When it comes to nail embellishments, it’s safe to say that Miami’s Kro Vargas – known to the cyber world as Krocaine – has the Midas touch. So much so, that at this stage, in her already eminent career, she’s become world-renowned– traveling regularly to fulfill a demand for her characteristically colorful, Y2K-nostalgia-inspired and hand-crafted nail adornments. Vargas is an artist first – and an impressively skilled one at that. Her novelty being grounded in an unwavering dedication towards realizing meticulously detailed hand-painted designs, as well as an unmatched creative flair.
Not only this, with the viral success of her ‘Fiji Water’ aquarium-nail design originally posted on Instagram in 2016, she’s been in higher demand than ever, as she continues to nurture a creative repertoire with the bossiest of babes – from the likes of Rico Nasty and Soto Gang to La Goony Choonga. Below, NBGA got the priceless opportunity to speak with the nail-tech tastemaker, to talk about her creative process, her nostalgic inspirations and the value in upholding one’s artistic integrity when establishing your own lane as a self-made businesswoman working within the beauty industry.
Tell me about your background and what it was like growing up. Did the place you grew up inspire your career choice in any way?
Well, my parents are Colombian and Ecuadorian – and were raised in New York. I was born there and then raised in Miami. Growing up, I always loved having my nails done and so did all my friends. I would say Miami has had a huge influence on my style of art. In fact, a lot of my own designs draw on the nostalgia of my middle school days – when my friends would have colorful designs on their acrylics – way before nail art was such a huge trend.
When did you discover your affinity for the arts, and what ultimately inspired you to pursue an artistic career within the beauty industry?
I think all my life – well, as far back as I can remember – I always loved to draw and paint on everything I owned; I loved to customize my bookbags, folders, shoes – anything really. It started off as a love for being able to turn anything into a piece of art. I think this, combined with my love for nails, only made it right that I pursue a career in the beauty industry. When I started doing nail art, it was pretty rare to have graphic designs on your nails, especially designs that were hand-painted, which made the whole process more exciting for me as an artist; I was constantly trying to reach new limits when it came to nail art.
In terms of the technical side of your work, do you think it’s better to work with acrylic or gel – or do they both have their own attributes?
When I first started doing nail art, I found that using acrylic paint was much easier than regular polish. However, after several years I was introduced to Japanese gel and that’s when everything took off for me. The possibilities became endless, as I found that Japanese gel was by far the best – and the easiest – way to create those perfect details that bring my designs to life.
You are well known for the meticulous detail you put into hand-painting every design – why is this such a sentimental aspect of your work for you?
I think I’ve always really focused on making my nail art as detailed as possible – even when I first started out. I’d say my favorite question to get is when people ask if my designs are stickers. It makes me happy to know that people truly can’t tell whether my art is hand-painted or printed. Since I’m so passionate about detailed nail art, I find I have a lot of patience when it comes to creating realistic, graphic images on a nail. I like to challenge myself – so the more detailed, the better.
What’s the craziest/most difficult nail design you’ve done to date?
Oh, definitely the ‘Fiji Water Bottle Nails’ – that set took me twelve hours. I was at home, living with La Goony Choonga and Bootychaaain at the time, and the design was something that I’d wanted to re-create from a painted version I’d done in 2014. I decided to make this version all aquarium nails which took us forever to complete. I didn’t realize how time-consuming aquarium nails were until that day. However, the end result was so worth it because people all over the world know about that set – it was pretty legendary.
La Goony Choonga is one of your regulars, so is Rico Nasty – is there anyone else’s nails you’d like to get your hands on?
I think I would love to do Rihanna’s nails – at least once! I’ve said this for a long time and I just know I’m going to do it one of these days. I admire her as a businesswoman and a visionary, and I feel like she could get into my art; we’d be a perfect nail match. I would also love to do Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s nails – just switch up on their style one time.
You’ve been setting the bar when it comes to online nail trends forever! You even have a column with Dazed Beauty (The Nail Files) where you continue to showcase your favorite nail trends coming out. How do you stay inspired to keep creating and innovating? Also, are there any other nail tech’s killing the game right now who inspire you?
I’d say I can draw inspiration from anything and everything. My favorite way to stay inspired is to just keep consistently creating – whether it’s in my head or on paper. I always keep track of my ideas, write them down and try to execute them on another day. Also, some of my favorite nail artists are Rose B (@rosebnails), Lila Robles (@nailjerks) and Juan Alvear (@nailsbyjuan.nyc) – but there are honestly so many amazing artists, it’s kind of hard to keep track.
Obviously being a trendsetter comes with its own qualms. How do you feel about people biting your designs – do you find it flattering or annoying?
Honestly, as a nail technician, I understand what it’s like to have a client who requests a design that’s not mine. I wouldn’t deny them, and if I ever decide to post them online – which I don’t typically ever do – I would surely tag the original artist. So, when I see artists around the world recreating my designs and tagging me it makes me feel so happy, and ultimately flattered that people are now able to recognize my art in every country.
However, when I see those artists who constantly copy my designs and try to promote my art as theirs – I’ll admit, it’s extremely annoying. Being a nail artist, I think you should always strive to be original and create your own lane. I’ve worked hard for years to establish an artistic style, so it’s frustrating to see other nail technicians repeatedly rip off my designs instead of coming up with their own shit.
What are some of the trials and tribulations that come with starting your own business? Also, what’s the biggest reward?
Starting your own business in the beauty industry can be difficult because you’re always wanting to make sure every client is happy. That aspect of the business alone requires a lot of patience and understanding – ultimately you want your clients to come back rather than go elsewhere. Also, booking your own appointments, buying supplies and cleaning up daily – all whilst trying to come up with new ideas can be overwhelming. However, I’d say the rewards make it all worth it. I can be my own boss, travel the world whilst getting paid to do something I genuinely love – and meet amazing people along the way.
Are you still curating content for “Nails with Krocaine” on YouTube? Where else can we stay updated on your work?
100%! I’m constantly creating new content for my YouTube channel. However, I’m still perfecting the videos and trying to make them educational; I want it to be something beginners can really learn from. Until then, the best place to stay updated with my work is on Instagram, via @krocaine!