We spoke with nail artist extraordinaire Lauren LaRouge of Love Larouge about her journey into pursuing her creative career and the vibrant nail sets she has become so notable for, as well as her recent move into custom wearable art pieces for her extensive clientele, including a piece for Tammy Hembrow to wear for her Saski Collection launch at Australian Fashion Week earlier this year.
Q: When and how did you realise a career as a nail artist was something you wanted to do?
A: This was something that I struggled with for much of my life - until I was 27 or so, I couldn’t figure out how I could possibly have a creative career using my hands when so much is done online/electronically now. I studied design at uni thinking advertising could connect my desire to be creative and have a job, until I got a job at reception at an advertising agency halfway through my studies and realised how much I hated 1: working on a computer, 2: in an office, and 3: the entire advertising industry to be honest.
I was pretty lost for a long time and thus performed as a burlesque/cabaret performer in the evenings, as well as working in admin during the day until my mate found a tumblr account called “Burgers and Nails” about 9 years ago - I instantly fell in love with the world of nail art & the huge possibilities in it!
Q: You have so many incredible creations; how do they come about? Could you talk us through your process?
A: I guess the direction I take depends on the client; some have no idea what they’re after or even exactly what they like as they are SO new to nail art - so with a client like this I will get them to show me at least 5 examples of nail art styles they like, get them to pick a few colours & then I just take over and do something that I believe they will love based on all the information given.
Other clients, however, it is a true collaboration where they have been dreaming of their designs for days, weeks or even years before they find me and I have had hand-drawn blueprints of what they want on each nail - and recently, even digital renders of their dream nails! I LOVE a client who knows what they want - as long as they’re also willing to listen to suggestions or tweaks where they’re needed to take the set to the next level.
My most regular client experience is that they will bring in a photo of an outfit they want to wear to an event - or a wallpaper they love, a bag, a bedspread - you name it - and they either want elements of, or a homage to it on their nails. It’s always fun when a client has a dream and they trust me to turn it into a reality.
Q: What have been your favourite work projects thus far?
A: Ooooh there have been so many over the years that it’s hard to pick a favourite. One of my regulars of over 6 years now - who has also become a great friend - picks some amazing and wild designs including the word DICK PIG written across her nails (but jumbled up so the people in her office wouldn’t realise), as well as some iconic “WAP” themed nails, and anything blingy or neon.
Another regular star client almost made my head explode by requesting The Powerpuff Girls themed nails, or The Simpsons Mr. Burns/alien abduction themed nails. She also keeps talking about this kinder surprise toy of a sheep on a skateboard that we’re planning on working into a set too! I love variety, and clients that allow me to play.
The wearable art component is still so new compared to how long I’ve been doing nails (about 8+ years now) so I find it ALL very exciting. It all started with a Balenciaga bag that my stylist client Collette Emily wanted to get customised for Tammy Hembrow for a show at fashion week earlier this year & then during lockdown it REALLY took off and before I knew it I was painting butterflies onto Louis Vuitton bags, flames onto an outfit for an amazing drag queen, and actually, as I complete this interview I’m working on a pair of candy cane themed jeans for another client who loves Xmas!
Recently I have also bought some glass paint at a client’s request (as she wants some personalised wine glasses created) and by request, I’m also custom bedazzling t-shirts in my limited spare time too. I’m very excited to take my art from the nail bed to anything that you can wear.
Q: As you started out as a cabaret dancer and then moved on to your artist work, do you have any advice for anyone looking into starting their own creative business?
A: I have many thoughts thanks to the many mistakes I have made throughout my time in business and so first and foremost: don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you will do it over and over - I guarantee it! It’s important to always learn from them and to not let them consume you.
Keep your overheads as low as humanly possible - let your expenses grow with your business when you can support them - but you need to crawl before you run. If your dream is to own a nail business - start small at home or rent a space in an existing hairdressers (as I did) or a beauty salon/appropriate professional space and then grow with your business. The number one reason I’ve seen businesses close all around me over the years is that they started too big and their expenses were coming in faster than the clients. I know we all want to be an “overnight sensation” but the secret is that all of those businesses or people have usually been working away behind the scenes for years before they hit the big time.
Be patient and be kind to yourself - because it’s going to be both the best and most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your life. So get ready for one hell of a ride! And lastly, remember why you started your own business in the first place, and keep loving what you do - especially when it’s tough.
If Love Larouge was a ____, it would be a _____:
A flower: I would definitely have to choose a colourful Australian native like wattle because it’s bright, it’s fabulous, but it’s also very tough and can survive the harsh Australian climate - which I feel as a small business surviving covid and a global crisis!
A TV Show: Broad City; bold, brash, loud & FUN! An eternal hype woman for EVERYONE but especially the girls, the gays and the theys.
An iconic woman: I am still trying to grow up to become an iconic woman at the age of 37 and my business reflects that. However, I’ll choose Cher as she is STRONG, talented and eternal!
A colour: Rouge, baby - it’s in the name. We are red hot and also a little romantic. I’m all about romancing yourself and self care.
A dessert: A beautiful glazed donut! The shinier the better.
A song: Unstoppable by Sia, because my business and my work will continue to grow, evolve and adapt, but we will be here until the day I retire or die honey.
A cocktail: I love dirty martinis but I’ll say a French martini because it tastes soft & sweet but it’s got a hell of a kick to it - like me, and also my business is LOVE LAROUGE for goodness sake so I have to pay homage to the French.