When Angel William’s name popped up in my inbox I couldn’t help but smile. Telling me she writes as she speaks and breaks all the rules, this is easily one of my favourite interviews yet. Although her name might not ring any bells, the chances are you will have seen her work on the cover of GQ, Elle or Harper’s Bazaar. Known throughout the industry for her natural, healthy nails with a splash of colour, Angel has worked with some of the biggest clients in the business. With celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Jennifer Hudson in her phone book, this is an expert worth her weight in gold (or gold leaf nail polish). Based just outside New York, when we did manage to catch up, Angel was more than happy to share her story of success and advice with our users here in the UK.
To start with the obvious question, have you always been interested in nails?
No I wasn’t really – it all happened by happenstance. I went to school to study to be an accountant and worked in that field for about eight months. A friend had invited me to go to a nail school open house event with her, and if I’m honest I went to keep her company (and for the free food!). But once I was there I found I was really interested in what the instructors were saying, so I registered for a class. I was learning how to give the perfect pedicure in my first week and was hooked.
How did things progress from there?
At first I didn’t really know which direction to take my career in. After eleven years behind the table and owning my own salon, I was completely burned out. Towards the end of this road I would always be coming to New York for jobs (I’m originally from Virginia). After getting a job at New York Fashion Week I caught the bug and became a freelance Manicurist full-time. I went back and took extra courses in how to package your portfolio to get me where I wanted to be. I learnt all about the industry, especially the business side of things and the importance of creating a brand for myself.
Did you receive any formal qualifications?
I did go through formal training to learn the basics of nail care and nail anatomy. When it comes to nail artistry, it just comes organically from things that inspire me.
Which part of your job do you find most enjoyable?
The nails; I love creating something that goes on to contribute to a great body of work. I also love that fact that what I do can contribute to helping someone feel and look their best.
What is the most challenging part for you?
At times I find it challenging not having complete control of my schedule, but I don’t mind it that much!
Looking back over your career so far, do you have one project that you are particularly proud of?
Honestly no one trumps the other, because when I look back at my portfolio I just see growth. Saying that, there is one image that is very special to me; it’s an image of a model with purple hair and her nail is a colour block pattern. It was one of my first ‘formal’ photo shoots and I wanted to ‘bang those nails out’ and I did! I used that image for a long time as my social media avatar and to this day it is still on my business cards. When people see that image, they know that the photo is ‘Angel Williams’ and people are still using the photo for promotional things (not always with my permission, but that’s another story!)
Do you find nail art differs for runway or red carpets and editorial shoots?
Not really, it differs because of the client of each of those entities. Runway tends to be more classic, single colour nail beauty, but then you have designers like The Blonds who choose incredible nail art to compliment the designs of the season.
How much creative input do you usually get when working on a photo shoot?
I would say about 90%. Clients will often have an idea of what they want and it is my job to give them that, but to direct the vision and ensure it aligns with the overall look. It’s also my responsibility to bring things to the table that they might not have seen or heard of before.
How long, on average, do you get to create a look?
If it’s something really specific I will usually get a day’s worth of thought and preparation for the job. If its nail focused I often get a bit more time.
In three words, what are the most important skills needed to make it in the industry?
Talent, patience and flexibility.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Figure out where you want your career to go, have clear cut goals and find a mentor. Always work on your craft in order for it to grow. Update your education – it’s important to stay current and ensure you keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the industry.
That’s really great advice – thank you! Final question, in your opinion, what are the most common mistakes women make when it comes to their nails?
There are so many! Probably not using a base coat before colour application, not moisturising their cuticles, picking and pulling at parts of their nails and cutting or allowing cutting of their cuticles. All these things are massive no’s!
If you are thinking of turning nails into more than a hobby, why not take a look at the manicure courses listed on our site and have a go for yourself? Although you might not be ready to quit your day job at the end of week one, as Angel proves, making the leap could be your best decision yet.
Photo credit: Angel Williams for Marie Claire