Vanity Projects isn’t solely a nail salon, but more of a multi-faceted creativity platform for artists across the world to showcase their work and inspire others in the process, says owner Rita Pinto. The salon offers clients at both its New York City and Miami locations, opened in 2013 and 2015 respectively, the chance to view rotating video art installations while mini works of art are being painted on their hands.
“Our audience is here to get their nails done, but the cultural experience is like the cherry on top,” Pinto says. “I want to jolt them out of their daily grind in a way and offer them a slice of something different.”
Pinto’s background isn’t in nails, or beauty even — at least not in the salon sense of the word. Pinto received her master’s in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London before she stumbled upon the emerging world of nails and saw an opportunity for these two aesthetic-focused worlds to intertwine.
In 2009, Pinto met two nail artists, Naomi Yasuda and Fleury Rose, and the trio began to host pop-ups at New York City events. Then she was featured in the documentary “Nailgasm,” and after that, connections in the beauty industry started to develop rapidly. Her network of those in the traditional art space helped catapult Vanity Projects to success. In 2013, she was invited to hold a three-month nail pop-up at renowned New York City museum MoMA PS1, adding credibility to her developing brand. During this period, Pinto moved on from pop-ups and opened the first brick-and-mortar salon in New York, and the Miami location two years later.
The Miami salon is now located in the Design District, a destination highlighting premium restaurants and fashion retailers like Burberry and Versace, which Pinto described as “the Rodeo Drive of Miami.” While the products have always been high-end (the techs only use Japanese gels), Pinto says she didn’t necessarily intend for Vanity Projects to be perceived as upscale.
“I never saw us going in that direction, because we’re edgy, we’re fun, we’re innovative,” she says. “But for the brand to be positioned in that luxury context is a major inspiration for me.”
Vanity Projects has also been involved in events like HBO show premiers, Miami Swim Week and Art Basel, a cultural art fair that Pinto called “the Coachella of the art world.”
“It’s great because we see a whole new audience with these strategic partnerships,” says Pinto. “It’s become a major revenue source, and we customize the nails however the client wants.”
From acrylics to pedicures, there isn’t much — if anything — omitted from the Vanity Projects menu as far as nails go. This includes a monthly nail art special based on a trend or runway look that runs for a discounted $40, a generous offering motivated by Pinto’s former life: “I was a young, broke woman once. We give back to the woman; it’s who we are.”
Options are limitless for clients with deeper pockets who book their appointments based on three levels: Simple (60 minutes), Medium (90 minutes), and Complex (2 hours).
For nail art ideas, clients can browse Instagram or the waiting area’s books, which focus on fashion and art. “I love looking at William Morris,” Pinto says casually about the 19th century English textile designer, a reference that demonstrates her rich understanding of art and its history, something that’s proven time and again to be a major asset in differentiating Vanity Projects from other salons.
It’s not surprising that it’s designed like a gallery, with crisp white walls and understated chairs and tables. The most distinct aspect is the video art projected onto the walls, which run in six-to-eight-week gallery-like cycles, covering topics from gender to immigration to love, with programs that have included a sardonic cartoon about a suicidal drug addict and portraits created by emojis.
Pinto approaches potential nail artists with the same admiration as videographers or any other type of artist she encounters. She offers her support with an in-residency program, where she invites leading international nail artists to work in the salon for anywhere from one week to an entire year, and over 75 have come from places as far as Singapore, Italy, and Sweden. The goal is to improve their craft through trading techniques and sharing secrets.
“I love that camaraderie and reciprocity,” she says. “Our Miami residency is particularly special as the artists stay in a beautiful little casita adjacent to my home, and wake up going to the beach before work. We thrive on that creative energy and our clients relish getting their nails done by these nail art superstars.”
The Miami clientele tends to be more established and sophisticated than at the New York location, which sees a younger, edgier crowd.
“Miami’s crowd is very kept and curated, like a very put-together traveler,” she says. “When they dress, they wear the most exquisite shoes with the most exquisite bag and skirt to match.”
And although the salon has seen names like Lady Gaga and Serena Williams pass through — an impressive feat, no doubt — Pinto says she favors the bond formed with the loyal two-week clients.
“I’m really proud of what we’re doing, especially with our strong relationships,” she says. “The techs and I get close to our clients and feel a real connection to the women. I value that and I’m very grateful.”