Whether a little bit glam or a little bit goth, dark winter nail colors are always a striking signal of the season. Some match their dusk-by-five surroundings with a navy blue or a vampy Bordeaux, while others reflect a certain attitude or emotional expression. For example, a vinyl midnight manicure is a timeless classic in the fashion and music worlds.
“I started doing my own nails and wearing black and dark blue nails when I was 12 years old,” says Desire frontwoman Megan Louise, who we caught stepping off a flight from Paris after DJing Chanel’s store reopening on Saint Honoré this week. At the time, her mother disapproved, and now, “I still think it makes me feel a bit rebellious going on 37,” says Louise. “The dark nail is your little black dress, after all.” She’s worn Chanel Le Vernis in Rhythm, a celestial blue, for as long as she can remember, and an Hermès polish in Brun Bistre that hasn’t left her mind since she stumbled on it during her European tour. “My Berlin friend Ava Vegas had it on her coffee table, and I just had to try it—the brown metallic color looks really lush and rich, the perfect combo for a moody winter look.” For nail artist Holly Falcone, who keyed NYFW shows for Sandy Liang, Batsheva, and Susan Alexandra this season, the look is a fashion staple. “A dark nail is like a great leather accessory,” says Falcone. “It’s especially chic in the winter and translates through all the different holidays and events winter can bring.”
Then, there are the optical tricks that dark nails perform. According to New York City editorial pro Jin Soon Choi, cold weather has the potential to “render skin tones toward the cool side of the light spectrum, but some unexpected hues can enhance and bring out your skin’s natural warmth,” she says, frequenting Dior Vernis Nail Lacquer in Nuit, a deep red, and her own Absolute Black polish for the season. “Darker colors are also always flattering to every nail shape, short or long,” says nail artist Sonya Belakhlef, who works with clients like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michaela Jae Rodriguez, and Natasha Lyonne. They point to the darkwave, Matrix-centric, and emo revival moments happening on runways and red carpets as a proof that it’s more than a seasonal shift. “Fashion is getting ‘edgier’ so dark nails have been in,” says Belakhlef. “But it’s easy to justify it in the winter!”
Here, the pros share the winter nail colors they’re wearing and using on clients– including the onyx OPI hue that turned up at practically every award show of 2022.
“These iconic deep reds never go out of style,” says Soon. “They are the most recognized color in fashion among models and fashionistas.” As proof, at Proenza Schouler’s Spring 2023 show, nail artist Mo Qin used Essie polish in wine-red Wicked on models’s fingers and toes for the runway. “A deep, vampy red is always in for a sultry winter,” says Falcone, who notes that it’s great alone or “used for a moody French manicure.” To play off of changing temperatures, Belakhlef likes Cirque Colors polish in Rothko Red, which “changes to dark oxblood red when cold and bright crimson red when warm.”
Pushing red carpet ensembles to the very edge, OPI’s GelColor in Black Onyx was 2022’s award season winner. The shade was seen on Olivia Rodrigo and Addison Rae at the Grammys, Laverne Cox at the Academy Awards, Lil Nas X at the VMAs, and Lizzo at the Emmys. Falcone describes the short onyx nail as “a clean look with a slightly rebellious edge” and likes an ultra-glossy finish with a top coat like Orly’s Shining Armor quick-dry formula “so the black looks creamy and shiny, rather than dull.” Soon notes that black nails work for everyone—like a tailored suit. “They are so rich that they starkly contrast with many skin tones much like a black wardrobe does,” she says.
Navy and night-sky blues are the choice of new romantics—like Louise’s favorite Chanel polish in Rhythm, a shade the musician is unabashedly obsessed with. Belakhlef describes Les Mains Hermès Nail Enamel in Bleu Encre as “the dark and intense blue of the receding night at the break of dawn.” And for the season, Falcone points out that “midnight blues always reflect the cold weather and are somewhat expected for winter,” she says. But in the spirit of adding a touch of heat, she pays close attention to the undertones. “I like a royal blue with a slight warm undertone to it, so the look isn’t so chilly,” adds Falcone.
Mossy evergreen nails are what Falcone describes as “midnight greens” that look best in intensely pigmented shades with a glassy finish. (Interestingly, Mignights queen Taylor Swift has been wearing the hue on and off stage for years). “Midnight greens are perfect for the cold weather,” she says. “It’s actually really earthy, like the forest outside a winter cabin.” For wet-look shine, Orly’s Glosser topcoat creates a protective barrier with a salon finish at home.
The cocoa shade of Les Mains Hermès Nail Enamel in Brun Bistre that drew in Louise and fellow musician Ava Vegas is setting the tone. “Richly pigmented chocolate metallic shimmer is the perfect nail color to evoke the coziness of the season,” says Belakhlef. They describe Orly’s metallic Stop the Clock lacquer as “a perfect luxurious neutral for those looking to add some interest without straying too far from the classics.” And for those that prefer a sparkle-free finish, there’s power in its depth. “I love a grayish brown as a dark neutral shade for the winter,” says Falcone. “It’s like a dark taupe that reads neutral and is flattering when we lose our summer tans.”
There’s something a bit Sci-Fi about the metallic charcoal nail that feels particularly relevant this season. New York-based label KAIMIN (known for collaborations with artists like Björk, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and BlackPink) tapped nail artist Junko Uyama for holographic slate nails. They tipped off its Meta Couture collection of augmented reality and IRL fashion that debuted last month. Then, for something a bit glam, there’s the glittery gunmetal Twilight Tones shade of OPI that artist Eri Ishizu painted on Lizzo for this year’s BET awards. Belakhlef calls a “near-black holo a must” and calls KBShimmer’s Stark Raven Mad a favorite. “In the light, the linear holo comes through, adding a pop of rainbow goodness,” they promise.