Studio Visit

Chelsea Bagan of Trophy Wife Nail Art

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
16th of November 2012
Chelsea Bagan of Trophy Wife Nail Art at work in her Fitzroy studio!  Photo - Brooke Holm.
Chelsea Bagan of Trophy Wife Nail Art works her magic.  Photo - Brooke Holm.
One of the many nail art tutorials you will find in 'The Hand Book : A Guide to Nail Art' by Chelsea Bagan (aka 'Trophy Wife') and Anna Ross.   Photography by Ryan Wheatley.
One of the many nail art tutorials you will find in 'The Hand Book : A Guide to Nail Art' Photography by Ryan Wheatley.
Melbourne is the kind of city you can basically make a living doing just about any cool creative thing that pops into your imagination.  If you have some impressively niche skill, all you need to do is find yourself a little studio space, practise your craft in earnest, get yourself an instagram account, and BAM - Melbourne will support you!  We really get behind random cool stuff around here. Chelsea Bagan of Trophy Wife Nail Art learnt this first hand when launching her custom nail art business kind of accidentally-on-purpose back in 2010.  Who would have thought one could become a mini Melbourne celebrity simply by perfecting the art of painting teeny tiny watermelons? As it turns out, in under two years, Trophy Wife Nail Art has gained somewhat of a cult following in Melbourne, attracting significant local media coverage and a loyal customer base, all on the back of Chelsea's self taught repertoire of handpainted nail embellishments.  Brilliant! The Trophy Wife Nail Art service could be affectionately referred to as 'The Hipster Mani'.   Chelsea's service doesn't extend to all the extensive polishing and shellac-ing and usual nail salon hoo ha.  It's quite simply all about the nail art.  (She doesn't do acrylics or gels, and she has a 'No Toes' policy!).  Chelsea currently works from a studio in Brunswick street, she can also often be found doing nails in store at Alice Euphemia, and she also does housecalls, parties, office visits and photoshoots! This month Chelsea has launched a very brilliant side project.  She has joined forces with Anna Ross of Kester Black to produce their book 'The Hand Book : A Guide to Nail Art', which launched just last week!  The book is self published, featuring 15 excellent handpainted nail projects with easy step by step instructions.  It's only $29.95 and can be purchased from either the Trophy Wife Nail Art or Kester Black online stores. (Kester Black nail polish is WELL WORTH checking out also... FAB colours, all made in Australia and formadehyde free which is more than I can say for Australia's leading brand of professional salon nail polish...!) We are also SUPER PUMPED to announce that Chelsea will be joining Megan Morton for her Things I Love Bedside Book Signing on Sunday December 2nd, 11.00am at The Design Files Open House in Melbourne!  These two lovely ladies will be taking over our master bedroom on the Sunday morning - Megan will be propped up in bed signing copies of her gorgeous new book, whilst Chelsea will be on hand offering customers sweet handpainted nail decals.  I am SO FLIPPIN' EXCITED!  Come on down and get yourself a signed copy of Things I Love, and a polka dot or two on your pinky. I must say, I can totally see this kooky nail art trend going global.  Move over Movember, it takes a lot more effort to grow a good set of claws than it does to avoid shaving for four weeks... and there is no better motivation to stop nibbling your nails than a fabulous creative mani from Trophy Wife Nail Art!
Chelsea Bagan aka 'Trophy Wife' in her Fitzroy studio!  Photo - Brooke Holm.
Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, where did your fascination with nail art come from and what led you to starting Trophy Wife Nail Art?
I left school after year 10 wanting to be a singer and audio engineer. That feels like a bit of a past life now, and kind of humorous! I studied three years of audio engineering and by the end of it I was pretty sure that I was kind of done with it. I’ve dabbled in so many career paths trying to find what I wanted to do. My CV is as varied they come - on it you'll find that I have worked as a photo editor for a media agency, a music booking agent, a band merch girl, and even burger flipper! I think I got that from my parents, who have worked in so many different fields and always said that if you aren’t happy doing something then you need to change the situation. They have owned many small businesses and both still each have their own business. I have been surrounded my family's small business ventures my entire life, it's all I’ve ever known and something that I always wanted to pursue, but knew for me it would have to have a creative focus to succeed. I LOVE getting manicures, always have, always will. It felt like such a treat for myself, I would go and get a buff and polish every week (I also have a bit of a phobia of having my nails unpolished). It was something I would do with friends after breakfast on a weekend, especially when I was working full-time. Getting a weekend mani was something I really looked forward to, although I always felt a bit embarrassed asking for 10 colours on my fingers - that's something no-one really has to worry about anymore! It was about 2010 when I first started dabbling in nail art, I had a serious nail polish collection taking over my beauty case. I also had/have an eBay obsession - the first nail art tool I bought was some 3D puffer paint polish. The first design I ever did was a strawberry, I thought it was the most exciting thing and would re-do it every day. Ever since then I have not put the polish down. I wanted to take the step to make it into an actual salon but wasn’t sure how to go about it, and just started posting photos on Instagram (the nail art mecca of the digital age!). My friend writes for an online publication with a huge readership and they were going to do a story on the top salons in Melbourne, but when they heard about what I was doing they thought it was something different to show their readers. That night I quickly put together a website and Facebook fan page and life has been a little crazy from then on!
'Slime' nails, from 'The Hand Book' by Chelsea Bagan and Anna Ross.  Photography by Ryan Wheatley.
Trophy Wife Nail Art is built on a very unique business concept! Can you explain the nature of your business and what services you offer your clients?
My business focuses on treating people to things they can't do for themselves easily. There are other nail art businesses out there who have set designs to choose, but I wanted to focus mainly on custom nail art. Most of my work is hand painted, which is a big focus for me. I offer the simplest kind of manicure, with just a buff and plain polish, right to matching the print of your dress. I do quite a lot of home visits, girls love nail parties, so I pack up my gear and head to groups of girls. There is often lots of squealing, champagne and girl talk involved. I am about to start a kind of hens package with Sticky Fingers Bakery, for nail painting and cupcakes. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
How do you fit so much joy on such a small canvas?! Where do you draw inspiration from, and what's the most bizarre nail art request you've been asked to create?
I struggle to paint things big now, I have tiny hands so I must have been made to paint small. I get so excited when people ask me to paint challenging designs that I have never thought of or tried before, other people are a great form of inspiration, it's great to get a fresh perspective from people you have only just met.
Watermelon nail tutorial, from 'The Hand Book' by Chelsea Bagan and Anna Ross.  Photography by Ryan Wheatley.
Watermelon mani!  From 'The Hand Book' by Chelsea Bagan and Anna Ross.  Photography by Ryan Wheatley.
Not only are you Melbourne's newest entrepreneur, but you're Melbourne's newest published author, having just launched your first book last week, 'The Hand Book: A Guide to Nail Art'. Congratulations!  Can you explain how the idea for this book and collaboration with Anna Ross came about? What were each of your roles in the creation of the book and how long it has been in development?
Anna from Kester Black approached me earlier this year as she had just launched her first nail polish collection, which I think was a great accompaniment to her jewellery line. She sent me some samples and asked me to try it out. I fell in love with them, the colours are so amazing! I have done a lot of research into chemicals that have been used in nail polish for years and wanted to switch to products that were safer for me and my customers to be around. Kester Black was exactly what I was looking for at that time. I love to support Australian made things too so that was a big tick from me. After I had been using it for a little while, Anna emailed me in August about the idea of doing a nail art book. We still had never met in person before so we arranged to meet up and have a wine. It was very blind date-esque! I was (and I know she was) very apprehensive about doing something so big with someone I had never met before. It was a bit of a leap of faith. Especially because we only began the book in October, so it took about three weeks from start to finish to get it together, and about four weeks by the time we got it back from the printers. We have very similar goals, aesthetic and lifestyles so we work really well together. I totally trust every decision she makes and it has been really great working with someone with such similar ideas. Anna is good at most things, and since we started the book she has now become an expert in Photoshop, InDesign, PR and is now a printing wizard. She did the graphic design along with help from Chris Kastner, and we spent a lot of time together picking pantone colours and deliberating over layouts and photos. We did two days worth of photo shoots with our photographer Ryan Wheatley and Anna spent many hours editing photos. I’m so happy with how it all came together, and so excited to get it out there and onto book shelves!
'The Hand Book : A Guide to Nail Art' by Chelsea Bagan and Anna Ross, and Kester Black nail polishes by Anna Ross (Formadehyde, DBP and Toluene free!)
What's your favourite nail colour combo for this Summer?
I'm a big lover of all things mint! Lately I've been feeling Kester Black Bubblegum and Buttercream, and one of my all time favourites is Milani Gold Glitz, one coat glitter. Also give me a bit of peach anyday!
Kester Black Bubblegum and Buttercream - two of Chelsea's favourite colours at the moment!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
It usually involves lots of colour palette suggestions and lots of helping people decide what designs to choose. Design choice is infinite so it can be quite hard for people to decide what to get. It also involves lots of chatting, lots of listening and lots of Google image searching to jog my memory on what things look like!
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Trophy Wife Nail Art?
I have a studio space on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, which I have been working from for about two months now and I am in love with it! It’s so bright and I feel happy instantly when I walk in the door. It feels as though I have just purchased my first home, and I am constantly thinking and changing my mind about how I will decorate it. I am involved in every part of the business, and am currently the only employee, although I am about to bring on another girl to help with the painting, I’m really looking forward to sharing the space with another person who loves painting nails as much as I do! I buy stock from so many places. I have a collection of nail polish and paraphernalia that I have been hoarding for a couple of years, so I have so many glitters and vintage transfers from all around the place. I now buy a lot of my products from beauty wholesalers, but still spend a lot of time scouring the internet for something new to try out.
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?
I'm loving Kuwaii at the moment, their clothes are SO beautiful. I have been running a nail bar out of Alice Euphemia for the past few months, and I am constantly day dreaming about their clothing!
Can you list for us some favourite resources across any media that you turn to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?!
I'm currently obsessed with PATTERNITY and Ffffound. I also find that I am mostly inspired by patterns, shapes and colours. Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram are really useful – sometimes I just search words relating to what I am looking for and up pops a plethora of inspiration.
What would be your dream creative project?
The book was a bit of a dream creative project, I still can’t believe it is done and finished. Now I will have to start thinking about a new dream!
What are you looking forward to and what's next for Trophy Wife Nail Art?
I'm looking forward to Christmas and taking a few days to collect my thoughts and plan the year ahead. I have lots of great collaborations coming up with some Melbourne-based creatives. I’m also REALLY looking forward to sitting alongside Megan Morton for her Things I Love Melbourne book signing and jazzing up some nails at The Design Files Open House. I can’t wait to see how it has been put together!
Kester Black nail polishes by Anna Ross!  Photo - Brooke Holm.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I live in Abbotsford and I love it there. I love that it's so close to everything but feels like it's tucked away.
Your favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for the tools or materials of your trade?
I can’t get enough of Priceline. I could and do spend hours in there. Discount shops are great too, they always have a great array of glitter and every now and then you can pick up a good nail art transfer. Most of the best finds are in the outer suburbs at beauty wholesalers.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
My household loves Thai food! The last great meal I ate was on a Friday night at a bar called Prudence in North Melbourne where the Melbourne Thai Café delivers. I drank some Amoretto and ate a delicious stir-fry!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Saturdays are my busiest day! Many of my customers get their nails done for special occasions that usually fall on a Saturday night, so Saturdays you will find me working away. Sundays are my day off, my housemate runs a café and gallery in the Abbotsford convent called St Heliers Street, so most Sundays I spend lazing about there or catching up on things inside my computer.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told!
The Trophy Wife Nail Art studio in Brunswick street, Fitzroy.  Photo - Brooke Holm.

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