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31 Aug

Nail Mary! Lesly Arrañaga is bringing Catholic-core to nail

Brimming with crosses, saints and la Virgen de Guadalupe, the nail artist’s work draws inspiration from her Mexican heritage and Latine community in Los Angeles

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Our childhoods and cultural background often shape the artistic work we create once we’re older, each subtly and more overtly. For Lesly Arrañaga, it’s the Latine community in Los Angeles, where she was born and now lives, and her Mexican background, from which she draws inspiration – particularly the wealthy religious tradition in that culture. Under the 26-year-old nail artist’s skillful hand, Catholic imagery is transformed into tiny charms decorated in gold and silver. The colourful, lavish cemeteries present in Mexico are replicated on nails complete with crosses and the image of los angeles Virgen de Guadalupe.

For an additional nail set, Arrañaga drew from the Yucatán legend a few Mayan princess’s forbidden lover who became a beetle she wore near her heart, and created a manicure of ma’kech beetles adorned with vibrant gems and chains.

But Arrañaga’s maximalist, highly decorative nail style isn’t just limited to Virgin Marys and crucifixes. From sculptures of fish tanks, mushroom gardens and futuristic chairs to pendants of puppies and clowns, she will be able to do all of it and fit all of it onto a single nail bed. Packing each finger with full of life, elaborate textures and designs, often mixing handmade moulds with pearls, shells and opals, she lives by the motto: “There aren’t any rules to nails.” 

Arrañaga’s talent is that she spawns probably the most mundane things into art – bubble handheld games, zote bar soap, botas picudas, dog tags, belt buckles, olive oil, Fabuloso and beans. Through these, she actively defies cyclical trends and as a substitute finds beauty in on a regular basis objects while honouring her culture. “I’m captivated with art, self-expression, individuality and my surroundings,” she says. “I wish to bring all the things together and put it on nails.”

Below, we chat with Arrañaga about how her family sparks creativity and the way she lives in her own little world.

Are you able to tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? 

Lesly Arrañaga: I used to be born in Los Angeles and moved to St Helena once I was six. I grew up in a really supportive Mexican household. Being first-generation, my parents were tasked with the job of survival and needed to put their dreams aside. So that they have all the time pushed my sisters and me to do whatever we wish, to follow our dreams. They taught me the importance of working hard and never being afraid to fail. I’ve had an interest in art ever since I can remember. I see all the things I do each day as a type of art – whether I’m cooking, cleansing, working or preparing.

How did you get into nail art?  

Lesly Arrañaga: I all the time knew I desired to do something artistic, so I took a leap of religion during COVID. It began by doing my sister, my cousins and my nails with 98-cent polish from Walmart. We might sit on the kitchen table, and I might use toothpicks to do the designs, which was type of a full-circle moment because once I was little I had the book Nail Art by Sherri Haab. It had different nail designs that you could possibly do with toothpicks. I got my manicurist license and from there, it has been a wonderful journey. I still have moments where I’m like, is that this really real?

What’s your earliest beauty-related memory?

Lesly Arrañaga: I used to be in fifth grade, and I remember going to Walmart and getting a set of toe press-ons with a light-weight pink plaid French tip. Once I got home, I went out to play hide-and-seek but was wearing flip-flops, so my feet got dirty. I might make sure that to stop mid-game and wipe the toenails so you’ll be able to make sure that you were capable of see my nails.

Which fictional character do you most relate to?

Lesly Arrañaga: Debbie from The Wild Thornberrys and Roger from American Dad; each are in their very own little worlds.

Who’re your beauty icons?

Lesly Arrañaga: My aunts within the 90s; I saw pictures of how they might dress and do their make-up – it was the most effective. Mi tía Perry all the time had thin eyebrows, brown or deep red lip liner, and a white eyeshadow base. She would then add a color on top to match her clothes and eyeliner – but truthfully, the eyeliner was probably tattooed on.

What does beauty mean to you? 

Lesly Arrañaga: Beauty to me is doing whatever you’re feeling like doing. It changes each day.

When do you’re feeling most beautiful?

Lesly Arrañaga: Once I’m fresh out of the shower and have an honest amount of sleep.

You’ve got to interchange a part of your body with that of an animal or a mythological creature. What do you go for?

Lesly Arrañaga: I’d replace my legs with a mermaid tail so I can live each in water and land.

You’ve had an accident which causes you to lose your sense of smell. The doctors can’t return it fully but can provide you with the flexibility to smell one scent. What do you choose?

Lesly Arrañaga: My dad’s scent after a protracted day of labor – it’s a mixture of his cologne, deodorant, sweat and cigarettes. It jogs my memory of his hugs, I can’t describe it, but for those who know, you understand. 

You encounter a hostile alien race and sound is their only mechanism for communication. What song would you play to them to encourage them to spare you and the remainder of the human race? 

Lesly Arrañaga: “Dern Kala” by Khruangbin.

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