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Nail artist Mannequin Hands with some of her designs
Photograph: Supplied/adidas | Mannequin Hands and some of her nail designs

Meet the Maker: Mannequin Hands is Sydney’s most coveted nail artist

The face behind the ornately-decorated hands spoke to us about her free press-on pop-up, and her ultimate dream day in Sydney

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross

Have you ever stumbled across nail art in the wild that is so remarkable, so stunning, so unexpectedly amazing looking that it stops you dead in your tracks? It’s happened to me a few times, and every time, the same nail artist was to credit – Mannequin Hands

Fingertips are the canvas of choice for this elusive Sydney artist, and her teenie-tiny artworks are sculptural forms that evoke fantastical extraterrestrial landscapes by way of playful combinations of colour and texture, chrome, iridescent elements, and the embedding of little objects like micro-pearls and bits of shell. (It’s enough to make you tuck away your chipped, home-painted grapplers in shame.)

My work is textural, layered and always incorporating new elements...

The face behind the Mannequin Hands is Sydney’s own Victoria Houllis. Her obsession with nail art started young – she was collecting nail magazines from Kinokuniya when she was still in high school. Her art eventually became a full-time pursuit in 2019, and she peaced out on her role as a marketing manager after the list of clients coming to her home studio grew far beyond the initial friends and friends-of-friends. More recently, her work has graced the nails of Dua Lipa, M.I.A, Shy Girl, and Time Out Melbourne cover star Flex Mami

Nowadays, getting on Victoria’s books is no easy feat (I know, I’ve tried!). But those of us plebs who don’t have a coveted place among her clientele now have our chance to get amongst the cool cuticle creations. Happy Holding Hands, an exhibition and press-on salon pop-up, is coming to a little-known spot in the Inner West for two days only on November 17 and 18 (more on this below).

The pop-up, where you can choose your own set from a pick-and-mix of press-on nail designs and have them applied by qualified nail artists, is an extension of adidas' Originals campaign, which Victoria is a face of. The campaign celebrates “original” creatives who are deeply ingrained in their local communities, and Houlis is in good company – with the likes of Marickville’s casual dining favourites Baba’s Place and Valentinas, creative art studio Babekuhl, and artist-led and community-powered hip-hop collective One Day also on the local front in Sydney. (From slinging free, late-night cheeseburgers, to an infamous day party, you can find out more about what those businesses are up to over here.)

I caught up with Victoria to find out more from her about the big wide world of nail art, her pop-up, creative career advice, and how she makes the most of Sydney...

7 questions with Mannequin Hands 

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Victoria Houllis, I'm the founder of Mannequin Hands and I'm a nail artist. 

How would you briefly describe the aesthetic of your nail art?

The aesthetic of my nail art is always driven by new products, techniques or mediums that I'm playing with, so it's ever-changing. At the moment I'm loving playing with inks, 3D elements and boba gel – so pick-and-mix sets give me the freedom to do all the things I love across ten fingers! 

Why do you think people love your designs so much?

I can't pin it from the inside, but I hope they love them because my work is textural, layered and always incorporating new elements.  

What do you think is the hottest new trend in nails?

My love of Japanese and Korean nail art informs what I think is trending more so than what I see in the Western world, so I think at the moment, sheer colours, layered ink and natural elements like shell. 

What can you tell me about the exhibition and press-on pop up event you’re hosting with adidas? 

Happy Holding Hands is an exhibition that explores the range of colours and textures I love in nail art, and the pop-up reflects that playfulness with a pick-and-mix system where attendees can choose from 20 different designs to make up the set they'll have applied on the day. The designs range from some of the most popular ones I've done on clients, to new elements I'm experimenting with. The attendees will tick off their favourite nails on a postcard and a nail tech will apply the pick-and-mix set for them! 

If money was no object, what would your ideal day out in Sydney look like? 

Ha! This is going to be chaotic, but if money was no object my dream day out in Sydney would start with breakfast at Maeda, a boat party with friends with a Bunnings sausage sizzle for lunch, and oysters with kumquat mignonette from Café Paci. And then if I could, I'd bring John Coltrane back from the dead to play from the sunset into the evening, followed by dinner at Bistrot 916 and a long long walk home. 

What’s your biggest advice for anyone pursuing a creative career?

It sounds cliché, but be prepared to work harder than you've ever worked before. Tell people around you about your aspirations; the community around you can be so generous with opportunities or connections that bring your ideas to life. Don't attach your idea of success to one single outcome, sometimes the end goals or means to get there aren't always linear in creative spaces.

Mannequin Hands x Originals: Happy Holding Hands is an exhibition and press-on pop up hosted by nail artist and Mannequin Hands founder Victoria Houllis and friends. It's on Friday, November 7pm from 4-7pm and Saturday, November 18, from noon-5pm at Prim Haus, St Peters. Find out more and book in for free over here.


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