In the very first frame of Rosalía’s just released “Aute Cuture” music video, the Catalan pop star thrusts a set of golden vine-adorned, inches-long nails into the sky. With only that brief glimpse, I immediately recognized the sculptural work of New York City-based artist Juan Alvear, who you might know better from his Instagram handle: @NailsbyJuan. Alvear has created completely surreal, one-of-a-kind nail sculptures for shoots with artists like Rico Nasty, and runway shows for label Barragán, but he’s never embarked on a project of this scale before. “I made 20 sets over the course of four days,” Alvear says over the phone after the video dropped yesterday. 20 sets, including the few extras that Alvear always makes just in case something goes awry, comes out to about 250 nails in total. “I pulled an all-nighter the night before the shoot with my assistant Bianca, and then we worked another 18 hours straight on set.”
In the clip, which duo Bradley and Pablo directed, Rosalía is flanked by six tough-as-nails manicurists who each show off equally impressive gilded sets. Alvear made nails for Rosalía, her so-called “Beauty Gang”—as her crew of manicurists is labeled in the clip—and for each extra, too. “It’s about this girl group that does nails in this village, and basically eternal youth is granted through the nails,” Alvear describes of the concept, which is centered critically around manicures: in the middle of the clip, each member of Rosalía’s beauty crew sets up her own station and paints the townspeople’s nails in metallic blues, swirling forest green, and pearly pink patterns. While Rosalía’s nails are studded with roses (in a play on her name), the members of her beauty gang’s warrior-esque manicures are decorated with thorns, and some of the extras’ nails have petals on them.
Alvear was excited about the prospect of working with Rosalía—he’d started to delve deeper into her discography in the months before Bradley and Pablo reached out—but he didn’t quite realize how central a role his work was going to play until the days leading up to the shoot. “I didn’t know how big of a role the nails were going to be until a few days before. It just became very much about this group of manicurists and about the nails,” Alvear says.
It was an ambitious project that Alvear couldn’t accomplish without some help. “I’m not really the type to ask for assistance,” Alvear admits. “I was originally going to just have my assistant come to help, but last minute I posted on Instagram and five people came to set, and I couldn’t have done it with any less. It was a blessing in disguise, because now I’m realizing there’s a lot of power in just asking for help. It made the day so much more fun and it was a great experience to be there and get to know and work with new people.”
As for working with Rosalía, Alvear said she gave off an almost sentimental energy on set. “It felt like she cared and created a space where everyone felt comfortable and appreciated. When I walked in, she was getting her eyeliner done so her eyes were closed, and she asked who it was that walked in, and she put her hand out to touch mine. That moment was really nice, and it definitely made me feel included—like I was there for a reason.” And good thing, because his intricate works of nail art really do take center stage.