– Words by Darcy Nybo Photography by Lia Crowe
Jolandi du Preez had no specific reason for creating her first set of costume nails. She had a creative urge and made them a reality. But within a couple months of posting her Game of Thrones-themed press-on nails on Instagram, she was suddenly designing nails for drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Originally from South Africa, Jolandi took aesthetics at college. Shortly after graduating, she went to work on cruise ships and travelled the world. Aside from visiting 50 to 60 countries, she also met her husband on one of her adventures.
“I worked on cruise ships from 2003 to 2005. After that, I immigrated to Canada and joined my husband in Calgary. Seven years later we moved to Kelowna,” she said.
Jolandi worked for some local spas when she arrived and still does aesthetics part-time, giving her “an opportunity to stay in touch with my fabulous spa clients.”
How it began
After almost two decades in the beauty industry, Jolandi was asked if she could make a set of costume nails for a photo shoot. She agreed and once she was done, the unexpected occurred.
“I got instantly hooked on the weird and wonderful world of special effects costume nails and avant-garde nail art,” she said from her Kelowna home office. “From there, I started my own brand, Onyx Nails Design.”
The first set of over-the-top nails she created was during the Game of Thrones craze.
“I did a set of nails as a creative outlet. We did a photo shoot and then posted the nails on Instagram,” Jolandi said. “I got some really good feedback from people, and they were excited about the nails. That very first set was created using actual finishing nails that my husband had to cut in order to fit them into the prosthetic nails. It took me a little over a week to design and create them.”
Jolandi said, “I didn’t see myself as being an artist—until now. However, when the urge to create and/or creative ideas kept me awake at night, I had to admit that yes, I am an artist.”
One day, watching Skin Wars on Netflix, she was blown away by the skill of the artists. So she did what any artistic entrepreneur would do—she contacted them on Instagram.
“They were excited and wanted to use my nails,” she said. “The creative themes varied quite a bit, from ethereal-looking mermaid tails to dark and dangerous dragon claws and out-of-this-world alien nails.”
Both Skin Wars series winners used special-effects press-on nails by Onyx Nails Design.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing all the way. Jolandi encountered her share of cynics and doubters, with comments like, “Who would wear these nails?”
“It made me doubt my own sanity from time to time, but the desire to create and a good dose of stubbornness outweighed my self-doubt,” she said. “I started connecting with other creative talents around the world through social media and I was blown away by their positive responses to my nail creations.”
Jolandi’s persistence paid off. Within a few years she was undertaking collaborations with some heavy hitters in the art world, and creating nails for award-winning makeup artists, body painters, costume designers, photographers and special-effects makeup artists around the globe.
Nails, nails, nails
In July, Jolandi attended a special effects convention in Los Angeles and loved every minute of it.
“It was attended in part by industry professionals and in part by horror movie nerds,” she said. “It was mind-blowing to see so many incredibly talented artists in one place and I cannot wait to connect with them again in the future. I got to apply some of my nails to models who were having full prosthetics put on. Mine was a hitch-hiking ghost and the nails were a finishing touch to his look.”
She added: “I often get complete creative freedom when designing these costume nails. The customer might tell me what the theme of the look is, but the rest is all up to me. What a thrill to create a piece of wearable art like that!”
As for the press-on nails, each set is custom-made to match the client’s creative vision. She uses mixed media for her creations, whether that be clay, gel, acrylic, plastic, metal, organic materials, hardware or craft store materials. A set of 10 reusable nails can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to make.
“The clients for my nails are a mixed bag. Anything from cosplay to drag queens and entertainers. I don’t have a niche at this point because nails are something universal. I was one of the sponsors of the World Body Painting Competition in Germany this year. I provided custom nails, and they wore them with their beautiful designs, it was a match made in creative heaven.”
Asked “what’s next?” for Onyx Nails Design, Jolandi said, “When people think special-effects nails, I want them to think Onyx Nails Design. When I was at the convention in LA, there wasn’t anyone else there who was doing what I did…My wish is that someone, somewhere knows Lady Gaga and she comes to me for a set of gorgeous nails. I can imagine going to a movie theatre and seeing my nails up there on the big screen. That would be such an incredible experience and would validate the quality and uniqueness of the products I create.”
You can see some of Jolandi’s creations at onyxnailsdesign.com and on Instagram @onyxnailsdesign.