With the hands of a sculptor and the eye of a painter, Lechele Barnett uses her nails as her canvas, and this week, she took on a very special subject: Hennessy cognac.
For her creation, her nails featured the brand’s gold and white colors, and she even turned one nail into a pourable Hennessy bottle.
You’ve probably seen it. More than 3 million people have watched the video across various social media platforms.
In the video, Barnett starts by forming the shape of the bottle with Playdoh, applying acrylic over the mold, affixing it to her nail, sealing it, and carefully painting the design. Then, she adorns the rest of the nails with the Hennessy logo in gold foil and complementary colors. Finally, using a nail art syringe, she fills the bottle with Hennessy (not for consumption, obviously).
“In the video, I made it look easy,” she said, but really the process took all night.
It all started last Friday, when Barnett came home from her job as a nail artist at Ambiance Hair & Nail Gallery in the Central North Side and decided it was the night to try an idea she’d been pondering for a year — yes, even after a full-day doing nails.
“She’s had this idea for months. She’s like, ‘I want to do this nail where I put Hennessy in the nail.’ It’s been months this idea has been brewing,” Barnett’s sister Lakeya Richardson said. “One night she came and she’s like, ‘I want to do it tonight.'”
Barnett started on the project around 10 p.m. last Friday night and worked until dawn. Richardson, 22, who runs Barnett’s social media accounts in addition to working in registration at two local hospitals, stayed up with her.
“I didn’t finish until 6 in the morning,” Barnett said. “I literally had to get dressed and come back to work. People are like, ‘She must not work.’ I’m like, ‘No, I don’t sleep.'”
But before getting back to her day job at Ambiance, she had to remove the large, heavy bottle she’d spent hours creating.
Barnett, a 30-year-old North Side resident, stays humble, despite the spotlight. How does the attention make her feel?
“Nervous,” she said with a laugh, but it also brings her a smile to see people enjoying her work. Naturally, internet comments varied.
“A lot of people admired the craftsmanship, but a lot of people thought it would be cheap to wear it. Other people said they’d get all 10 nails,” she said.
Barnett uses Instagram as a place for her creativity, and Richardson makes sure to watch every single comment.
“It’s very positive because most people on her page know it’s her doing it to show her creativity, to show her technique,” Richardson said. “You do get the negative comments, but you’ve got to roll with the punches.”
Asked if a customer could get the Hennessy nails for themselves, Barnett quickly responded with a laugh and a flat-out “no.”
“It’s just for fun,” she said. “It’s not real.”
(By the way, Hennessy hasn’t responded to our request for comment, but if you’re reading this, Hennessy, you owe this woman a free bottle, at least.)
They both thought the video would be popular but not quite this popular. This isn’t her first viral post, though. Her 420-themed nails were a huge hit, and her nails featuring a drawing of Cardi B made a splash, as well.
Barnett’s passion for nail art started about eight years ago when she was supposed to drive her little sister, Richardson, to get her nails done and offered to do them for her instead.
“After that, it became an obsession because I’m really into art,” Barnett said.
She studied the work of other nail artists, attended South Hills Beauty Academy, and took classes to improve her skills.
“It brings me peace. It’s calming. It just makes me happy,” she said, from her chair at the salon while filing her client’s nails, “I’ve never had a job where I just come in and I’m happy. I’m just happy.”
Lechele Barnett files the nails of Charley Dunbar.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Someday, she hopes to build her own distribution company and to teach nail art.
But for now, she’s happy to do nails at work and in her free time.
“Chel is a very talented person, and it shows. She can do anything and everything. That girl is a beast at everything,” Richardson said. “She is like the lioness. She rules the kingdom of creativity.”