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behind the brush: aja walton
Meet the celebrity manicurist known for her mini masterpieces.
“I’m always proud when people think my nail designs are stickers,” writes Brooklyn-based celebrity and editorial manicurist Aja Walton on Instagram. Her intricate mani masterpieces—inspired by fashion, art, culture, and music—are in high-demand among A-listers like Paloma Elsesser, Aurora James, Lachlan Watson, Precious Lee, and Vera Wang to name a few. Walton’s main muse, however, also happens to be her main squeeze: model Mikael Cummings, whom she met on set at a Vogue photoshoot. Her androgynous nail art makes anyone and everyone feel on point—including her “son” Neptune, a cat who enjoys a classic red mani (done with pet-friendly claw caps, of course) just as much as his mama. Here, Walton talks about the power of color and explains how her career kicked off in high school. (Let’s just say her nails deserved the best-dressed superlative, hands down.)
Her must-have essie shade: “I believe everyone should unlock their power by owning a signature look. For me, that look is a deep, red lipstick paired with a vampy, dark red nail polish—the latter being sparked by my obsession with Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Berry Naughty is my all-time favorite nail polish color. This maroon shade feels moody and dramatic but it’s not so dark that it appears black. It looks bright ruby in the sunlight but morphs into a darker, blue-based red indoors. I reach for Berry Naughty year round because it’s classic, glamorous, sophisticated, and cool. It is my go-to femme fatale shade.”
Her artistic approach: “Eclectic. Maximalist. Androgynous. Bold. Graphic.”
Her biggest source of inspo: “Fashion, especially vintage ’70s style, prints, and patterns.”
Her beauty background: “In high school, I would change my nail polish color every day to match my fits. My friends, classmates, and teachers were always so amazed, which tickled me so much. This strangely became a bit of excitement for all of us to look forward to each day!”
Her journey to the top: “I took many computer science courses in college and used the information to learn how to code websites. I freelanced in that area for a short time before I discovered data analytics. I’ve always had a proclivity for numbers and enjoyed my role in media, as it often allowed me to express my creativity. Although my job was demanding and often stressful, it came easily to me. Yet, I still had a taste for art and freedom that left a void. I had been painting nails since I was a young child and always experimented on myself. My nails would go on to capture the attention of my friends and others who began making requests, so I started moonlighting as a nail artist nearly every day after work and on the weekends. My mentor and friend, Miss Pop, would allow me to assist her during New York Fashion Week and other jobs. I started witnessing a career path that excited and fulfilled me in a way that analytics never did. Eventually, I decided to take a risk and stop climbing the corporate ladder in order to attend nail school. I secured my license and took my practice more seriously. Once I committed, the nail world welcomed me with open arms!”
Her favorite project to date: “An MTV collaboration honoring Black History Month where I created nail art to celebrate the iconic Black albums by Lauryn Hill, Drake, Rihanna, and SZA.”
Her most frequently asked question: “How long did that [nail art] take?! There are so many factors that are involved in the length of time it takes to do intricate, hand-painted designs. The nail art that I create on others can take anywhere from one hour to 12 hours (the longest duration I’ve ever experienced). There are even certain designs that I’ve painted on myself that have taken days.”