Giving Creativity a Lot of Wiggle Room

By Carla Broyles
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

It's a science, you know. A careful contemplation of hue and intention. At least that's how Charlene Jones sees it. She's the scientist, always methodical, deliberate, systematic with her choices. She has to be. The wrong color could send the wrong message.

"Red is too bold," Charlene declares. Her ancient Egyptian cousins would shake their finger. Red was the color of choice for Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra. The practice, said to have originated in China as far back as 3000 B.C., signified social order to them. No ordinary person dared parade the same color as the queen.

No matter. When Carmen Gaona motions for Charlene to lie back, relax and put her feet up for a pedicure at Paris Alexander's Skin and Body Wellness Spa on M Street NW, she already has her eye on a soft, soothing color and is poised for primping. "I like them perfect."

We're talking perfect pedicures here. Toe love in the summertime.

Like many women and a few fellas, summer's onset beckons feet out of hibernation. Good news for the nail services industry, which reports more than $6 billion in sales a year. Toes once quarantined by sensible pumps and penny loafers to keep their hosts in line with the formality of Washington offices finally see the light of day, winding up as canvases -- and sometimes epistles.

Charlene wants to be clear when she's sized up in her 3 1/4 -inch-high open-toe strappies. "People start at the top and work their way to the bottom," she says. The message in her toes: "I really take care of myself. I take pride in the way I look."

And she feels a little sexy.

Carmen has a lot to do with that. She's been caring for toes, and other parts, for almost four years at the spa. She knows her clientele and that they don't like change much. With a little nudging, though, she manages to get them into some of her favorites: Power of Red, Treat Me Like a Queen and, the choice of fun girls everywhere, Cozi-Melt in the Sun. Her bestsellers come in red and purple hues. But most of the time, her meticulous client Charlene does not budge. She's thought a lot, maybe too much, about what happens when the nails begin to grow. That unfinished look, that pesky separation that occurs between the cuticle and the base of the nail as it stretches forward.

So she has stayed mostly with creams. That is, until a hot day about a week ago, when Carmen employed a new strategy: using her toes as billboards. She wore OPI's Red, finished with black feathered strokes on her big toes and a thin line of black polish across the tips of the others. Charlene was impressed.

"Last week, I saw Carmen's toes. They looked like she had ladybugs on them. I said: 'Carmen! What is that? Give me something like that.' " Charlene agreed to a few design enhancements, but with a softer base color, of course.

What could Carmen do to get Charlene into a bright color? Charlene says, "Every once in a while I do do something different, maybe two or three times."

Latoya Glaspie needs no prodding when the warm weather rolls in. For her, pedicures with color are a given. She wastes no time sliding into her 3-inch-heel sling backs. "Bright colors in the summer, no French pedicures. You're walking around, people are looking at your toes."

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