Software Engineer Turned Nail Industry Mogul: Vivian Xue Rahey

January 26, 2019

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If you haven’t seen her on your explore page yet, I bet you will now! Vivian Xue Rahey is one of the best nail artists that I, personally, have ever seen. Her hyperrealistic nail art captures moments from our favorite movies, shows, cartoons, music artists and even toilet tissue. But you wouldn’t expect that her approach to this detailed art was  mathematical and analytical. Her love for nail art also has pushed her to expand and legitimize the industry. This former software engineer has started a chain of nail salons starting in California’s Bay area and expanding all the way to the east coast. Meet Viv!

How did you get your start in nails?

I actually started off as a software engineer. So I started Pamper Nail Gallery which is my salon, as a mobile app.That’s basically where my whole career was before I even started this. I dropped out of college to pursue my first tech start up because I got the investment from Silicon Valley from a Yahoo Answers type competitor. But you know when it’s your first time doing something and you’re 19, it doesn’t pan out.  So I did consulting and development work for random clients. Then one of my first investors actually picked me up to be a sounding partner for one of his new ventures. It was a Massage on Demand app. It’s still out. It allows you to book a massage therapist to your home within an hour. Basically, I did my run there and helped launch it.  Then I left there and tried to start something more creative, something kind of artsy. It didn’t tickle my fancy, so I just tried to do something that was speaking to more of who I am and my personality. So I ended up starting Pamper. The more that I learned about the beauty industry, the more I learned that there are not a lot of people who do super elaborate art; the art that I knew I wanted to do.

Mostly now, my role is to be an educator. I want to grow this industry. That’s the whole point of the mission statement for Pamper. We want to make the nail industry legitimate. One of my goals is to make it more acceptable to the mainstream media and mainstream culture to have nails.So far it’s not really that legitimate, in the sense that you can’t really grow a career from it. You’re either booth renting or working at a top shop. It’s not really a job that you can retire on. You can actually have a real career in nails. These are the things that help me get it together every morning.

Are the characters that you paint directly related to you? What inspired the nail series?

Basically, it all started with one thing. I tend to have different sources of inspiration based on other art that I’ve seen or if I love a movie that much, I’ll go ahead and do it or a request. For the Mulan nails and any other Disney Nails….clearly I’m a huge Disney fan. The most fun ones that I’ve done are Chien-Po or the Matchmaker, I was like “I have to do it.” The Target nails started off from me wanting to do toilet paper nails. So I did Charmin because everyone is always asking “How do you wipe with these nails?”  I always say “With toilet paper….” I did them on one of the techs that work in the salon. So we did Charmin and afterwards it opened up a Pandora’s box “….Ooo Mr. Clean!” So then other people started piggybacking off of that and someone asked to do Cap’n Crunch nails. It’s cool because you put ideas in other people’s minds. I think doing these things helps me challenge myself, technically. Everything I do is hand painted. So sometimes when you start out and you think everything is simple, the you’re like “Oh crap….there’s a slight lace design on that piece of tissues.” So I like doing things that are intricate, capturing all of the details and making it as perfect as possible. It’s kind of therapeutic to me. A lot of this is just me trying to up my skills and understanding how the product works. I want to be able to share with other nail techs so that they are able to do the same thing. But mostly it’s me sitting at my dining room table after I’ve done my actual nails. I put a movie on and just go at it. I really enjoy it. I have no boundaries on what I’m willing to do.

Did you paint before this or were nails your first canvas?

I did. But I have to say that it is very different; just in terms of  when you’re drawing on paper or when you’re drawing with any other medium. I really enjoyed charcoal drawing in high school. But it’s like I did it for AP Art, it was really to get to college. I really didn’t have a passion for it. For example, I’d draw a fish on a plate. My dad always made fish so I would start drawing that. It was never like “Oh I’m super into this.  And at the end of the day, when you draw something on paper, you can’t even take it with you. I love when I draw something and just stare at it. And I’m constantly seeing new things. I feel like it’s so stagnant with regular art. I know how to do a lot of those techniques, I just don’t enjoy it. It’s like working in Photoshop layers. You have shapes and then you’re putting different things on top. It’s very mathematical to me. Spatial planning and being able to account for the curvature of the nails is important. It’s a lot more technical than it is, creative like doing a painting. I’m not into drawing original characters. I’m more techy. I think that’s why nails are the best canvas for me.

This is the process of Vivian painting Brandy from the Cinderella Movie!

How do you think that social media has influenced your clientele?

Social media is what’s driving the whole industry. The whole problem before we existed, like when you go into a normal nail shop you go for a drawing and they look at you like “Why? Please don’t.” They are very negative towards art. They’re doing it to get you out of the door. But now there is this tertiary motive, which is like “Do it for the Instagram.” I’m mentally calculating now for the content of social media. That’s helped grow this. If you have this motive of “I want to show the world that I can do something amazing” it makes everything better. Now people are getting the aesthetic that they want. The aesthetic is the priority. We’re looking at it from the aspect of visual media. I definitely don’t think that nail art would be as big without social media.

(I completely lost it when I saw Luther Vandross…SHE DID THAT!)

How did the Dwight nails come about?

I was really obsessed with The Office and never watched it when it came out. Honestly, it was on Netflix and I just binge watched a lot of it during my down time. So it was just like, “Why would I not put Dwight on my nails?” I use to be intimidated by real faces. It’s not like cartoons where it’s already drawn. Then clients started demanding more out of me. I did Luther Vandross too. With that, I figured out my whole mathematical plan to make sure my proportions were right. It’s more challenging. It’s like the hyper real stuff that I’ve always liked. I’ve always loved how hyperreal artist can get amazing textures so accurate. I’m obsessed with accuracy. Once I conquered that, I was like “Wow I can do any person.” Sometimes I like to do things that call out men. I had such a hard time when I was initially trying to get an investment for Pamper, and I ended up getting rejected by everybody. So I ended up having to figure out how I could do it by myself. I did it. I always felt like “Men need to take a look at this.” This is a serious industry and this is about to come up. I really hate for people to dismiss it because it’s for “females” or it’s just a “hobby.” So that’s why I’m always trying to poke at dudes. I did Thanos and Dwight. Every person can appreciate it. I really like it when they bring their husbands, boyfriends and brothers to the shop. It really brings everyone together.

If you had to choose your favorite set of nails, which ones and why?

My personal favorite would be the Thanos nails. I think because I had a really long struggle painting them. I had a mental break down in the beginning. I was like “It’s a purple blob.”  I was use to only nude blobs. But he was purple and kind of freaked me out. But I powered through it and became more emotionally attached. Of course I think because of the fact that my husband really likes Marvel and DC comics. He thought it was like really dope and I”ve never seen as strong of a reaction from him as I did for the Thanos nails. It just brings baack good memories for me. I wore that set for the longest. I have it aas my iphone wallpaper. A smooth second would be my Bombay Nails. I really like the way the blue turned out.

thsn

And how can we set up an appointment with you and the ladies at Pamper?

We do online booking where you can give us a call to book. I only really do elaborate request. But I’ve taught all of my girls to do what I do. I’m more of a supporter of them. My job right now is to expand Pamper. So we’re opening in Vegas later this year. We’re also going to be opening in Houston, Atlanta and Miami in 2020. We’re trying to create a movement and the career path in nails. For example, we pay hourly commission and full benefits for all of our artists. And that’s just really unheard of. It’s really worked out here in the Bay Area and we really want to take that and expand. A lot of people are lacking that support system, so we want to be there for that. Plus educate.

Follow Vivian on Instagram @vivxue

Pamper Gallery on Instagram and their website 

And if you are in the Fremont, California area make sure you take a visit to Pamper Nail Gallery. It’s totally worth it!

Author: Nave Sizon

Founder of Naveszn.com - I'm a FL native, a Howard and Columbia grad and a creator of many things. As a polymath, I do so much. I care about so many things. Naveszn.com was the perfect tool to utilize my gifts and my love for highlighting the talents and stories of black people and culture.

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Author: Nave Sizon

Founder of Naveszn.com - I'm a FL native, a Howard and Columbia grad and a creator of many things. As a polymath, I do so much. I care about so many things. Naveszn.com was the perfect tool to utilize my gifts and my love for highlighting the talents and stories of black people and culture.