Isabella Franchi tells us about the work that lies behind the great success of UnghieDellaMadonna
Isabella Franchi, after her stay in London, brings to Milan a new wave of freshness in the world of nail art behind the name of UnghieDellaMadonna. Her designs have introduced a gender fluid aesthetic that ranges from inspirations from the world of fashion, art and tattoos.
Do you want to tell us a little bit about your background?
My name is Isabella Franchi aka UnghieDellaMadonna. I am 33 years old and I come from Imola, in the province of Bologna. Once I finished high school, I graduated in culture and techniques of the costume of fashion; immediately after my bachelor’s degree, I decided to move to Milan to specialize and look for work, as there were and are few opportunities to work in the fashion world in my city.
When I arrived in Milan, while I was attending an evening course in Visual Merchandising at IED, I started working for Banana Republic as a Visual Merchandiser. After a couple of years, I decided to move to London to grow professionally, where I stayed for three years and a half.
After a career of almost ten years in Visual Merchandising, once back in Milan, I felt the need to look for something that would stimulate me a little more, a more creative job. I tried to tattoo for a few months but it didn’t turn out to be my path as it was a job that stressed me too much. So, while I was still working in the shop, I decided to enroll in specialized courses, to learn how to decor nails.
“I have always tried to propose designs that were absolutely gender fluid and that could adapt to any genre”
What prompted you to pursue a career as a nail artist?
When I was in London I started to approach the world of nail art as a client as the first nail shops specialized in super special and fascinating nail art were being born; back in Milan I hadn’t found anything similar, at that time there was no one who had created a combination of my taste, fashion and aesthetics. So I started doing my nails myself… Through friends and word of mouth, the word started spreading and I decided to make nail art a career. I trained and decided to take this new path in June last year.
Where does it come from your aka “UnghieDellaMadonna”?
It actually comes from a joke game I had with my colleagues when I was still working at Vans: I had recently started doing my nails myself and I had bought some stickers with the madonnas, holy cards and angels that were fashionable in that period. From there was born the joke “they are just unghie della madonna!” (in italian it means that nails were stunning to a goddess level); in addition to the play on words, there were actually some madonnas on my nails.
This phrase continued to flash in my head, until I decided to use “UnghieDellaMadonna” as my Instagram name, as this alias seemed very catchy.
We have seen that in a short time from your start, your project has literally exploded. Can you explain better what was the path you followed?
I needed to understand how to develop the aesthetics of what my job would become, for this reason, after completing the training courses, I experimented the techniques learned on my hands, on those of my friends and on those of my husband.
I believe that the success of my work derives from several factors that we could define as a “series of lucky events”: one of them is the speed of social media, such as Instagram, accelerated by the type of nail art that I proposed and also thanks to the close circle of professionals in the fashion field, who immediately became interested in the project.
Going into more detail, we could say that until that moment in Milan, the world of nail art was focused on the reconstruction of very long nails with articulated designs, there were few figures who dealt with decoration on short nails. My offer was interesting and the city showed a lot of interest right away.
How do you manage to combine your personal taste with the requests of various customers?
At the beginning I tried to satisfy the taste of customers more, now basically they all tend to rely on my aesthetics: there is greater confidence as the idea of the proposals I make has consolidated over time.
Usually the client’s approach is to propose a general idea based on colors or references, I then try to translate his/her idea in a more personal way; I like to get to know the person in front of me by creating something unique and customized according to their needs, this is the reason why my appointments are very long.
By creating particular and eccentric nail art, my customers sometimes even select themselves: it is rare that they contact me for the application of a classic nail polish. Customers who decide to come to me still want something a little more special.
Over time, your creations are increasingly present on male hands. How do you see the evolution of this trend?
I don’t know if there will be a real evolution of the trend, as fashion is a cyclical system. When I was a little girl, it was popular among rock, metal and grunge singers to paint their nails with black nail polish. Today this trend is back in fashion under another form of expression.
I am very happy because with the time the concept of nail art on men is being cleared; As far as I am concerned, I have always tried to propose designs that were absolutely gender fluid and that could adapt to any genre. I am sure that in this respect there will certainly be a continuous evolution on the acceptance of this trend by an increasingly wider audience.
What nail art have you had the most demand for? And what are your favorites?
Without a doubt, the nail art for which I have had the greatest demand is stylized flames.
They have always been among the most popular, but I do not hide the fact that after having made them on the hands of Chiara Ferragni and Fedez, I had a boom in requests; that of flames is a trend that is now slowly fading, but let’s say that for now it is the most requested design.
My favorites are these two:
What are your main inspirations?
My main inspirations come all from the world of fashion, art and tattoos. The fact that I have studied fashion influences my creative process, thus drawing inspiration from past designers or from archive prints.
However, I believe that you can take inspiration from everything that surrounds us: if I go to Ikea and find a pillow I like, I photograph it and keep it as an inspiration for my nail art.
“I strongly believe in real customer service, so I always hope that customers come back to me because they liked my type of service.”
Among your customers you can boast important names belonging to different creative fields. Tell us how they approach your world and how important their support has been to you.
They all contacted me as regular customers to make a normal appointment and decide together what kind of work to do. For stars of this caliber, the image part is of fundamental importance, so having nails that are unique in their kind gives an added value to their total look. I am highly respected for what I do and my advice is always welcome. As with the rest of my clients, I always try to create custom nail art every time.
I obviously do not deny that having such influential names among my clients has been fundamental especially for the social media part, as it has allowed me to have greater visibility; having said that, I strongly believe in real customer service, so I always hope that customers come back to me because they liked my type of service and not just because I have a lot of followers on instagram.
We have seen that your work ranges from customization for private clients, to the creation of nail art for brands, magazines and music videos … Do you want to tell us more specifically about this other section of your work?
I believe that nail art is increasingly in demand on sets, in fact, as well as working with private clients, I also work with companies. Nail art has become a way to complete make-up.
This part of my work consists, as for make-up artists and stylists, in collaborating with art directors who usually send a reference mood-board for the editorial or for the shootings; from there, my proposal starts with sketches of ideas to then move on to the creation of tips that are press on (false nails) which are then applied directly on the set, to speed up the work.
If you could choose two stars, one from the present and one from the past, to create your nail art for, who would they be?
As for a star from the past I would absolutely say David Bowie, because I think he would certainly have accepted to have a truly original and unique design, while as regards an artist of the present I would say Asap Rocky, undoubtedly a precursor of this trend in the male universe. We certainly owe him the return of this trend thanks to the nail art he showed off during the various fashion weeks. So I would like, sooner or later, to do something for him.
From a business point of view, what is your biggest ambition?
I think I’m part of one of the generations that has to constantly reinvent itself; I already feel lucky to have embarked on a career as a freelancer and I think that the main ambition is to be able to find a balance between work and private life, managing to have the freedom to decide on my time. This would give me the opportunity to devote myself to my other passions as well, such as traveling, keeping informed, researching and getting inspiration from multiple sources.
My main goal is to never stop, and not to “rest on my laurels” – as my mother would say -.
The greatest ambition is therefore to continue to reinvent myself and feel good, managing to achieve economic stability such as to be able to have no worries.
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