Melissa Samuels at her nail art studio, Finesse Your Claws
Melissa Samuels at her nail art studio, Finesse Your Claws | Photo by Lucia Buricelli for Thrillist
Melissa Samuels at her nail art studio, Finesse Your Claws | Photo by Lucia Buricelli for Thrillist

Why Celebs Like SZA and Lil Yachty Can’t Get Enough of This NYC Nail Artist

The creative genius that is Melissa Samuels, of Finesse Your Claws.

For as long as she can remember, Melissa Samuels has always been known as the nail girl. Born and raised in London, Samuels spent high school hovering over her nail extensions with a paint brush and a collection of paints.

“Intricate nail art wasn’t really a thing in the UK when I was growing up, so my mom was like ‘Why don’t you try and draw on your nails with acrylic paint?’” Samuels reminisced. “I did it one time and everybody went crazy over them. That’s where it all started.”

Samuels continued to practice designs on herself and friends, attended nail school in London (where they teach the basics of nail prep and extension installment), and designed the nail art for several British editorial photoshoots. She landed stateside by way of a relationship with a New Yorker. When the relationship came to an end, the looming question on her mind was, “What do I do next?”

Melissa Samuels' set of the moment
Melissa Samuels' set of the moment | Photo by Lucia Buricelli for Thrillist

The decision was easy, there would be no packing up and heading back to the UK. Instead, Samuels dug her roots deeper into New York City and began working as a receptionist then manager at local nail salons in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

In 2020, Samuels opened her own private studio in Bushwick dubbed Finesse Your Claws. Looking back, Samuels says, “It was almost fate that led me down this path because every job I had, in some way, shape, or form, led me back to nail art. I knew that if I didn’t try it full time, I really didn’t have another plan.”

Three years in and Samuels is thriving. Not only does she command a crew of about 65 devoted regulars (including designer Brandon Blackwood), but clients travel from all over the country just to get a fresh set at Finesse Your Claws. To shamelessly continue name dropping, past patronage has included visits from celebs like SZA, Lil Yachty, and Justine Skye.

Melissa Samuels hand painting a tweed design
Melissa Samuels hand painting a tweed design | Photo by Lucia Buricelli for Thrillist

But, in a world of rising nail art popularity, what keeps people coming back to her studio in particular? Well, scrolling through the Finesse Your Claws Instagram page, it’s clear that Samuels has a unique aptitude for maximalist artistry.

“With my style every nail is usually different, but the set comes together as a cohesive look. It’s a distinctive style,” Samuels explains. “I love 3D texture, metallic, and chrome too, then I usually free-style draw into that and add stones on top. By the time the nail is built up, there’s probably four different mediums that I’ve used for the end result.”

Artists like Samuels don’t just give their clients ten statement pieces each month, they also provide a safe space for people to express their individuality. At the Finesse Your Claws private studio, the experience is intimate. “I’m so intertwined with my clients because it’s literally just us there chatting for hours—just me and them,” she says. An average appointment rings in at about four hours, while the longest (for nails like designer/influencer Alani Figueroa’s super-extendo masterpieces) can last up to 11 hours.

The Finesse Your Claws press-on nail collection
The Finesse Your Claws press-on nail collection | Photo by Lucia Buricelli for Thrillist

For those who can’t make it to her studio in-person, the enterprising nail artist recently released a line of press-on nails that can be purchased online. While offering both accessibility and affordability, the packets still evoke that cool, New York City-style that Samuels’ name has become synonymous with—but with a slightly more approachable design palette.

When it comes to the future of nail art, Samuels hopes that people continue to push the envelope. “Do all the texture and do all the jewels, no matter what environment [you] work in. Nail art is for everyone.” Whether you’re a nail person or not, Finesse Your Claws is a source of inspiration for all. After all, what’s better than throwing your inhibitions aside and just having fun?

Oh, and Samuels’ current big dream? She’s manifesting a nail session with Cardi B.

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Izzy Baskette is the New York City Staff Writer for Thrillist. Talk to her at or find her on Instagram.