Shanghai’S Dragonfly chain has a well- earned reputation for providing relaxing oases of calm. So there are a few looks of trepidation when I burst into its Xinle Lu branch and tell the staff I’m ready to perform a manicure. I’m not sure whether it’s my unkempt beard or my chewed dirty nails, but something seems to tip them o that I’m not a world-class beauty expert.
Fortunately, I’ve brought my own volunteer hand model so that they don’t have to let me loose on a real customer, and Jessie, who has years of experience in the mani-pedi game, agrees to show me the ropes. She begins by wheeling over a small trolley stacked with bottles of ‘replenishing oil’, anti-bacterial sprays and a kidney dish of various metallic tools. Getting your nails done is a major operation it seems and I half expect to be asked to change into a surgical gown, but apparently that’s not necessary.
After dabbing our volunteer’s nails with a moisturiser, then giving them a quick buff, Jessie pulls out what looks like a pair of pliers and instructs me to remove any dead skin. As I brandish the tool, our hand model looks mildly panicked. Apparently me clipping away at her cuticles isn’t quite what she thought was on offer when I mentioned a relaxing afternoon at Dragonfly. Sensing her fear, I decide to sit this bit out while Jessie effortlessly cleans up the nails.
Once we’re ready to paint, I take hold of our volunteer’s thumb, calculating that the nail with the largest surface area seems a good place to start. ‘We always go from small to large,’ Jessie says, pointing me toward the pinky instead. This seems like a bad idea for a novice not used to wielding a nail paintbrush, but not wanting to upset the manicurist ma a (because that presumably exists) I relent.
I start by dolloping way too much paint onto the nail. Jessie says that given the quality of the products we’re using (a newly- launched Jardin Global range in case you’re wondering), only a relatively small amount is needed, but when I try to use less the result is a streaky mess. ‘You should focus on the shape first,’ Jessie says. ‘You can worry about coverage once you’ve got that right.’
It’s good advice, but I never really nail it. Jessie glides the brush across the nails with remarkable speed and accuracy and tells me to think of it as like painting an artwork. But under my brush the nails come out more closely resembling a Rorschach test than a Rothko.
I spy the fancy nail art selections on display – smileys, butterflies and sparkly jewels – and ask our photographer whether he wants to offer up his hands for me to try out some designs. He seems game, but Jessie – having salvaged my shambolic painting to leave our volunteer with elegant nails – doesn’t see my mani-fest destiny: ‘I don’t think you’re quite ready for that,’ she says with a smile.