The aesthetic direction of “Claws,” a show starring Niecy Nash and Karrueche Tran, is a lesson in maximalism. An example in just one outfit: In episode two, Desna Simms, played by Ms. Nash, wears a yellow-and-black cheetah print dress, thigh-high boots covered in black tassels and a cheetah print purse (which does not technically match the other cheetah print) — all paired with electric blue French tip nails.
The show, which returned to TNT on June 9, is about five South Florida manicurists who are introduced to the drug trade when Ms. Simms, the owner of the nail salon, decides to launder money for a nearby “pill mill,” a pharmacy that sells too much painkiller and is located in the same strip mall. The manicurists in her salon follow suit.
Behind all the acrylics and gel and press-on and polish is Morgan Dixon, 28, who started as a nail technician on the first season and now runs the show’s nail department. She and three other artists make all costume decisions relating to fingers and toes — ostensibly the main characters’ stock-in-trade.
She works with Dolores Ybarra, the show’s costume designer, to create each look and they only abide by one rule: nails should rarely, if ever, match the outfits. Why? Ms. Dixon want to make sure their hands stand out. She has multiple Pinterest folders stuffed with digital inspirations for the nail art for each of the different characters.
Ms. Dixon spent part of her adolescence growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., studying art history and international relations at the local University of North Florida. But she said she gets much of her inspiration for the “Claws” looks outside the classroom and through observing everyday life in Jacksonville: “The retirement community, the palm trees, the hood, crab trays, the beach, airbrush tees,” she said.
That said, she still sees the manicure as a distinct form of artistry, one that is not so different from what she studied in school.
“People purchase art to put on their walls,” Ms. Dixon said. “Nails are bringing art to everyday people. It’s art that you can attain.”
Niecy Nash as Desna Simms
The look: A twist on the French manicure
“O.G. nail appreciators know the French mani was a real bossy look,” said Ms. Dixon about the main character’s manicure. Her nails, electric blue tips and gold accents, like Desna Simms herself, are extreme, bold and authoritative — to be respected.
At the beginning of season one, Desna desperately works to get her girls and herself out of “the game.” In season two, she reverses and goes all in on the drug trade: “I made a choice, we all did,” she says. And because the character has embraced her boss status in crime (and at a casino), her hands must reflect that.
“She wants people to recognize her nails,” Ms. Dixon said.
Karrueche Tran as Virginia Loc
The look: Crystals and jewel-tone stones that pop behind a hot magenta set
“Virginia is all about being boughetto,” said Ms. Dixon, mixing the words “bourgeoisie” and “ghetto.” Whether the character is working as an exotic dancer at She She’s or riding in the passenger seat of Densa’s Maserati, she is never without hair knockers, bamboo earrings and sky-high heels. And her nails are always done.
After Virginia was shot in the last scene of the season two finale, viewers were left wondering if she’d survive. And several months before season three, a clue was revealed on her character’s Instagram account. A photo was posted of Ms. Tran, dressed as Virginia, in a frosty, baby blue faux fur coat with a Ring Pop on her finger, her nails a transparent yellow with “coffin-shaped” tips outlined in rhinestones.
As far as nails go, Ms. Tran and her character “are two totally different people,” Ms. Dixon said. Ms. Tran “is minimal, plain, nude, does not want a lot of art on her nails kind of gal. But Virginia is someone who likes the holographic tones and the charms. She likes props and pompoms.”
Carrie Preston as Polly Marks
The look: Old town Tampa, Fla.
“No matter how crazy her pattern combinations from head to toe, they always go together perfectly,” Ms. Dixon said of the character Polly Marks, another manicurist on the show. But that doesn’t mean those patterns match.
Polly wears prints on print on prints: striped multicolored tops, a poodle skirt with cartoonish Dalmation dogs all over, a patterned scarf around her neck. Her nails are always complementary to the look, but completely distinct. (One particular inspiration for Polly’s nails were the Spanish tiles in Tampa’s old town district.)
“I make sure that whatever they’re wearing on their bodies, their nails are going to be an opposite color of the pattern or color scheme,” Ms. Dixon said of the “Claws” characters. “In my mind, I’m trying to make these nails stand out as much as possible.”
Jenn Lyon as Jennifer Husser
The look: Lots of animal prints, flowers and butterflies
“Jenn will throw anything on her nails and wants to grab your attention,” said Ms. Dixon. Her character, Jennifer Husser, is a southern belle raising two young girls who is currently trying to keep her marriage from ending after her husband found out she cheated. In one scene in season two, the viewer sees a rare moment of Jennifer without her nails done, showing just how bad things had gotten.
Ms. Dixon pulls inspiration for Jenn’s nails from nature; elaborate butterfly extensions are pasted on the tips. Her nails must “grab the viewers eyes from afar,” Ms. Dixon said.
Judy Reyes as Annalise “Quiet Ann” Zayas
The look: An eight-ball in the middle of all 10 nails
“She’s the winning shot,” said Ms. Dixon of Quiet Ann, the security guard of the nail salon and it’s overall fixer. Her character is dependable and her nails won’t get in the way of her work.
Ms. Dixon explained that part of her job is creating nail looks that match the actors’ interpretation of the state of their character. “She actually has nail art this season,” Ms. Dixon said of Ms. Reyes. “Last season, she told me she didn’t want any nails.”
Still, Ms. Reyes draws the line on extensions. Viewers are used to seeing Quiet Ann with no more than a clear nail or a single coat of paint.
Dean Norris as Clay “Uncle Daddy” Husser
The look: Just one long pinkie nail
Uncle Daddy, a local crime lord and sometime nemesis to Ms. Nash’s character on the show, rocks a single, manicured pinkie nail. One of the most memorable was a wooden nail, complete with a gold framed photo of his wife (who was shot): the ultimate tribute.
Offscreen and backstage, his look seems to have sparked a trend. “I had more men asking me if we could make them a pinkie nail than I had a lady crew asking for a full set,’ Ms. Dixon said.
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