Alycia Smith Howard: Unvarnished truth

PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:27 20 February 2013

Alycia Smith Howard: Unvarnished truth

Alycia Smith Howard: Unvarnished truth

Alycia Smith- Howard's New Year wish for Warwickshire women is a manicure, Manhattan style.

Unvarnished truth

Alycia Smith- Howards New Year wish for Warwickshire women is a manicure, Manhattan style.

FRUMPY, unkempt and lazy about grooming. That is how Tad Safran - a rather foolhardy American writer living in London recently described British women. To be sure, Safrans provocative article is laced with more than a few sweeping generalisations, however his words set me thinking about cultural differences in relation to beauty.

If, as Madonna surmised in her 90s hit tune, Express Yourself, Beauty is where you find it, I was initially in deep trouble when I first arrived in Warwickshire. In those early days, I was more often than not left feeling fleeced and outraged. I found myself daydreaming of Manhattan, where beauty is serious business, and the consumer quite literally spoilt for choice. For example, in my own tiny enclave in the West Village, there were four different nail salons in a five-minute radius of my apartment.

At my favourite, Gigi Nail, the staff did their best to make customers feel special. They offered a wonderful, two-hour spa manicure and pedicure, complete with back massage, and endless cups of steaming Ginseng Green Tea, all for just 14. Another firm favourite, Beauty Bar, in the East Village, offered a delightful Martini & Manicure special. For a mere 5, this pampering, after-work treat swiftly became a popular Manhattan girls night out.

By contrast, my experiences here have been frustrating, to say the least. One example has now become the stuff of transatlantic legend. The first hurdle to be overcome was finding a salon that was not closed on a Monday. Closed? An utterly novel concept in Manhattan there are nail salons open on Christmas Day! I did find one that was open, and the staff were very friendly and made me a cup of tea.

Thats where the similarities ended, abruptly. For my pedicure, I was placed in an ordinary armchair, and instructed to soak my feet in a scruffy, washing-up bowl. I thought they were joking. The manicure was even more of a shambles. There were no electronic drying devices available for drying my freshly varnished nails. When the manicurist started blowing on my wet nails herself, I asked for a hair dryer. She, in turn, looked at me in disbelief, as if I were insane. Of course, my nails were smudged and ruined before I even left the building.

In all, a complete and utter waste of time and money, an experience more akin to allowing a chum to give you a manicure and pedicure in her kitchen, because shes in her sixth week of Beauty School and needs the practice. If I did have a friend who was a Cosmetology student, I would gladly submit to her as a favour - but would certainly not expect to pay 100 for the privilege of being her guinea pig!

Thankfully, I have since found two establishments that have redeemed my faith in the Warwickshire beauty industry. Pardeep Bhachu is a diamond of a hair stylist, whose work consistently rivals (and surpasses) the efforts of my former stylist in NYC and for a fraction of the price! Thanks to his sheer brilliance, I was a glowingly confident bride on my wedding day. At his establishment, The Salon in Leamington Spa, Pardeep has taken a leaf out the NYC Beauty rule book, and offers a similarly fun, girls night out atmosphere, complete with champers and cosmopolitans.

When relaxation is in order, Rasphal at Beauty by Rasphal in Warwick, offers facials, threading, beauty treatments and the most amazing hot stone massages that make me miss the darling girls of Gigi Nail a little less every day.

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