The coolest colours for nails

Rouge Noir has some rivals for shade of the season.

Well, this will make you feel old: Rouge Noir nail polish is 20 years old. This news made me put my head in my hands. What have I been doing with my life? Or are you going, “Ehhrr. Mah. Gaard. There’s, like, a nail varnish that’s, like, waaay older than me. WOAH! Smiley face. Smiley face.” In a transatlantic accent, even though you’ve only ever been to France with your parents.

Way back in the olden days, aka 1995, this was the first beauty product to have its own waiting list. Before Rouge Noir, all nail varnish was what we now call basic. It wasn’t ever a fashion statement.

But then along came Rouge Noir, and it was almost impossible for a girl (I knew some boys who wore it, too) to look cool without reddish-black nails. Before then, hands were just hands. Suddenly, they were gothy-vampy accessories that gave an edge to your Jigsaw outfit. And we are still wearing it. Rouge Noir nail varnish (£18; is Chanel’s most successful product to date. The brand is about to launch a whole make-up collection to complement it.

Two things afforded Rouge Noir cult status before it was even manufactured: it was mixed up by a make-up artist specifically for Chanel’s autumn/winter 1994 show and used the same year for Mia Wallace, Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. On the day it was launched, there were queues outside Barneys in New York. CNN covered the whole thing. Many brands have tried since to create an appetite for one single nail colour, but such a perfect storm in fashion and culture would be impossible to repeat.

That is not to say that there isn’t more than one excellent, iconic but cool nail colour in the world. There are hundreds upon hundreds of gimmicky, neon, glittery,zombie-ish, futuristic shades and textures out there. Nails now have their own seasonal trends (metallic is very now), but there are a handful that we keep coming back to.

Red nails, of course, never really go out of style. The only thing that changes is whether we’re wearing it on our hands or our toes (right now it’s hands). Dior’s Rouge 999, a perfect tomato red (£17.10;, is one of the brand’s classic colours and now comes in a glossy, gel-like texture.

Have a look in any manicurist’s kit bag and she’s likely to be low on pale pink – more often than not, Essie’s Mademoiselle (£7.99; Boots). For the other alternating toe/hand trend colour is ballet pink. This shade and its Essie siblings Sugar Daddy and Ballet Slippers are perpetually in (on toes, until I say switch).

The trouble with more avant-garde colours is that they rarely go with all skin tones. Having investigated extensively, however, I have found one that fits everyone. WAH London, the brand to go to for thrilling contemporary shades and nail-art accoutrements, has one called Mating Surfaces (£9; Boots). It’s a lilac colour with just the right warmth to match anyone’s flesh. I wore it all summer, used up two bottles (unheard of) and am still struggling to let go. My hands have not felt this cool since 1995.

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Louis Graves

I like pretty things and making myself, and others, pretty. Long time dog mummy and lover of beauty. Come and join me in my world.