Paintbox CEO Eleanor Langston went from beauty editor to boutique nail salon owner. Find out how she started her business, manicure tips, and more.
Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
If you prefer simple, minimalist nail art, you probably already follow Paintbox on Instagram. The boutique nail salon in New York City specializes in modern, low-key designs that lean more runway than kitschy. That's exactly the vibe CEO Eleanor Langston was going for when she first came up with the concept for Paintbox. A former beauty editor with over a decade of experience in the industry, Langston and her friends longed for a salon where they could get manicures that looked like the designer ones she saw backstage at fashion week.
Now, 117,000 manicures and thousands of test shades later, Paintbox has launched its first-ever line of nail polishes. Available Power Couples or singles, the colors were created so that they compliment one another when used in nail art designs. Basically, the duos take the guesswork out of choosing what colors to pair together when doing a DIY manicure at home.
We caught up with Langston to talk about how she went from beauty editor to business owner, essential nail art tools, the next big manicure trend, and more.
Tell me how you got your start in the beauty industry.
I’m from Memphis, TN, and I majored in journalism with a minor in creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I knew I wanted to be a magazine editor from 4th-grade-on, and I actually studied English and Art & Architecture at Oxford in England when I was only 16. Throughout college, I interned every summer in NYC – at United Colors of Benetton, DKNY, and Elle, as well as in London at a magazine through the BBC called Eve.
After college, I started in P&R but quickly shifted to beauty editorial. I have more than a decade of editorial experience as a beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, Self, Shop, Etc., and Fitness magazines. I’ve also freelanced for publications, such as Redbook, InStyle, Women’s Health, etc. As a beauty editor, I had the honor to meet with hundreds of founders and business owners, so I really used that time period to grow my beauty business experience, becoming savvier with industry trends, product portfolios, marketing initiatives, etc. Lastly, I’ve also served as a trend expert on The Today Show, E!, Inside Edition, as well as quoted in New York Times and WWD.
How did the idea for Paintbox come about?
I actually turned to my husband one day and said, “I want to get the nails that I’ve been writing about in magazines for so long. I want the cool, minimal nail art from the runways, and there’s no place in NYC that I can get it.” I went on to explain that nail service is a huge category, and no one is making it modern. Everyone has been approaching it from a spa angle, and I want to approach it from the angle of fashion, style, curation, editorial, and most importantly, fun/lively! We’re the only nail salon that I know of with no polish wall (our artists are the experts here) and that only offers manicures (I look at pedicures as a spa experience).
What was it like making the transition from editor to business owner? How did you know the moment was right?
I had a major learning curve in terms of operations, but in the end – I followed my gut, which proved successful. I knew the moment was right when I was asking all of my friends about nail art. Many said they would never get it, but then when I asked them about minimal nail art, showing them elevated images, and asked if they would get those designs in a cool setting – 100 percent of my friends said yes. I truly knew I was on to something that I'm also passionate about: nail art and trends that are approachable to women.
How has nail art changed since you opened Paintbox?
As a beauty editor, I had incredible access to industry leaders, and I learned so much throughout my decade of interviewing experts. I saw firsthand the nail art boom of the early 2000s, as well as honed my skills at curating thousands of looks into digestible trends that resonate with women. I also cultivated my skills about how best to talk with women – I think our conversational voice at Paintbox has been tremendously successful.
I also witnessed the change with women seeking experiences versus products, as well as the start of the boom of beauty services. Nail art has shifted from crazy, over-the-top designs to wearable, minimal nail art with graphic shapes and negative space. Women are looking to treat nails as the ultimate accessory.
What tips do you have for people who want to DIY nail art, but think it's too complicated?
A striper brush from your local art store is great to try some DIY nail art – it’s ultra easy and fun to use to create a metallic line up the center of your nail to perk up a neutral manicure. Lastly, an accent nail (or even a double accent nail feels super modern – try your middle and ring finger) that’s cohesive to the main design can be super cute. It could be a glitter, a tonal variation, a simple moon, or even a stud. And if you want to add just a touch of art – go for an interesting top coat, like an iridescent one or even matte. It can bring subtle, sophisticated edge to any manicure.
Paintbox just launched its first nail polishes. What where the shades inspired by?
We have always wanted to launch nail polishes, but we wanted to create a line that celebrates what we’re known for: color theory and modern, elevated color pairings. Power Couples has been five years in the making after more than 117,000 manicures at 17 Crosby Street [Paintbox's address] and thousands of shades tested. We found that our approach to color theory really resonated with our clients, so we wanted to launch nail polishes in duos for you to use as a mani/pedi combination, a way to experiment with graphic, minimal nail art, or simply use the colors as part of your nail fashion wardrobe – rotating out the colors throughout the season.
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What do you think is going to be the next big manicure trend?
We’re psyched for unique color theory pairings like a periwinkle denim that ventures on the side of gray, brighter, richer apricot tones, as well as classic sand colors paired with our newest glitter: Like Magic. It’s a super-saturated glitter that has stunning holographic flecks that make your nails sparkle at every angle – the glitter base is equal parts rose gold, white gold, champagne, and all-the-way amazing. While glitter usually takes many coats, ours goes on ultra opaque in only two coats. And we’re loving the high-low mix of wearing glitter nails as an accessory with a low-key outfit – think denim and a white tee. Let your nails do the talking!