Miami is an overdressed city. Haters (and sexists) might see this quality as part of the city's stereotyped superficiality. But Vanity Projects founder Rita Pinto sees it differently: Miamians simply like to treat themselves like art. Their nails are no exception.
Vanity Projects isn't your average nail salon. Though it specializes in luxury gel manicures with carefully curated custom nail art from celebrated nail artists, the shop offers a wide range of services at varying price points, such as traditional one-color lacquer manicures and pedicures and a weekly discounted gel art special.
Now the high-art nail salon can be found at its new location, in Paradise Plaza in the Design District. Since it first opened in Little River in 2015, the salon has garnered reliable and eclectic clients. They'll likely follow the salon to its new location, which Pinto says will put her business closer to designer shoppers wanting high-end manicures to match their luxury purchases. Pinto took the risk to relocate to better align her vision for the salon with Miami's booming art and design industries.
“I was very excited to be positioned so close not only to luxury brand businesses but, more important, to the ICA,” says Pinto, recalling Design District developer Craig Robins' proposition to move. Pinto hopes to collaborate with the newly opened Institute of Contemporary Art through talks, classes, and visits.
Pinto founded Vanity Projects in New York City in 2013, after a post-recession career shift from the world of high art. She had been an independent curator of exhibitions in New York, London, Greece, Italy, and other locales until the fall of Lehman Brothers and the stock market crash made that career path untenable, she says. She set her sights on a niche business venture with an artistic and curatorial angle. Since then, Vanity Projects has quickly become a forerunner in the booming nail art industry.
Although the Miami franchise is Vanity Projects' second location, Pinto says it's "almost our hub now" since she chose to relocate to Miami with it in 2015. That decision stemmed from five years of participating in Art Basel nail art pop-ups, where she became acquainted with megatalented nail artists that now compose her core team here.
"I only knew Miami in this sort of Art Basel stratosphere," Pinto confesses. “It’s a beautiful place... the artists, the talent, were what drew me, and the space and place was what kept me here."
In addition to boasting a crew of professional nail artists, Pinto also hosts a residency program for celebrated nail artists from around the world. "We're very committed to creating a dialogue within the cultural community here, so I took the art-world concept of an artist-in-residency program and turned it into a nail-artist-in-residency program," she says.
The salon offers video art programming as well, most recently collaborating with Daata Editions, a British online art platform that commissions video and sound art from artists worldwide. While you get your nails done, you can take in these sounds and visuals on a 60-inch flat-screen.
“I think the context [of the Design District] elevates the platform for what we do," Pinto says of her brand's shift closer to the world of high art. “We’re with like-minded neighbors. I’m looking outside my window and I see an Urs Fischer sculpture, and that feeds me."
The new location is the icing on Vanity Projects' move to Miami. “It’s definitely not South Beach, and that’s what I tell everyone I know who doesn’t live here," Pinto says. "It’s so much more.”
Miami is laid-back and high-key all at once, and the same goes for its fashion and art scenes. Pinto laughs about the irony of the popularity of Gucci pattern nails when the salon is right next door to the Gucci store. “That’s the joy of living in this town," she says. "It makes you not so uptight.”
At the end of the day, it's all about the nails and their eminent Instagrammability. (Follow the #VPGelSpecial tag for the weekly gel special.)
"The girls do masterpieces on your nails. It’s so beautiful to watch," Pinto says. "For me, nothing has changed from the beginning — I’m still excited about the nails, every time.”