You may have seen Cute Nail Studio on East Seventh Street already—a former barber shop transformed into a jarringly-cute, rainbow fantasy—where the people responsible, Jason Darling and Maria Russo, are the living embodiment of their brand. We chatted with the colorful couple about their technicolor studio, where everyone is welcome for cute and creative manicures—including 3-D and texture, with shapes that range from sharp to coffin—plus waxing services.
Tell us about yourselves!
Russo: Jason and I met at Barton Springs. He had a beautiful [OPI Katy Perry Collection] crackle manicure; I complimented it and he told me he had the supplies in his bag and asked if he could do my nails. On our second date we started planning a business.
Darling: Maria fell for my best trick, and seven years later we have a three-year-old, a nail salon and an art studio that specializes in mermaids.
Russo: Sirenalia is Austin's one-stop mermaid shop! We make realistic silicone mermaid tails, have a squad of mermaids (and a giant tank) available for events ranging from kids’ parties to SXSW corporate madness—and we throw international mermaid retreats in paradise.
Why did you decide to open a nail salon?
Darling: I’ve been getting colorful manicures for over a decade and am more or less what [comedian] Eddie Izzard calls an “executive transvestite.” As a guy, the nail salon experience has a tendency to make you feel like you’ve walked into the wrong room, and I wanted a place that would eliminate that feeling for everyone, regardless of your place on any racial, gender, gender identity or gender preference spectrum. One of the best features of Austin is its vibrant queer scene, and the idea of making a place where everyone could feel welcome just feels super fun.
What inspired Cute Nail Studio’s cute/kawaii branding?
Russo: Cute [Nail Studio] is basically a visual expression of everything that Jason and I love—rainbows, glitter and pink—with a little bit of messy artistry mixed it.
Darling: Maria and I are both born and raised Austinites, so we knew Austin as a landscape shaped by Sound Exchange and Mojo’s and Liberty Lunch and 78702 bumper stickers. We’ve been together on the Eastside for around seven years, and we wanted to create a place that felt like an extension of the Austin we grew up with. We’ve also been watching Kyary Pamyu Pamyu videos a lot [Kyary is a Japanese singer, model, blogger and personality associated with Tokyo’s Harajuku district and kawaii culture]. When we approached our interior designer, Joy Flores of Unhinged Studio, she took off with the idea and really made our vision a reality. (Joy is Austin-born and raised, too!) Personally, I wanted the bathroom to have a giant 3-D print of the top half of Tupac’s head which would staring lovingly at you as you walked in, but I was gently voted down by Maria and Joy. Maybe the next location!
Cute Nail Studio is located at 1211 E 7th St, and is open Mon and Wed-Sun from 10am to 10pm (closed Tues). To make an appointment, visit them online or call 512-487-5813.