When I first met Rita, we bonded over our love of magazines, from beauty and fashion to art and interiors. Her sister, a very good friend of mine, and I worked together on HGTV, and she introduced me to Rita, who was becoming the most sought-after nail artist in Toronto. Both Rita and her sister told me all about what it was like to grow up on a farm and how the “big city” was always in their dreams. Well, fast forward to present–day and Rita is one of the biggest nail artists in all the world. She travels the globe, working with some of the highest–regarded editors in the industry, and is an inspiration to so many. She is also the sweetest, most thoughtful, kind and loving lady I’ve ever known (and so is her sister, I might add), so I’m super excited for you to get to know her a little better. Without further ado, meet Rita:
Growing up in a small town, did you always dream about getting into the beauty industry?
Mostly I dreamt about moving to a big city. Looking back, I’m so grateful for my small-town upbringing, but I always craved a faster pace. For a long time, playing with makeup and polish was a hobby and a way to express myself, but I had no idea that I’d be lucky enough to earn a living from it.
Do you remember the first manicure you ever got?
I was at the mall with my cousins and my mom treated us all to manicures. I remember feeling so grown up. I chose the wildest colour they had: an iridescent hot pink with blue sparkles. My thinking was, If no one notices that I got my nails done, what’s the point? I still stand by that. I always want my clients’ nails to scream “I just got a manicure!” even if they choose a nude polish.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your journey to becoming a leading nail artist?
Taking chances. I’m so risk-averse. I like my cozy routine and the safety of consistency, but somehow along the way, I fell in love with a career that constantly pushes me out of comfort zone. So, I quit graphic design and decided to become a nail artist. I craved a job I could have complete control over, so I went freelance, and now I’m facing a whole whack of fears by moving to New York (I move in two weeks!). I found out early on that in order succeed in this industry, I had to be uncomfortable. I deal with my fair bit of anxiety, and everything that comes with working freelance is a challenge to my nerves, but I can’t have it any other way. I always do my best work under pressure anyway.
What do you think about social media? Love it or consumed by it?
Sometimes it feels like keeping up with social media is a full–time job, but as a freelancer, it’s invaluable. It gives me a platform to showcase my work and keeps me connected globally with other artists in my community. I’ve hired assistants through Instagram, gotten work through it, and learned about new innovations and opportunities, and so on.
What was your first editorial feature? What did that feel like?
My first solo feature was an editorial spread and cover shoot for Fashion magazine, with Andreja Pejic. I was ecstatic. It was eight years ago and all a blur now, but I remember being super nervous. It was definitely a turning point because it happened at a time when I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of my career and it made me think: How can I do THIS every day? I still have three copies of the issue stacked on my bookshelf.
What’s it like, giving manicures to models about to walk the runway?
Hectic. There are so many moving parts backstage and oftentimes you find yourself crouched under a table, polishing a model’s toenails while she’s giving an interview and getting her hair and makeup done. It’s an adrenaline rush and a lot of fun, but one thing it’s never is glamourous.
How do you prepare for an editorial gig? A live show?
For an editorial gig, I research. I scan the call sheet and research any crew member I haven’t worked with, go over the mood boards from the creative team, brainstorm nail designs that I think will gel with the overall vision, and then I prep and pack my kit accordingly. For a runway show, I meet with the designer and creative team in advance to preview the collection, discuss their inspiration, and work with the hair and makeup team to produce a beauty look that aligns with it. Once I have the look finalized, I order the products we’ll need to create the design on the models and confirm casting for the team who will help me execute the look backstage. On the day of, I arrive backstage, review the design with the team, and, because I’m the key manicurist, I speak to media about the look and overall trends for the season, oversee the manicures and do touch–ups before the runway.
What can or can’t you eat or drink before applying nail polish to ensure a steady hand?
If coffee gives you the shakes, I’d advise against it. But, if you’re like me and are addicted and immune to its jittery effects, you drink a bunch anyway.
What beauty products do you love for yourself?
I had terrible cystic acne in my early 20s that I treated with Accutane. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but in my case, it changed my life. Now, with the worst of my acne behind me, I keep up a steady regime of Vitamin C serum in the morning and a chemical exfoliator (I use a combination of AHAs and BHAs) in the evening. These two superheroes work in tandem and they’ve changed the texture of my skin.
Any beauty regimes or practices you just can’t live without?
Do regular deep tissue massages count? In my line of work, if I don’t get my back ironed out on a regular basis, I take the form of a pretzel.
What do you like to read? Are you a tech gal or an old-fashioned paper reader?
I try to keep a balanced diet when it comes to my reading consumption. My bookshelf is a blend of every genre, from sci-fi trilogies and “beach reads” to classic lit and philosophy. I’m genuinely interested in everything.
How do you stay in shape?
When I make being in shape a priority, (which I, admittedly, sometimes don’t), I stay active by doing something I genuinely enjoy. I made the mistake years ago of assuming that “working out” was a chore or something I hated but had to do. Then I discovered physical activities I actually loved, like kickboxing and spinning, and it’s been a lot easier since.
Given all the travel you do, what can’t you leave home without?
Airpods because I listen to a lot of podcasts. A book. A notepad because I’m constantly taking notes. Something fragrant like incense, a candle or an essential oil. I’m comforted by familiar smells or calming fragrances, so bringing something like a travel candle makes anywhere I lay my head feel homey.
How do you keep your health balanced? Both at home and in your travels?
Oh gosh, I haven’t mastered that yet—can someone teach me? I have terrible self–control.
What’s your weakness when it comes to shopping?
I spare no expense on food. I’m a grocer’s daughter and I will mindlessly spend $4 on a fancy Honeycrisp apple without batting an eye.
What’s your bedtime routine?
I never go to bed without washing my face and doing my nighttime skin care regime. I also never go to bed without at least one full glass of water at my bedside. I love waking up to a glass of water.
Can our nails become damaged if we have them painted ALL the time?
If you’re applying proper base coats and removing the polish gently, I’m pleased to say you’ll see zero damage.
How can we take better care of our nails?
Try to curb any chewing, biting or peeling habits. They’re hard addictions to quit, but if you replace the habit with a great one, like applying cuticle oil, you can keep your hands busy and your nails and cuticles glowing.
Where do you turn for artistic inspiration?
So many places. I keep a folder on my Instagram account and on my phone of any pleasing pattern or colour combination I come across. I’ve been inspired by desserts, window displays, wallpaper, fine art, fashion and nature.
What’s been the wildest design you’ve ever done?
One time I spent hours working on an intricate set of nails inspired by artists like Basqiat, Keith Haring and Warhol mixed with iconic patterns from designers like YSL, Comme des Garçons and Celine. After the shoot, I carefully removed each mini press–on nail from the hand model and kept them. They’re my mini masterpieces!
Why do you think nail art is so major right now?
It checks so many boxes. It’s an accessible means of expressing yourself, your style and your mood. To me, nail art has always blurred the line between beauty ritual and fashion statement. I think we’re all starting to utilize nail colour to its full potential.
Can you share your favorite celebrity encounter?
Jonathan Van Ness. We’ve worked together a few times and he’s one of the kindest, most genuine and open-hearted humans I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Not to mention he made me laugh and complimented my hair… I’m pretty smitten.
Is there anyone whose nails dying you’re dying to do?
I want to polish the nails of all of my comedy heroes: Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Leslie Jones… I could go on. Oh, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge because obviously.
What nail trends can you forecast for us?
Men wearing polish. It’s already beginning (see: A$AP Rocky and Harry Styles), but I’ve been predicting this trend for the past year. It’s such an undeniably fun and joy-inducing vehicle for self–expression and personal style that it was only a matter of time until the men jumped on board. I’m here for it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ve actually never been a long–term goal setter. I hope it’s not boring to say that in 10 years I’d love to see myself continuing to do work that inspires, challenges and supports me… ok, maybe with a kid or two.