When Beata Xu made the decision to move to Beijing after graduating in 2016, leaving her hometown of Jiangsu, just north of Shanghai, her motivation was simple: she wanted to try her hand at beauty artistry in the hub of traditional Chinese culture. Xu became a skilled makeup artist, but nails provided a better venue for her natural ability to “exercise restraint under pressure, and seek out chaos amidst order,” as she describes it. After a few years of honing her craft, Xu moved to Shanghai to immerse herself in its dynamic, diverse creative environment developing a mastery of color, texture, and subversion by way of nail art.
The inspiration behind her designs, which often feature translucent beads and baubles, are varied and can layer avant-garde visualizations and the psychedelic sounds of, say, Nordic singers, with a fascination around plants. But her color references go beyond the natural world, and are frequently derived from “depraved and psychedelic, yet decadent and gorgeous” films, like Trainspotting and The Creasemaster—”a little dark and punky,” Xu says of her preferred palette.
Speaking from lockdown in Shanghai, Xu seems unbothered and positive, using the time at home to lean further into her practice, which doesn’t necessarily hinge on what she calls “social media performance.” In an industry of loud voices, where restraint can be looked upon as a lack of ambition or expression, Xu remains resolute and assured. “I hold my ground,” she continues. “My art is my voice, and art doesn’t always need to be loud.”
Xu has no ambitions to become the next celebrity manicurist, or even to have her own brand. She does, however, see a lot of potential in men’s nail art—a step up from the clear, gray, or black man-icures we’re more used to seeing. “Men are increasingly willing to experiment in the nail space to express themselves,” she says—which is good news for her growing client base. Below, Xu shares her thoughts on polish colors that “bring inner peace,” and the importance of a good nail oil.
Manicures–occasional treat or lifestyle?
Women in China take the mani-pedi as a part of their daily dressing routine, and demand for manicures and pedicures is at an all-time high!
Favorite local salon or nail artist that you look to for inspiration?
I love seeing Soji Nails and Tomoya Nakagawa’s work on Instagram. They’re so much fun and give me so much inspiration. They use materials that you would never have even imagined could be used in a manicure concept!
To some extent, the East and the West have different understandings of the manicure. We Chinese tend to look at manicures as a part of our daily life, which means more routine nail shapes and “safe” color choices.
Definitely green – or at least, the full spectrum of the color green—emerald, olive, malachite. I gravitate towards colors that bring calm, inner peace and comfort, like hazy blue and taro purple.
Smith & Cult Darjeeling Darling nail polish
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro nail polish
Favorite products for prepping your hands?
I’m always applying hand cream – nothing too sticky, just something to keep my hands and nails hydrated. And I love nail oils. I can’t live without nail oil.