Makeup artist and Beauty Squad member Lauren Cosenza supports trying anything in the quest for self-expression. Each month she pushes our cosmetic boundaries beyond the beauty comfort zone. In this edition she convinces a friend who only ever wears pale pink polish to try out the bold nail art trend.

There are two camps of women. There are reinventors who see every day as an opportunity to explore a different side of themselves, whether through a new outfit, an extreme haircut, fresh highlights, a bright red lipstick or an eyeliner trick they just learned on YouTube. Then there are loyalists who believe in slight evolution, but never revolution, when it comes to hair and makeup changes.

So when I, a reinventor, asked my dear friend Ali Salama (upper left), a loyalist, to switch up the pale pink manicure she has worn since I met her in 2000 (and probably much longer), she reacted as though I suggested she dye her hair cobalt blue. Nail art, apparently, is not popular in her camp. As a concession for her compliance, I promised she could remove the polish after 24 hours of wearing it. Following that agreement, we booked an appointment at one of the hottest New York nail art salons, Valley.

When we arrived at Valley, several reinventors were there, working their ombré and glitter designs. We were given an iPad to review the work of Mei Kawajiri (upper right). To call Mei a manicurist is an understatement. Her work, inspired by Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Comme des Garçons, Miu Miu, the city sights, movies, food, nature and beauty—is detailed and representative of immense talent.

I saw Ali’s eyes widen at many a 10-digit set of killer tips, as we swiped from photo to photo. But I still wasn’t so sure her appreciation would result in a bold selection. Finally one look stopped her. It was a three-shade camouflage pattern that was daring enough for people to notice, especially on a loyalist like Ali, yet muted enough that it wouldn’t be too far a reach from her usual polish hue.

Here is how Mei created the nail look:

Step 1: To help Ali finalize her nail art colors, Mei showed us several camouflage combinations by dotting polishes in trios on a small piece of aluminum foil. Some of the combinations had pinks and purples, but Ali surprised us by going with the classic army shades.

Step 2: Mei began by taking a taupe shade and dabbing it on in irregular dot formations over the clear polish on each of Ali’s nails. Try: Essie Nail Polish in Chinchilly.

Step 3: Then she did the same with a warm gray shade. Try: Lancôme Vernis In Love in Gris Angora or Essie Nail Polish in Sew Psyched.

Step 4: And finally, Mei repeated this step with a soft white. Try: Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer in Amazing Grace.

Mei was done in no time. Ali joked that it took more time for her to decide on a design than for the manicure itself.

A few days later, I asked Ali a few questions about her beauty dare.

You’ve worn a sheer pink nail polish for at least 12 years now. Why the preference for pale hues?

It’s true. I’ve gone from [Essie Nail Polish in] Sugar Daddy to Starter Wife to Hi Maintenance, which is what I get now. It feels clean to me and chips are less obvious. I’m also just so used to it. Anything else on my nails, like a dark color, would distract me or I’d think it might clash with my clothes. A red, for example, is classic, but for me it would seem so attention-grabbing.

What role do you think nails play in putting together an image or style?

I think nails can showcase your personality. You can be a creature of habit or more daring. But it has to go with your overall look.

Were you excited or nervous for this dare?

I was honestly indifferent. You asked and I did it for you. But now, it feels more for me. I do really like it.

Why did you choose this pattern?

I felt it was a dare compromise; it was an edgy design in neutral shades. Although I have to say, these aren’t even my normal neutrals!

How do you feel about it now?

I feel more brave. I thought I would be like, oh my god, I can’t wait to take it off! I don’t feel that way at all.

It’s been two days now since the dare. How did the nails go over at work?

People loved them. I got reactions like, “Wow, those are cool. Is that camo?” That’s from a guy at work! And from the girls, “Oooh, what did you do with your nails?” and “What is that? I love it. So cool.” I think people were also surprised I did it.

Would you do it again?

Yes, I would. As I was drying I was looking at the bolder colors, and I already felt like the brights and glitters weren’t so scary.

Photos: Lauren Cosenza