Nail polish is one of the most difficult items to find a clean, effective substitute. We actually have dubbed our polish-free nail look the Moment Manicure because everyone in the office has the same nails: clean, short, and no color. Leah Yari and Mary Lennon found the same gap in the market when they met through their kids’ elementary school. A casual brainstorming session at a child’s birthday party turned in to a life-long partnership, a successful and chic line of clean nail polishes that keeps getting cleaner, and two beautiful nail shops in Brentwood and the just-opened Manhattan, Côte Shop, that feel much more like beach homes than nail salons.
Yari and Lennon walked us through the ethos of the brand as we lounged in big, cushioned club chairs and got our first, but certainly not our last Côte services.
The Moment: What was the inception of Côte, the shop and the line?
Yari: My partner Mary had a birthday party for her daughter – our kids went to school together. We were sitting there, talking about the beauty industry and wondering if the polishes we were using were safe for our kids. We couldn’t help but wonder why there was nothing in the realm of clean nail polish in Brentwood, where we opened our first location.
Mary and I got together and did some brainstorming. We decided we weren’t going to open a one-off salon, but if we make it a brand and make the products and push the products in the salon, it could work.
The shop is more of a marketing tool to get people used to coming in and trying our products, so that in the future, you would take the products wherever you are.
Everybody thinks that your nail is a dead barrier but it’s not.
The Moment: What’s the biggest challenge in creating a clean nail line and shop?
Yari: The hardest part about what we do is educating the consumer because everybody is so used to putting on what they see at every nail salon out there. Basically you’re putting paint on to your hands. Everybody thinks that your nail is a dead barrier but it’s not. What you put on your skin or nails goes directly in to your body or nervous system. Even my sister-in-law who was a die hard Beverly Hills nail salon goer and got her nails done weekly at these places, comes in now and she can’t use anything but Côte. She couldn’t get an appointment last week and had to go elsewhere. The whole time she’s sitting in their chair, she’s a nervous wreck that it’s not sanitized the right way, so she brings her polish with her. Her nails used to be so streaky but ever since using Côte, she’s been a die hard fan. If I can convert her, I can convert anyone!
The Moment: How did that realization result in Côte Shop?
Yari: We want to clean up the industry; Clean up the smells and the polish. The Argan Oil in our service is organic. We try to take all of the toxic stuff out of the experience. That’s why we call ourselves a shop and not a salon. You come in and you feel like you’re on your beach holiday or in your beach house and you’re taken away. Everything we do is for a reason. There’s a reason that the artist works on one hand and completes it before moving on to the next, so that you always have one hand free for your device. We’ve put this little wall up so when you walk in to the shop, you don’t see everyone getting their services and doing the catwalk and all of that. It’s private and more to yourself. We took away the magazines that you see at the salons and we put out iPads that have everything on them. You won’t even have to use up your phone battery because everything’s on the iPad.
We started 5-free and then 10-free and we keep making it better and better and better.
The Moment: How does Côte differ from other clean polishes on the market?
Yari: The more we saw the other products and polishes, we saw that there was nothing very good out there. If they’re water and soy based, they’re ok for you, but the next day, they peel off your hands.
When creating the formulas, we had a table full of every polish product you could think of. We scoured every salon, purchased them, and tested them. Then we formulated our own. We started 5-free and then 10-free and we keep making it better and better and better. I think we are pretty much the cleanest on the market now.
Everything is US made. The bottles come from Italy because we didn’t want to go the whole China route- It’s such a mass market. Everything else is US, hand-made and poured and the bottles are blown in Italy.
The Moment: What constitutes a clean manicure at Côte other than the nail polish?
Lennon: Really, the clean manicure starts the moment you walk into Côte. When we launched, we started with 109 colors because we wanted to ensure that the environment that we were creating was as clean and safe as possible. In order to do that, we needed to control what was being released into the space. With our own polishes, we know exactly what is in them… and more importantly, what is NOT in them.
From there, our “quick côte” began with a careful cleansing of the nail bed using our new acetone-free, orange scented takeoff towels, then continues with a meticulous shape and buff, a careful application of our exclusive ten-free polishes, and finishes with our 100% Organic Argan Oil as a luscious cuticle moisturizer.
The Moment: We know to bring our Côte nail polish with us, but can you give us the key tips on what to look for when we’re getting our nails done outside of a Côte shop?
Lennon: Look for…
The Moment: And now you have a New York location!
Yari: Yes! Our new Union Square location just opened. It’s a challenge because it’s a different demographic, but we do want to bring that southern California vibe to New York. It will be amazing when people are so stressed out with rush hour and driving in the dark to come in to the light. It will be really breathe taking.
The Moment: What about the retail experience of the shop? How are the other brands you sell curated?
Yari: The inspiration for our curation of additional products is very beach heavy. South of France meets Malibu. But the concept is anything you want to throw in your beach bag or bring to your beach house. It’s a lot of gift-able items, a lot of fashion accessories or home accessories. We don’t carry much apparel because it’s not a one-size-fits-all type thing. We try not to do a lot of sizing besides the Havaianas because everyone needs flip flops when they’re getting pedicures.
It’s very beach oriented and has a coastal feel. We try to do things that aren’t found elsewhere in LA. We work with a lot of artisans based out of the North West like Oregon and Washington, or a lot of Brooklyn artisans. We do the reverse in New York. We’ll bring out a lot of west-coast California brands so it’s different than other things you get in New York.
The Moment: Are these products toxin-free as well?
Yari: Over the holidays we brought in a few other beauty lines that are toxin-free. We have a rose-water from Rootfoot, based out of Denver. She creates all her products with these essential oils. We have some of her essential oils at the front of the store too. We bring in a lot of fair trade items too.
The Moment: We are also super in love with your candles. Can you tell us more about that scent?
Yari: When we first opened our doors, an editor came to write about us and she walked in and all of a sudden she smelled our candles, walked up to the front and asked us to send 20 to her Hampton’s house because she just loved the smell so much.
We went through a thousand different fragrances. I was pregnant at the time and I remember I was so sensitive to all the smells. Finally there was one that the three of us liked so much, we just tweaked it to make it softer. It’s not overtly feminine, it’s the right amount of masculine and feminine. It’s unisex and very clean. You can buy it online.
Special thanks to Leah Yari and Mary Lennon!
Photo by Kristine Lopez