The Mani Master: Jin Soon Choi

The Mani Master: Jin Soon Choi
During New York fashion week, even nails get dressed to the nines—which is where Jin Soon Choi, one of the city’s most in-demand manicurists, comes into play with her rather extensive range of eponymous JINsoon polishes. From Michael Kors to Marc Jacobs, Choi can be found behind the scenes painting the fingertips and toes of high-fashion friends like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner.

But before she was racing to eight shows a season and tending to top supermodels, Choi was better known on the streets of NYC as “bicycle Jin.” After moving Stateside from Korea in 1991 with $400 in her pocket, she landed a job at a Korean nail salon where she could practice both her polish and English language skills simultaneously. She parlayed that experience into a position at a West Village hair salon where she worked as the sole nail pro. Eventually, Choi took her show on the road as a freelance manicurist, riding to and from her clients’ homes on a 10-speed bike wearing a giant backpack big enough to fit a foot bath.

Choi quickly pedaled and polished her way into peoples’ hearts. One client, who taught Choi English in exchange for manicures, connected her to a non-profit organization that provided minority women in business with storefronts in the East Village. (It was through the same organization that she met her now-husband, John Coughlan, who designed all four of her sleek and sophisticated Manhattan spas.) When other clients suggested she start working on photoshoots, she did her homework at the local Barnes & Noble. “I went there with my notepad and pen and wrote down the all beauty directors names and the address for every fashion magazine,” she says. After sending out over 50 letters, she received a call from the beauty director of Cosmopolitan who introduced her to an agent.

Jin & her 10-speed bike in NYC

Jin's Tribeca Nail Salon

From there, she quickly became part of the backstage fashion family, working alongside legends like makeup artist Pat McGrath, mane master Guido Palau, stylist Karl Templer, and photographers Richard Burbridge and Steven Meisel. Choi’s star status didn’t sink in, however, until her work graced the cover of Redbook on the inimitable Susan Sarandon. “I still remember that moment because I had just watched Thelma & Louise and I thought, Oh my god, I’m going to meet her!” She also landed a seven-page spread in The New York Times Magazine, which catapulted her from mere manicurist to sought-after nail artist.

Here, Choi reveals her fashion week must-haves and explains why the queen of nail color always opts for a barely-there nude.

Her success story:  Launching her own range of lacquers, tools, accessories, and care products (coming soon!), was the “natural next step” after working in every area of the nail industry—from high-profile runway shows to bustling salons. Launched in 2012, Choi refers to her polish brand as “fashion in a bottle,” but says the eye-catching colors free of harsh chemicals like parabens and formaldehyde are merely one part of the equation. “I combined my experience as an editorial manicurist with my time in the salon and opinions from clients to create the perfect formula,” she explains of the two-year process that resulted in a rainbow of 85 shades and counting.

Her beauty mantra:  “Simple is more. A lot of people do things because they are trendy. Following trends can be good, but does it fit with your style?” If wild nail art isn’t your thing, Choi recommends dabbling in more daring colors that always make a statement. “Have fun!” she says. “Nail polish isn’t a tattoo—you can remove it anytime.” For a splash of sparkle in seconds, try Dotty. “It’s nail art in a bottle,” Choi adds of the colorful confetti.

Her NYFW pick-me-ups:  “SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Eye Cream is my favorite. I grew up using eye cream religiously. Sometimes, I’ll even wear NARS Lip Gloss in Aragón. I don’t like lipstick—I just want a touch of color.”

Her signature scent: “I love everything about Diptyque fragrance, especially the shower gel and body cream. Every night, I apply Diptyque hand lotion.”

 Her mani must-haves: “I rarely have time to apply nail color, but I always file my nails with the JINsoon Diamond Nail File. It’s an investment, but the diamond dust will remain for a lifetime if you’re only using it on yourself. I’m also testing my new cuticle oil, which is coming out next year. If I have a special event, I’ll do one coat of JINsoon Muse and finish with Top Gloss Top Coat. I’m a very simple person, so I like something sheer and clean.”

Photo by Isabella Behravan

 Her feel-good snacks: “I drink Harmless Harvest Coconut Water. My husband buys it by the box! I also eat one organic apple—either Fuji or Honeycrisp—every day.”

 Her biggest beauty mistake: “When I was young, I wanted to get really tan. I thought putting body oil and Coca Cola on my face before sunbathing was a good idea. It wasn’t. I also had a perm right after I graduated high school. You always want what you don’t have!”

Her newest beauty find:  "I recently chatted with Melanie Simon from ZIIP and I'm intrigued by her device, especially since I don't have time for regular facials. I love the idea of something that lifts, tightens, and brightens at home."

 Her beauty icon: “Audrey Hepburn. She was a fresh and natural beauty.”

 Her dream vanity raid: “Pat McGrath. I hear her apartment is all white! We’ve worked really closely for a long time and while she doesn’t use much makeup on herself, she always comes with 20 to 70 bags in tow. I’m curious what she uses at home.”

Written by Amber Kallor

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