Meet Mei Kawajiri, the Nail Artist Creating Maximalist Manis For Your Favorite Celebs

She's worked with everyone from Gigi Hadid to Teyana Taylor.

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

When we think of nail artistry, we immediately think of Mei Kawajiri. Her unique artistic perspective and sharp eye for innovation have helped take the industry to greater heights. Raised in Japan, Kawajiri migrated to NYC in 2012 to elevate her career. It'd be an understatement to say she's done that. Kawajiri's ability to sculpt intricate shapes and paint one-of-a-kind nail masterpieces has captivated global audiences, amassing over 317K followers on Instagram. Throughout her career, she's been tapped by brands like Balenciaga and MAC Cosmetics to execute nail looks for their campaigns. And celebrities ranging from Gigi Hadid to Teyana Taylor leap at the chance to secure coveted appointments with the in-demand artist. 

After scrolling through Kawajiri's Instagram feed (which is home to over 7000 photos of her work), you can't help but want to know more about her and her process for bringing each creative nail look to life. Luckily, Polaroid decided to find out for us all. Kawajiri recently partnered with the brand for its "Go Create" campaign, which tapped influencers to share stories of inspiration and creation through the lens of their Polaroid Go camera. Ahead, Kawajiri fills us in on the partnership, where she finds nail art inspiration and the nail products she always keeps within reach. Keep scrolling to read everything Mei Kawajiri had to say. 

When did your passion for nails and nail art start? 

I decided to train as a nail artist at age 18 while I was in Kyoto, Japan. 

You worked in salons in Japan for some time and even had your own salon. What made you want to move to NYC? 

I am so happy to have had my start and training in Japan. Japanese culture is still a huge part of my style as a nail artist. I moved to NYC to share my work with the world. 

What is nail art culture like in Japan compared to the U.S.? 

Nail culture in the U.S can be very trendy, but always with the goal to express individuality and creativity. In Japan, there is a crazy nail culture where it is more art-style and one of a kind, especially while I was living there. Today it is becoming a little more "sophisticated" and classic. 

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

How would you describe your approach to nail art? What inspires the manicures you do? 

I always make art based on my mood. Sometimes it depends on my fashion style and life at the time. I love taking inspiration from what I find interesting in real life. I would say my general style is Kawaii and crazy 3D hand-sculpted shapes built with acrylic. 

Do you have a favorite moment from your career? 

I have had too many favorite moments to share, but lately, creating nail art for myself is so much fun. When I am doing my own nails, time is no object, and they are always so intricate because I get carried away with design and always push for more. Sharing photos on my Instagram and seeing the reaction is always exciting too. I love surprising people. 

What was it like working with Polaroid on the "Go Create" project? 

I was so excited because my life is filled with photos. Polaroid is the most special way to take photographs, and each photo is one of a kind—just like the nails I create for my clients. 

What story did you want your Polaroid images to tell? 

Polaroid Go is the perfect size for me to take everywhere. I am never in just one place, or doing just one thing. Everyone knows me for nails, but I am an artist living in my own world, creating for whoever, whenever I can!

You’re known for your one-of-a-kind, intricate nail designs. What nail set has been the most challenging to create? How long did it take you to complete? 

Nail art can be so intricate, especially when you are constantly pushing the boundaries of what nail art is. Recently, I created a really crazy set inspired by the Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History. Each nail was inspired by a gemstone and made to look exactly like it. Using different materials and experimenting with ways they can be wearable (or not) is just like science. 

Do you have any favorite nail products? Why are they a must-have? 

I love working with Korean and Japanese gels from Zilla Beau. When you are working with extreme detail and linework, quality and consistency is everything. I constantly use La Prairie Cellular Hand Cream ($130) and Jin Soon Extract Honeysuckle + Primrose Cuticle Oil ($35). 

What are some of the nail trends you predict will be popular this fall? 

Texture and 3D nails with hand-painted designs are going to continue to be popular.

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

Mei Kawajiri/Polaroid

What do you love most about being a nail artist?

I can express my feeling or mood on the nails—it’s my fashion "secret weapon." I have the best clients, who are all artists in their own way. When we work together, it’s like the ultimate art collaboration. 

From having a lengthy list of celebrity clients to designing nails for fashion shows, you’ve accomplished so much in your career already. What are some of your goals for the future? 

My career has been insane, and I feel so lucky and happy every morning to know this is my life. I have so many plans to grow internationally and continue to inspire others. Make sure you are following along @nailsbymei!

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