Nailing It

Butter London co-founder Nonie Creme knows nails

Hair Ashley Scroggins for Cutloose Hair. Makeup Teri Sullivan. 

The Houston native gives Seth Vaughan the inside story of her wildly successful career launching a global beauty brand.

Nonie Creme’s story doesn’t start with nails: It all began with a crush on a boy in a band. She followed her heart to England, sans visa, to live amongst aspiring musicians in a crash pad in West London. The Houston native, who attended the The Kinkaid School, was fresh out of the all-women’s Scripps College in Los Angeles when she began her life in the English capital — a decision that she admits got under her parents’ skin. Just so you understand this seemingly madcap move, however, consider this: She fell for Lalo Creme, a musician with the band Arkarna as well as son of pedigreed rocker Lol of the bands 10cc and Godley and Creme. 

Once settled, Nonie quickly found her footing. She interned with designer Vivienne Westwood and began doing nails to make ends meet — a decision that would define the route her career would take. After receiving her certification, she mastered all the customary nail treatments in a small salon and stood outside tube stations in the financial district to amass a following of office gals in desperate need, whose nails she’d do in their offices at their desks. In time, this would lead to her being talent scouted.

Soon afterwards, she was doing nails on shoots for photographers David Bailey, John Rankin Waddell (or Rankin, as he’s known) and Miles Aldridge. Fresh to her approach was a desire to elevate nails’ impact on photos; until then, they had been an afterthought, something taken on by makeup artists as a finishing touch. Ultimately this tactic was perfected when Creme co-founded the nail-polish brand Butter London with partner Sasha Muir, a British entrepreneur, in 2005. By offering a considered take on fashionable nail lacquers, with an on-trend color palette (with “Yummy Mummy” being their most successful), the brand immediately gained traction with features in Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and New York Magazine and was picked-up by Harvey Nichols and Debenhams in the UK and Nordstrom, Ulta, Macy’s, Dillards and Sephora online in the U.S. Particularly timely was the decision not to include formaldehyde, toluene or DVP in the polish’s formulation. Creme admits, however, that part of Butter’s success is the immense and immediate pleasure that nail polish brings. Like many cosmetics, it has the ability to instantly transform who we are.

The process fine-tuned her perspective on what works in business: the importance of a definite sense of one’s brand; an awareness that successful people have the ability to stay true to their vision and not deviate; and the irreplaceable value of fearlessness. A woman of her word, Creme confesses that her trademark hairdo, which combines buzzed sides and a teased, pompadour-like top, was purely a branding exercise. Clearly her theories have worked: She has done the nails for runway shows for Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane and Alexander Wang, as well as style icons Kate Moss, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Snoop Dogg.

Creme, who amicably left her role at Butter last year, looks forward to an evolved career of trend forecasting and brand consulting for major companies, as well as continued work as a session manicurist on photo shoots. And she’ll be traveling back to Houston to visit family. But perhaps most important is the outcome of the move she made to London many moons ago: She married Lalo, they have a daughter and have moved back to America, now living in Seattle. 

Nail Tips

Creme sees nails as an opportunity to try on different personalities — and she has definite opinions about the messages they’re sending. For instance, clear polish is intellectual, while pale pinks are tragic and unimaginative. She’s looking forward to using the color emerald green and monochromatic nail art that’s stark, graphic and carried out in black and white, and she’s almost ready for short square nails to return … almost. When it comes to men, Creme loves one or two painted nails, noting how unexpected it feels. Her tip to everyone: No matter what your taste in polish or the length of your nails, a capful of extra-virgin olive oil will improve the health and overall appearance of nails and cuticles.