Jin Soon Choi is not your average manicurist. A celebrated nail guru courted by celebrities—Uma Thurman, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams to name just a few—and fashion giants Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar for her editorial talents (she’s represented by industry tastemaker Jed Root), she is also the creator of limited edition nail collections for brands including M.A.C. Considering her expertise, it’s no wonder her hand and foot spa exists as a stark contrast to the grab bag of New York’s in-and-out nail salons.
The treatments here are not your run-of-the-mill mani-pedis. They go well beyond the usual soak, scrub, polish routine, exceeding any inkling of relaxation a pair of paraffin booties could ever hope to inspire. Treatments at Jin Soon Natural Hand & Foot Spa are a meditation on calm; each as much a ritual in wellness as beauty. “The two go hand in hand,” affirms Choi. “When I opened my first hand and foot spa, there were only quick factory-like nail salons out there. I wanted to create a relaxing and inviting place where New Yorkers could take a break from their hectic crazy lifestyle while getting a mani-pedi. So I created more spa-like treatments for hands and feet with poetic-sounding treatments that reflect our themes.”
Patrons choose between the simple pleasure offered by the Essence of Soul treatment, where hands and feet are soaked in a bath of salts and essential oils ranging from fragrant French lavender to therapeutic tea tree to moisturizing grape seed. Or, for tired customers chased down by the blues, there is the eye-pleasing Flower Pedal Float that invites one to revel in the sensory relief found in the scented splendor of warm water infused with fresh rose petals. But, for those weary souls seeking the ultimate in spa bliss, The Breath of Milk and Honey treatment is the salvation you seek. The treatment is, in fact, a favourite of Choi’s. “I love the idea of your hands and feet immersing in milk, relaxing you and softening your skin,” she says. “You get the added benefits from lactic acid in the milk, which gently exfoliates the skin.” An indulgence worthy of a Grecian goddess; first comes the basin of milky wonder to soften and moisturize, next is the post-soak sugar scrub to exfoliate flaky unwanted skin, followed by a vigorous massage and a hot steam wrap to seal in the benefits of this divine treatment.
No part of the process here is treated as an afterthought. Each step in the treatment is integral rather than merely a means of getting to the end polish. As for the polish application, this, too, is anything but typical. Spa customers reap the benefits of Choi’s training (she personally instructs all staff): from painting polish on left to right rather than center out so to ensure a more even coating to receiving the signature Jin Soon shaping, which avoids following the cuticle line as most manicurists would, opting instead to file straight with a tad of rounding at the nail’s edge.
Do you think, on average, people pay enough attention to their hands and feet?
People in N.Y.C. get manicures and pedicures regularly because it looks professional and fashionable. Their hands and feet are as important as their faces.
I don’t think I would have thought that before, but as I get older I’m noticing the truth of that statement.
Hands age quickest due to exposure and feet take a lot of abuse, so it’s very important to maintain their beauty through regular manicures and pedicures. They’re easier and more affordable than facials.
You seem very passionate about your job. When you came to America from Korea was it your dream to open a hand and foot spa?
Not exactly! I came here to study language, but had to work as well. It wasn’t easy to juggle both so I gave up school and got into the nail business.
Well, considering you have both a chain of spas and an impressive editorial career, it looks like it all worked out for the best! What about spring trends, what shape and colours are in this season?
Round to natural square-shaped nails in decadent bright colours like deep fuchsia and Chinese red are hot for Spring 2011. The best shades are bright but deep, inspired by ’70’s glamour (Helmut Newton, Studio 54) and deco Chinoiserie. It’s a very luxe look!
The half-moon manicure also seems to have made its way back from the past. What’s the trick to painting a perfect moon at home without making a mess?
Use any nail art pen to create a perfect moon shape; it’s easy to use and you can control it better than regular nail polish or nail art brush.
Shaping is something you’re known for in the industry. How did you come up with your signature shape?
When I created my signature nail shape, I was looking for a nice natural shape that looked good on everyone but wasn’t affected by trend. A square and circle shape looks more elegant and is quite durable. If you know how to create the basic round and square shapes, you can do this with a bit of practice.
Aside from the nails themselves, I understand you’ve been known to dabble in the polish production side of things. What was it like collaborating with the mixologists at M.A.C.?
I didn’t work that closely with them, I just gave them colour swatches and they made some samples, from which I chose the best. I think I learned most about the marketing of the nail polishes, like which colours sold best and what shades to plan for the future.
Think you might take that knowledge and design another line of polish, perhaps your own?
I’m really thinking it’s time to create my own nail polish line.
On the subject of mixing up your own colours, what advice would you give someone who wanted to mix their own polish at home?
Mixing colour is a lot of fun, so start with 2 or 3 shades in matte and shimmer textures. Pick the main tone you want to start with and pour out some of the colour so the bottle you’re mixing in is half full. Add other polish colours in small amounts until you achieve the desired hue. After adding colour, test on a nail to see if it flatters your skin tone.
You work regularly with celebrities when working on magazine sets. Do they also stop by your spas for treatments?
The first celebrity that came to my salon at 23 Jones Street was Sarah Jessica Parker. She got her nails done for a Vogue interview, a really basic manicure with no colour. She’s been in a few times over the years.
What’s the most popular request made by celebrity clients?
They don’t request much, I just noticed that most of them love foot massages.