summer, I am established as Chow’s most difficult client, on a technical level and eventually because I push them artistically. Regular gel manicures will start to peel off within 24-48 hours on my nails, because they are wet all the time, or the bleach. At some point in summer, we figure out that Apres Soft Gel extensions are the best method for me. While fairly durable, they aren’t as durable as full blown acrylic sculptured nails... but personally I would rather my nail just pop off in one piece than rip and take half of my nail off with it.
Chow always said their goal for me was to find something to stick to my nails for 4 weeks. I laughed because I thought that was impossible. But they were right, my manicures now last 4 whole weeks or more. I can’t believe it.
From Basic Naturals to
Full-Blown Fantasy Claws
I’d like to take a moment for a very important sidebar here. You may have noticed I went from using feminine pronouns for Chow to the gender-neutral “they.” It is because it was around this time that Chow privately told me, and a few weeks later made it public to the world on Instagram, that they identified as a boy. Henceforth I shall be using male pronouns. But I wanted to establish feminine pronouns initially so that you understand the depth of the emotional journey I have taken with this individual.
Our friendship is now fully established and it runs deep down to our cores. Chow was never a person that had "hair that was extra” and I was never a person that had “nails that were extra.” But thanks to Maria and the powers that be randomly setting us up on this beauty blind date, we found one another. What I enjoy so much about our working relationship is that we can really push the limits with each other with what is possible artistically.
And on my end, I feel so honored that I get to help this trans boy craft his new identity as a fantasy person. “Who do you want to be? Let me help you get there.” He is not just becoming a different gender, but a different creature. To a lot of people, a haircut is just a haircut, a manicure is just a manicure. But we are two individuals in the profession of aesthetics. It’s our main art form and chosen love language. We are witches who’s main power is transformation magick.
From Neon Zebra to Pastel Love
The first “crazy fantasy thing” Chow asked me to do on him was Zebra Stripes, and everyone responded so well to them. We kept going with the animal themes, then color blocking. He grew out his hair for winter and then we recently shaved it off again for Valentine’s day.
Thus, Chow is my Valentine this year! We’ve “been together” for a year and what a great time to celebrate someone who is so much more than my manicurist. We are kindred spirits and brothers in (beauty) arms.