Blending Old World With High-Tech

Clients of Glamorous nail in Puerto Rico are Old World when it comes to the conservative nail styles they choose, but they expect – and get – only the latest when it comes to sanitation and training standards.

Clients of Glamorous nail in Puerto Rico are Old World when it comes to the conservative nail styles they choose, but they expect – and get – only the latest when it comes to sanitation and training standards.

Carmen “Taty” Alvarado is always on the move. When NAILS first tried to contact her for his story, Alvarado was away from Glamorous Nails, the nail salon she co-owns with daughter Larissa, appearing on a local television show to talk about the nail industry in her native Puerto Rico. “Larissa is really the nail expert in the family,” Alvarado insists. “But she’s too shy to talk on TV, so she sends Mom!”

The hosts of “Mucho Gusto” were more than happy to interview the owner of the salon, which is located in the Juan Domingo section of Guaynabo in Puerto Rico, because they knew they were talking with a national expert. According to Alvarado, Glamorous Nails was the first nails-only salon to open in Puerto Rico.

“A lot of people here used to do manicures out of their homes, and you could get manicures in beauty salons,” Alvarado says. But the nails-only salon she and Larissa opened eight years ago, after Larissa returned from training to do nails in Miami, has started a national trend in Puerto Rico, she says. “Now they’re all over the place!”

On November 22, 1986, when they opened the door for their first customer, Alvarado and her daughter weren’t sure what to expect. “We started from an empty space and built the salon from scratch,” Alvarado says. “We didn’t know what the response would be. But Christmas, we had customers lined up and waiting. Women came from all over the island because we were the only nails-only shop.” To ensure the salon’s success, Alvarado bartered her services in exchange for advertising time on local television. “We had actresses come in to get their nails done, and they got us credit for TV time,” she says.


Alvarado feels Glamorous Nails offers its customer the best of both American and Puerto Rican styles. She and Larissa never miss a big nail show in Puerto Rico. “Plus, we are only 2 ½ hours from Miami and only 3 ½ hours from New York,” she says, which makes it easy to keep up with the latest American trends in the nail profession. Both mother and daughter attend the annual New York nail shows, and Alvarado (who runs the business end of the salon) orders most of their supplies from the United States, she says.

Glamorous Nail’s popularity in Guaynabo, an upscale city of 100,000 located near San Juan stems from their understanding of their clients’ needs and desires, says Alvarado. The salon caters to businesswomen ages 20 to 50, she notes. “Working women over here are more conservative than in the States. We still have a little of old ways. In Puerto Rico, if you see a woman with too many ‘things’ on her hands, you don’t think too well of her.”

Larissa agrees. “Guaynabo is the most expensive area in Puerto Rico, and women her want to look neat,” she says. “They think things like nail art aren’t elegant.” But while women in Guaynabo don’t go for frills, they do like to look glamorous, she adds. “Vanity is very important here. Women like to dress up and have their makeup, clothes, and hands in perfect condition.”

That pride appearance often doesn’t lessen with age, Alvarado says. “Just today we had the mother of a client – a 92-year-old woman! – come in for a full set. We had to help her sit down, but she loved having her nails done.”

Of course, not every customer comes to Glamorous Nails in search of that classic, elegant look. “One client was very wild-thinking.” Alvarado says. “She said she wanted each of her 10 fingernails painted different colors! When I saw that, I was horrified.” But aside from that, and an occasional request for black polish for Halloween, she says, her clients tend toward the conservative styles and polish colors.

Alvarado feels that Puerto Rican women’s interest in appearance on the television program “Mucho Gusto.” On the show (which airs in Guaynabo on Channel 6), host Johanna Rosaly and Junior Abrams sit with Alvarado in a cozy living-room setting. During her first appearance, Alvarado presented an “Introduction to Nails,” talking about nail care and manicures and painting a few sample nails. Her two most recent appearances focused on local nail trends, nail problems, and (thanks to Alvarado’s strong urging), the need for licensing and inspection in Puerto Rico.


“In Puerto Rico, we have licensing for cosmetology students, but not for nail technicians,” Alvarado says. “There are a lot of people out there doing nails who have no knowledge, and they’re doing a lot of harm to the nails. We need licensing.”

To compound the problem, nail salons in Puerto Rico are not inspected, she adds. “They don’t come by to check if things are sterilized. Just doing what would be great.” Because of her salon’s high standards for sanitation, Alvarado often has clients come to her with a problem that started at another salon. “We see a lot of fungus on the feet because the foot baths haven’t been sterilized,” she notes. “You really see some disasters.”

While the growing popularity of acrylic nails in Puerto Rico is exciting, Alvarado says, it also causes her to worry. “If a poorly trained technician doesn’t attach an acrylic nail correctly, the humidity can get under the nail and fungus can start to grow,” she says. “We have some women who come in here with fungus under their nails, and we tell them we can’t do their nails until they see a doctor, but some of them don’t care! They insists that we do the nails anyway.” In that case, Alvarado asks the client to sign a waiver before she will allow a technician to work on the client’s nails. “And I still refer them to a doctor,” she adds.

Another frustration for Alvarado is the difficulty she has getting nail supplies locally. “I get most of my supplies from United States,” she says. “But I try to get acetone and things like pedicure supplies locally. With the U.S. distributors, I call them, and two days later I have everything I want. Here, I have to wait, and often they’re out of stock.” She says the situation is improving as the demand for supplies increases because of all the new nails-only salon that are opening.


In addition to high standards for sanitation, it is rigorous training that sets Glamorous Nails apart from the competition, Alvarado says. “In cosmetology schools here, the students learn only basic manicures and pedicures. We like to get them right out of school and train them in nails ourselves.”

Larisssa, who learned advance nail techniques by working with her mentor, Carmen Saumel, in Miami, does the training. “We spend a full year training each nail technician,” she says. And she accepts only the best. “If they’re not good, I don’t waste my time.” While she and her mother started the business with two technicians eight years ago, the staff has since grown to 16. “They are all so good, you can’t tell the difference in work from one to another,” Larissa says proudly.

Meticulous sanitation practices and well-trained technicians certainly add to the salon’s appeal. But it’s the little things that keep Alvarado’s customers, who could afford to be pampered at any salon, coming back. Like the recent addition of the Glamorous Nails Boutique, run by Alvarado’s daughter Teresa, which offers clothing, shoes, and accessories. Like opening the doors at 7 a.m. to accommodate harried businesswomen. Like offering fresh coffee and cookies during the week – and surprising weekend clients with lightly fried, meat-filled croquetas (pastries) on Saturday mornings.

In fact, walking into Glamorous Nails is a treat for all the sense, from the soft rose and pale pink décor to enticing scent of the aromatherapy oils that are added to the pedicure spa. But even the promise feet isn’t always enough to slow down the busy working women who visit the salon, so Alvarado tries to use creative marketing to entice her clients to stop and smell the aromatherapy oil. “Our clients are always in a hurry, so we try to save them time by offering a pedicure at the same time they have manicure,” Alvarado says. “If they see that they can be combine the two, they’re more willing to pamper themselves a bit.”


Alvarado goes the extra mile to attract perhaps the busiest women in any country – brides-to-be, “We attend the bridal fair at the Hotel San Juan every year,” she says/ “We hand out coupons for discount manicures to the brides. When they come into the salon with the coupons, it’s a good way for us to see what kind of response we’re getting from the bridal fair,” she adds.

Most brides request the traditional French manicure, Alvarado says. In fact, many of the salon’s regular customer love the clean, elegant French look. But while they like the natural look, most clients prefer acrylic nails rather than natural nails. “We do about 95% acrylic. It’s very professional-looking, plus it’s faster and neater,” says Alvarado. “We do about 5% gel, but we don’t do silk wraps.”

Those clients who don’t prefer the white tips of the French manicure usually request red polish, Alvarado says. But with a difference that is particularly Puerto Rican, she adds. “We get requests all the time for what we call ‘borders’ You paint the entire nail red, and then you paint a border around the nail with platinum, beige, or pink polish.”

Alvarado enjoys blending the best of two cultures into a unique, cosmopolitan look for her customers. And she especially enjoys having the opportunity to work with her daughters. But if it wasn’t for a twist of fate, Alvarado says she and Larissa would probably be sending clients on exotic vacations instead of creating beautiful nails. “When Larissa first went to Miami, I was sending her there to go to travel agent school,” she says. “But Larissa started getting her nails done in Miami and she loved it. She said ‘Mom, this is what I want to do.’ I have to say it’s worked out very well.”

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