August 8, 2017
Is there anything easier to sell than a pedicure to a sweaty New Yorker? Plop down, let someone soak and exfoliate and massage and moisturize your feet, and all that is asked of you is to stare into space, read that week’s tabloid or, in my case, gently stalk your high school crush’s wife on Instagram. It’s a respite, a meditation, a way for me to incorporate some color into my wardrobe.
It’s even relaxing to experience secondhand. Chanel used to have a manicure tutorial video on its site that was so soothing I had it bookmarked on my computer to use during cases of severe nerves.
Much has rightly been made about the conditions of workers in nail salons, particularly after a 2015 investigation published in this paper. In the years since, many nail-care enthusiasts have started to pick salons for not just the quality of their work, but also for their values: nontoxic polishes, ethical labor conditions, medical training. They tend to come with a higher price tag, too.
I’ve paid $40 for room-service breakfast, but when I saw that Shen Beauty, a beauty store and salon in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was offering $85 pedicures, I came down with a case of sticker shock, then booked an appointment. It was a pop-up for Dr. Krista Archer, a podiatric surgeon whose office is on the Upper East Side.
Dr. Archer is the only podiatrist I’ve ever met, but I feel confident saying she’s the hippest in the city, if not the planet. The day of my appointment, she wore tiny diamonds snaking up the multiple piercings in her ears and casually mentioned being a superfan of Pearl Jam. If names are destiny, Dr. Archer heeded the call: Her line of natural foot products are simply called Arch.
What she offers is a medical pedicure, performed by nail technicians she trains and supervises who use sterilized and single-use instruments. In practice, the pedicure doesn’t seem all that different from the typical upscale one: There’s cleaning the feet, filing the nails, grooming the cuticles and nail beds, moisturizing and massaging and polishing. What you’re really paying for, besides guaranteed sterility, is a kind of Type A pedicure in its thorough and exacting approach.
There was a glycolic peel, followed by a soak with pink Himalayan sea salts and Dr. Archer’s own Sole Savour Scrub that has fine bits of pumice in it and a slightly herbaceous scent. After my heels and cuticles were polished and pushed back, there was a cream, a balm and an antifungal tea tree nail oil.
I ended the pedicure with a rose beige in LeChat’s B-52, but it was almost an afterthought given that my feet had probably last been that soft at birth. It was an indulgence but one that I felt good about. I swore I’d never let anyone else touch my feet again.
It was a memorable pedicure, the best I’ve ever had, but no matter how much you spend, nails grow and polish chips. Two weeks later, my feet were returning to their usual hooflike appearance, and I don’t have the kind of bank balance that could justify pedicures that cost nearly three figures. So I made an appointment at the NoMad location of Sundays, a new nail studio that has its own in-house line of nontoxic, vegan, cruelty-free polishes.
Sundays is a step up from the usual neighborhood salon, but with comparable prices. The vibe is Instagram chic, with cowhide chairs, pillows with a Memphis-style print, and the leafy plants that are so ubiquitous in businesses catering to a certain millennial, city-dwelling, female clientele. It’s also casually luxurious, with pedicures starting at $45. I had to stop myself from showing too much visible excitement when I was given a whole bottle of green juice from Pressed Juicery and puffed rice snacks. There are no magazines to be found; instead, a single copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo sat on a side table as an invitation to get one’s life in order.
Self-improvement is big at Sundays. It offers a guided meditation you can listen to on headphones while technicians in blush pink cardigans work on your nails. And they certainly know what they’re doing. Your feet are thoroughly attended to: There’s a soak with sea salt, a lot of attention to sloughing off rough spots and repairing cuticles with sterile tools, and a massage with a homemade cream.
French language songs played faintly in the background, and I listened to a woman in a Chanel jacket tell her companion that “orange is the one color that looks good on everyone.” I didn’t test out her questionable theory, instead opting for No. 14 polish, a raspberry shade from the house line.
I then put my pedicure to the test, going on a beach trip and walking through tide pools. My polish didn’t budge. But when it does, I can afford to keep going back.