Interview with Charlotte Knight, founder of Ciate

ciate charlotte knight hong kong

As part of my day job as Editor for a lifestyle website, I often get the opportunity to interview people – however, I’m not quite Ryan Seacrest yet so half the time, I don’t even know who half these people are! However, when the email came asking if I wanted to interview Charlotte Knight, the founder of Ciaté who was in town for Lane Crawford’s Vogue Fashion’s Night Out, I jumped at the chance!

I found Charlotte really likeable, fun and down-to-earth – and I loved how heavily involved in Ciaté she still is. I could really tell how passionate she is about nails, which as a customer, is something I really value in a brand. Since I put myself through the hell of listening to my voice over and over again to transcribe our 30-minute chat, I thought I might as well stick up the whole interview on here for all you fellow polishaholics! Enjoy!

charlotte knight ciate

So the big question – why nails?
I started life as a session nail technician working with top fashion designers and on fashion weeks in London, Paris and New York. I remember just being obsessed with cosmetics from an early age, and always wanting to paint my nails – and everyone else’s nails! Even as a little girl, I was always so obsessed.

I moved to Ireland at 21 and opened up Dublin’s first nail bar; the whole New York nail scene was hitting London and getting really big, but hadn’t hit Ireland at all. When I moved there, there was nowhere to get a manicure at all, so I was devastated! I’d become used to going with my friends to get a regular Saturday manicure so I saw a niche in the market and opened the nail bar, and that got my first business intrigue for nails. What with the session work and the nail bar, my real passion and desire was product; I had this absolute dream to launch my own product range and after many years of researching and meeting up with various labs and suppliers, I launched Ciaté in 2009 and the rest is history!

How did you get the idea for the ribbon motif on your bottles?
I’m crazy into design, interior design, architecture and fashion. Whenever I used to think about wanting my own brand, I used to sit there with a pen and paper, and draw – like I was designing a building, but designing my own packaging, and designing the structure of how I wanted the bottle to look. There was always this really long cap, and I would always always always draw this bow on the bottle. I don’t know why, it was always just how I would finish it off.

There is always something that really annoys me about nail polish bottles – that there’s always a gap between the nail polish bottle and the cap. It’s just one of those little things that I always used to see and you can never get rid of it – it will never sit flat because of the internal things going on in a nail polish bottle. So one of the reasons I put the bow on was because I didn’t want to see that gap!

More than anything, the femininity of a bow is so stunning; it just oozes feminine charm. Women are obsessed with bows – we love bows on our lingerie, on our handbags, shoes, anywhere we can; even from a young age to being adults, we just love bows! It’s that ‘aaah’ factor, that ‘wow’ factor, and I think that everything I do within the Ciaté range has that little extra detail. So the bow was made out of ribbon, we added it to the bottles and it’s been there ever since! It’s become a real signature look to the brand and it works!

ciate nail polishes

How has Ciaté progressed from when you first started it in 2009 to now being in Hong Kong for Vogue Fashion’s Night Out in 2013?!
When I first started, it was all about colour and it was very small – 48 colours that you could wear throughout the year, bringing in new colours all the time, and all about footcare and handcare. To me, at that point, nail art was extremely tacky – if you said to me back in 2009, “In four years time, you’re going to be dubbed the world’s most exciting nail art brand”, I’d have said, “No, You’re nuts!”

I never thought that that would happen, it was just something that evolved. I think what we’ve done as a brand is make nail art funky, fashionable and on-trend; we’ve taken runway looks to retail and made them accessible to the customer with DIY sets. Never before have DIY manicures been so popular; years ago, people always went and had their nails done but now, more and more, people are happy to do their nails at home, to play and experiment, so that’s been perfect for us as we’ve been able to give people the tools and instruments to do that.

Caviar Manicures were our entry – the game-changer. I think it was the game-changer for the industry as a whole; it carved out a category for texture and 3D and things that every brand is now adding as elements to their portfolio. For us, we have to continue – our customers are always saying, “What’s next? What should we be wearing now? What’s on-trend?” Therefore, we have a demand to keep up! So every 12 weeks, we launch a new WOW Kit, which keeps our customer wearing the hottest, most funky looks we could possibly give them.

Will nail art continue forever? I think it will just evolve as everything does. Will it be as crazy as it is now? Maybe not… but it will still be there. I don’t think it will ever disappear – I can’t imagine people are not going to wear anything [on their nails], but it might be something subtle, maybe something on the feature/accent nail. I think there will always be an occasion where people think, “Oh yeah, I’ve got that set that I bought a couple of years ago that would be perfect for this occasion!” I think that now nail is as big as it is, it’s certainly not going anywhere and it’s going to evolve and evolve and evolve and obviously, Ciaté is at the forefront of that innovation, which is a great place to be.

ciate hong kong caviar manicure

Why do you think nail art has suddenly become so big now? Is it because of celebrities, bloggers…?
I think it’s massively to do with celebrities – Twitter, for example, has played a massive part. Celebrities want to be known as leaders with their nails, there’s almost a competition between them – the Katy Perrys, the Rihannas of the world – that tweet about getting their nails done instantly because they want to be seen as the nail trend-setters, and social media has had a massive part to play in that.

But also, so has the use of social media – we’ve never been on our phones as much… nails have never been so visible before as they are now. We are constantly tip-tapping on our phones, pressing our tablets… therefore, people are constantly looking [at them] – they’re almost like windows to our fashion. “How fashionable are you? Let me look at your nails!” that’s how far it’s gone.

But I also think that in a lot of parts of the world, certainly in the UK and the USA for example, the recession has had a massive part to play. In the 80s, we had a huge recession and lipstick sales soared – The Lipstick Effect – and the same has happened in the recent recession, but to nail polish. Because if the customer has to tighten their belts and can’t afford the Tom Ford dress, instead they can buy the Tom Ford nail polish, so it still enables people to have that designer, have that luxury or change their look but without blowing their budget.

Also nails are so non-committal! If you decide one morning, “You know what, I just want to look a bit different…” but if you go change your hair colour, that could end up really terrible looking and you’re stuck with it for months! Whereas nails, you can try – “I’ve never worn blue but hey, I’ll give it a go now” – and if you don’t like it, you take it off and try something else! That experimental side is something that people are more excited and happy to do than ever – and at any age! It’s crazy the ages that we’re seeing people still experimenting with their nails.

Ciate Caviar Manicure Kit

Where do you get inspiration for your kits?
Inspiration is everywhere! We’ve been really lucky in that we launched our Chalkboard Manicure Kits at the same time that Fendi launched their white baguette bag, which had nothing on it but was sold with some Fendi paints – so you could literally decorate your own Fendi bag! It’s nuts – people are paying crazy ridiculous money to paint their own Fendi bag! And we launched our Chalkboard Kits at the same time.

We work with a lot of trend-reporting agencies who enable us to understand what the trends are going to be a year ahead, so we can make sure we bring products that will work hand-in-hand with what the top fashion houses are doing. A lot of what we do is all about whimsical beauty, you’ll have seen a lot of whimsical beauty coming out with the likes of Chanel and their Lego clutch, Prada with their giant flowers. It’s really whimsical and really playful – it’s all about releasing your inner child, and touching into that emotion that we’re all children in an adult body! So I think what Ciaté does, has done and continues to do is really play on that aspect – especially with something like the Ciaté Mini Mani Advent Calendar for Christmas.

That looks awesome! I’ve been eyeing it up, I’m like OMG I need it!
It’s unreal! I mean, who doesn’t remember every morning waking up and dying to open the chocolate [in their Advent Calendar] before breakfast, and being told “No,” but that’s literally all you’d care about for the rest of the day! So what we’ve done is bring the calendar but instead, every day you get a nail polish! I mean, who wouldn’t want a bottle of nail polish every day?!

Ciate Mini Mani Advent Calendar 2013

I’d be that person that opens them all on the first of December though!
Hahahaa – yeah! But inspiration really is everywhere. I was in Dubai a few months ago in a hotel and there were some effects on one of the walls, and I was looking at it and was like, “Oh my God…” – and now that effect that was on that wall is going to be one of our sets in a few months time! I’m always snapping pictures, touching things, feeling things – inspiration is everywhere and you’ve just got to walk around with your eyes open, and not be blinkered. I make sure that when I’m in taxis travelling around cities, I’m not just looking at my phone – I’m looking around all the time. We try to bring all that inspiration into the sets.

The Colour Foil sets we had a few months ago – that’s about street art. If you look around London, the streets are full of street art and that whole Colour Foil thing was created like foiled graffiti on the nail, and very much inspired by the street artists of East London and Tokyo.

ciate caviar manicure

So as the founder of Ciaté, you’re still really involved in the brand – and will be for the foreseeable future?
Very much so – absolutely.

That’s great to hear, as often when brands get bigger, the person behind them seems to lose involvement in the brand…
Yeah – although we need to clone me a little bit! It’s getting really hard, as we sell in so many different countries now; for example, for tonight’s Vogue Fashion’s Night Out, there were five countries that each wanted me there and I was like, “OK, we now need a cloning machine as I can’t be in five places at once!” You can say, “Well, we can send Olivia, she’s our PR manager,” but they’re like “No – we want Charlotte.” So it’s getting harder to be at everything as I can’t be everywhere at the same time, but we’re trying to balance and share my time out.

But when it comes to creating the colours, and the ideas, that’s still all you?
Oh God yeah!

ciate hong kong corrupted neon manicure

So what are your current favourite Ciaté shades? And which colours are the eternal classics – the ones you always have as your go-tos?
My go-to red is the one I’m wearing now, Mistress. I absolutely adore it, it’s a lovely rich orangey-red that works well when I’ve got a tan, works well when I’m feeling a bit pale… it’s just a beautiful classic red.

We have a colour called Ditch The Heels, an emerald green that is just stunning. People think that they can’t wear green, but this green is just unreal. That particular colour was Pantone’s Colour Of The Year this year, so that’s my go-to weekend shade where if I feel I need a bit of colour in my life, I would put that on.

Sometimes I just want to wear a nude nail with a bit of tint – so something like LA Confidential, which is kind of like a hint of pink, or my absolute favourite nude which is named after my daughter, Amazing Gracie. She actually mixed the colour herself – she was playing with polish in the kitchen and she mixed up this pink and was like, “Mummy, look at this colour!” and I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful!” so we made it into a polish. Her name’s Gracie so we called it Amazing Gracie.

What would you say to those nail bloggers who claim Ciaté just takes their ideas and brings them to the mass market without crediting them? [Apparently Ciaté sent out Cease & Desist emails to beauty bloggers who had created their own “caviar manicures”]
Ermmm… I mean, I don’t really know why that has started or why this happens because if you look at every fashion or beauty brand, there is so much similarity between brands and people get inspired by other people’s brands all the time. I think with bloggers – I mean, what can you do? What can you say? We kind of just stay out of it and we don’t really comment, because I think if you feed negativity, it only just spirals into more and more.

Obviously, we thank and appreciate everyone that has inspired us throughout the years – I mean, Alexander McQueen inspires me still to this day, but he would take the fact that he inspired people as a compliment. So I take it as a compliment that people look at what we do and do it in their style; there are lots and lots of brands bringing similar products to the market as ours, but it doesn’t anger me – I think it’s a compliment because they are seeing good things in what we do and bringing their own slant to the market. I just feel that bloggers should feel the same – if a blogger has created a manicure at some time, I don’t sit there scrolling through to see if anything was ever created a one time! All I know is where I get my inspiration from and we tell people where my inspiration was from through our sets – whether it be from a fashion shoot, street art, Chanel’s catwalk… whatever it is! We’re honest about that because at the end of the day, inspiration is everywhere and when you’re creating a look, you’ll collect a mood-board of inspiration from all around the world.

I think that generally, people need to take things as compliments more than anything. I think that the world is full of far too much negativity, I don’t understand why people get themselves quite as worked up as they do – honestly, I don’t read it as I know if I did, it would upset me, but I do get told by my PR agency that there has been some negativity. But I feel you’re always going to get that; you know, like if a celebrity wears something, does something or becomes really successful, she has her lovers but then she’ll also have people being negative about it. There’s nothing we can do about it. I just think that generally people who love nail should all embrace nails together!


What do you think will be the next big craze for nails? Summer was all about neons, so what’s on the horizon for fall/winter?
Our next manicure set is the Feather Manicure. That again was very inspired by the Chanel runway – Chanel was full of feathers on headpieces, around the eyes and all sorts of things, and it looked stunning, I was really mesmerised by that show. We’ve had a bit of a crazy summer with the Chalkboard and Corrupted Neon Kits – people’s nails have been glowing under black lights, there’s been neon glitter, it’s all been a bit crazy and funky… so it was time for me to bring a bit of sophistication for fall, a bit of warmth and bring it down a little, so that’s why we launched the Feather Manicure.

I try to take our customer on a journey as much as possible – through the seasons, through the fashion trends. Fall is all about starting to snuggle into your cardigan a bit more, getting into a bit of cashmere; last year’s fall product was the Velvet Manicure, which was extremely popular so for us, fall is always going to be about some kind of texture… a warming kind of feel… and to me, feather is exactly that. If you think about the intricacy on a feather, it creates a beautiful design on your nail without even having to lift a paintbrush.

And what nail trends do you think are totally over? What’s dead, gone and not coming back – or what do YOU not want to see come back?!
I feel bad to say what I think is over because I know brands that are still selling these products so I can only say from my opinion – crackle nail polish, I don’t personally love anymore. I thought it was fantastic when it first launched; we didn’t actually do it as a brand because there were already far too many other brands doing it and that’s generally not what we do, but I thought it was phenomenal. I mean, watching these cracks appear in your polish? It was crazy!

And magnetic [nail polish] – it was fab; we didn’t do it again, but I had so much respect for it as a product, I thought it was amazing but again, I think it’s done for now. I think it’s had its day.

But I think everything in nail will recycle, as fashion trends do. In five or six years from now (or maybe even less), we will see the next generation of magnetic nails and crackle nails and we’ll see them come round again, but right now I think those particular two looks are over for me. But you know that’s what happens – generally beauty products launch in the premium sector and they’ll be hot and trendy, and then the mass market gets hold of them.

Yeah – it’s like Deborah Lippmann is famous for the glitter, and now the likes of Revlon, Rimmel, they all have them. So like you say… recycling, it always filters down eventually until a new trend comes up…
Yeah exactly. But I know magnet and crackle – they sold in mass, and still do to this day and are probably still doing the numbers. But for me, I’m a real advocate of the premium retailers and I think that when something is in those retailers, you know it’s hot, hot, hot!


OK, some quick yay or nays! Gel nails?
If they’re done to look natural and thin and maintained properly, then yes.

Do they damage the nail?

So they wouldn’t be good for the long-term?
It’s all about the person who’s doing them but regardless, any type of acrylic or gel is going to stop the nail from being able to breathe and therefore, there is going to be a lack of oxygen entering, hitting and feeding the nail plate, so your nails are going to dry out and are prone to getting thin.

Acrylic nails?
Most acrylic nails I have ever seen have been horrific! However, if the artist is amazing at doing acrylic nails, they can look incredible but the majority… People can go do a nail course in a couple of weeks, and then they can call themselves a nail technician, so you can imagine the cowboys that must be out there! So I really think it depends on the quality of artist that is doing your nails. If it’s done well, then it can work, but if not, then it’s a disaster!

French tips?
Errrr… right now, no, but I used to love French manicures, especially on my toes. Again, it’s all about recycling and I have no doubt that it will come round again. I can’t give yes or no answers!

ciate corrupted neon sets

Chipped nail polish? I heard this was going to be a trend…
Well, I actually don’t mind it when my nails chip! Isn’t that really weird… You’d think that I would hate it! There’s something a little bit grungy and a bit rock chick about chipped nails, so if by the weekend, my nails have chipped a little bit, I’m not one of those people that would be like, “URGH! My nails have chipped, it’s disgusting!” I mean, if you’re going to meetings and you’re a businesswoman, meeting people and shaking their hands, then absolutely no way; but if I’m just hanging at the house at the weekend in a t-shirt, then it’s not that offensive.

Is it a trend? I dunno! The Avril Lavignes of this world can probably look great with chipped nails – it works! I was saying earlier, women now have so many personalities; you wake up in the morning and go, “How am I feeling today? Where am I going? What am I doing? What mood am I in?” (You don’t actually have this conversation with yourself, it just happens naturally!). I know I’m many many personalities – some days, I’m feeling bohemian and will wear a long maxi dress with flat shoes and have my hair down or have flowers in it; the next day, I’ll wear a flowy short dress and little ankle boots; the next day, I’ve got jeans on with a black t-shirt and biker boots; the next day, I’m in a tight pencil dress… we’ve got so many different personalities, more than ever, depending on our mood, what we’re doing, what our objectives are for the day, who we’re seeing, and nails – Ciaté, I feel – feeds and enables you to be all those personalities because you can mirror your nails to all those different personalities. We have a product and a look and a colour and a set for all those different personalities. So the chipped nail polish kind of falls into one of those looks – if you’re feeling a bit grungy, doing the whole university chick, then it can work!

Accent/statement nails?
LOVE. I think it’s amazing, a great way for people to subtly wear a bit of nail art, and it works for everyone. There’s no one that couldn’t wear it if it’s just on the accent.

Cartoon nail art – I’ve seen Minions, Disney characters…
Love. I’m an absolute Disney freak – I regularly watch Disney films with my daughter, we’re obsessed… we even play games where we have to guess the line in the Disney film. Those kind of nails are just fun! I think people take life too seriously; you need to have fun and those kind of things are great fun.

Duck feet nails?
HATE. They’re awful. I just don’t get it at all. I just think it’s the most unattractive look ever!

That’s a definite no at least!
NO! I still couldn’t just say no though, could I?!

Stiletto nails?
LOVE. I couldn’t wear it because I have very active hands – you know, I’m running around after a seven-year-old, I’ve got eight horses, I travel all the time, I’m picking up luggage, I’m on-the-go all the time. So stiletto nails wouldn’t work for me because when you have a stiletto nail, you’re taking the edges off your nail so you lose a lot of the strength of the nail. But looking at them – Dita von Teese’s nails – they are beautiful, stunning, so elegant, so feminine; it elongates your fingers and gives you beautiful feminine hands. I love it, but I’m an admirer rather than a wearer!

ciate corrupted neon manicure

Finally, what are your top tips for doing a perfect mani at home?
First things first, just maintain your hands and cuticles every day. I think that people need to think about nails in their regime, so every time you clean your teeth morning and night, you need to put a little bit of cuticle oil on your cuticles and that’s going to keep your cuticles from drying out. You know, we go from taxi to air-con, to heating, to outside… our hands are put in these different temperatures and climates all day and it dries the skin out; that’s why you put hand cream on, but hand cream isn’t enough to look after the cuticles as well. So you do really need to put intensive cuticle oil on your nail and cuticle area to keep them from drying out, which is going to give your whole nail a better manicure finish and stop you getting hang nails.

I ask that people always carry a glass nail file with them in their handbags because the biggest reason that people break their nails is because they get a tiny tiny little snag and if they don’t have a nail file, it will continue to catch throughout the day and then before you know it, you’ve lost the whole thing! So having a file in your handbag to literally smooth out any snags will ensure they don’t turn into a break.

I also say to people not to overuse nail polish remover because remover is actually the most drying thing in all the nail products available! If you’re trying to get better healthy nails, the last thing you should be doing is constantly removing polish because you’re going to be constantly drying out the nail bed.

Finally, to keep polish on for longer, you should always use a top coat and actually run the top coat along the edge of the nail, which is going to lock in the colour and stop you getting premature chips.

Thank you Charlotte!
You’re welcome!

Ciaté nail polish is available to buy in Hong Kong at Harvey Nichols or for manicures & pedicures at The Nail Library

P.S. Photos of me getting a mani were taken at Lane Crawford Canton Road’s Ciaté pop-up nail bar in Tsim Sha Tsui (available until 31 December 2013) by my awesome intern Karen!

3 responses to “Interview with Charlotte Knight, founder of Ciate

  1. Hi. I am doing a science fair project on what nail polish brand resists chipping best. One of the polishes I am using is the Candy Floss Ciaté. Can you give me a little more history on it please?

  2. Thank you for your help. God bless.

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