If ever there were a television personality to revive the flagging nail art trend, it's Empire's matriarch, Ms. Cookie Lyon. Each week, the over-the-top ex-con commands attention with eye-catching talons complete with vibrant colors, intricate designs, and bold add-ons. The mastermind behind Cookie's fabulous full sets? Celebrity manicurist and owner of Shine Nails Chicago, Ericka Johnson.
And it doesn't end on the set of the hit show. Open Instagram and you'll find Empire's cast (and crew!) crediting Johnson with their off-screen manis too. Taraji P. Henson called on Johnson to serve as the manicurist for her latest Essence magazine cover shoot, Gabourey Sidibe tapped her for a Halloween mani, and the show's makeup artist, the iconic Ashunta Sheriff, gave a special shout-out to Johnson for creating her technicolor foil mani (now, that one's a must-see!).
"Celebrities get their hair and makeup done all the time," says Johnson. "No one wants to be sitting in a chair forever to get their nails done too, so my approach is to create nail art that's bold yet simple and quick."
With the holidays quickly approaching, who better to turn to for advice on creating glitzy, wow-worthy manicures than the nail guru arguably responsible for the most elaborate nails on TV? From glitter polish to Swarovski crystals, here are Johnson's go-to nail accessories for Cookie's most memorable manicures. Plus, tips on how to do them at home!
"Cookie's nails are a strong part of her character because she talks a lot with her hands, so it's important for me to create eye-catching manicures that match her personality," says Johnson. "Swarovski crystals always do the job because they have great brilliance." To glam up at at-home mani, Johnson recommends pressing the stones into your polish of choice while damp. Then, finish with a topcoat like Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat ($10, ulta.com). If you're going for a dramatic look, go ahead and bling out an accent nail, or opt for something more subtle by applying small stones along the base of your nail beds for a shimmery half moon mani.
"I'm really into foils right now because they're super simple to apply, cost-effective, and really reflective." All it takes is glue and foil. First, pick up an all-in-one set like FingerPaints Foil Nail Kit ($10, sallybeauty.com), which contains blue, pink, and silver foil colors. "You can place them wherever you'd like, whether in random order or as a cool spin on a French manicure." See Johnson's gold foil creation for Cookie, above.
Cookie's name has become synonymous with cheetah prints thanks to her safari-inspired wardrobe ensembles. Johnson drew inspiration from her sartorial sensibility with the manicure above, created with her go-to foils. "The cheetah print was perfect for Cookie because her style is so wild." Try an animal-inspired nail wrap like NCLA Designer Nail Wraps in Here Kitty Kitty ($16, shopncla.com) for a similar effect.
Bonus! Nail Rings, Wraps, and Ribbons
The throwback accessory Johnson would love to resurrect? "Nail rings! They're probably the most extreme accessories I've ever used on nails. You drill a hole into the tip of the nails and slide a hoop through it. I used to do it in the '80s, but I can see it making a comeback." However, working on set, Johnson can be limited on time so she tries to stick to nail art that can be done in less than two hours. "Things like crystals, foils, ribbons, and glittery and metallic polishes are the fastest ways to achieve really impactful looks—but with more time, nothing is too over-the-top for Cookie!" For an intricate look for the holidays that takes no time, Johnson recommends customizing your own nail wraps with an app that allows you to wear your own photos on your nails. We like Make Me Nails.