20 Minutes with Charissa Chioccarelli of ISLA Berlin

Talking nail art, community-spirit and viral hypes

When thinking of nail salons, the Germans usually think in pink-glitter-butterfly- or French-manicure-stereotypes, even though there's a whole flashy Instagram world out there, featuring flames, luxury brand logos or emojis. While Berlin typically is a step ahead of all the German capitals and sometimes even the international ones, the beauty-industry lags behind. This is why Dutch super-babe Charissa Chioccarelli quit her job in influencer marketing at Zalando and founded ISLA Berlin. With a background in fashion and her know-how of social media, she was able to generate a viral hype around not only ISLA's Instagram account but the physical salon. Besides nail art, ISLA provides a selection of the coolest streetwear pieces, tooth bling, a DJ set to practice and even creative-agency services, including events and exhibitions. Charissa created a space to meet, hang-out and network – a space for wxmen by wxmen. Not only ISLA's nail art is a reflection of Zeitgeist, but its community-thought paves the way for a more inclusive future in the beauty industry.

Nele Tüch: ISLAis the first shop that introduced the trend nail-art to the Berlin scene. How did the scene and reception change since the opening of your shop?
Charissa Chiocarelli: Nail art was, and is, very new to a lot of people here but as we grew the nail art trend did as well. When we opened ISLA our community mainly existed of expats living in Berlin but now, almost three years later, the number of German customers has increased a lot! Besides our community we have noticed that more and more other salons are starting to offer nail art as well, which to us is only a good thing – that means the trend is (finally) picking up!


"Everything we do is true to ourselves and our community and that pays off."

NT: ISLA is the incarnation of what it means to create a hype. Why do you think the media and your customers picked up the concept so quickly and phenomenally well?
Charissa Chioccarelli: I think the attention and relevancy came, and still comes, from offering something that is unique and authentic. Everything we do is true to ourselves and our community and that pays off.

NT: You opened ISLA out of a personal frustration-moment with the Berlin nail art scene – what’s your go-to style?
Charissa Chioccarelli: I used to only wear super long extensions but since my pregnancy, my natural nails have been so strong that I am trying to let them grow as long as possible. The art I go for kinda depends on my mood but I love to experiment with new products, trends and techniques.

Cover photo and above photo:
photography Caroline Mackintosh styling Rachael Rodgers creative direction and production Alexandra Bondi de Antoni make-up Jana Kalgajeva hair Susanna Jonas styling-assistance Keva Legault photography-assistance Benny Heinrich production-assistance Juule Kay

NT: What else is Berlin missing?
Charissa Chioccarelli: There are still a lot of beauty-concepts and -services I miss in Berlin. Oh - and I wished Berlin had more nail technicians. If any aspiring nail artist reads this, please contact me!

NT: You have been part of the Berlin creative scene for quite a while now, first as part of the Influencer Marketing Department of Zalando, now with ISLA– compared to Amsterdam, London, Paris or New York – what’s your turn on it?
Charissa Chioccarelli: I think what makes Berlin different from those other cities is the anti-capitalism mindset that feels very much alive here. The creative scene in the other big cities is somehow more tied to commercial brands, whereas in Berlin people have this strong scepticism towards those brands.

NT: With ISLAyou didn’t merely create a nail-salon, where you can get your tooth-gem done but a streetwear-shop, a creative space in which women can improve their DJ-skills, an event place in which a fleamarket or party can be hosted. Do you think for a physical space to work it needs to have a community-spirit in its concept?
Charissa Chioccarelli: I don’t think every physical space needs to have a community element but for smaller boutique shops like ISLA I definitely believe in having a community-driven approach – that is the only way to compete with the big chains.

NT: A lot can happen on Social Media right now, people can connect, recruit, scout or even fall in love. How important is Instagram for ISLA?
Charissa Chioccarelli: Instagram plays a super important role for us – most people find out about us via Instagram. It is where we have and grow our community. On a more practical level, we also use Instagram to book in appointments and reach out to brands and nail technicians. We also use Instagram to spot the latest trends, find creatives to work with and learn about new nail techniques.

NT: ISLA does not only have to be a salon – You are booked for brand-events and -parties and you once said that you would love to do the nail-art-concept of one of Rihanna’s videos. What has been your favourite project so far? What would be your dream goal for ISLA?
Charissa Chioccarelli: We have done so many great projects already, it’s hard to pick one favourite. I love when we get to travel for ISLA. We have been booked to do nails all over the world! We did nails during fashion week in Milan, we did a pop up during Miami Art Basel and had an ISLA set up at V-Files New York. And the funny thing is that in every city we go to, there is at least one or more persons that already know us from Instagram. We truly have a global community!

We are currently evaluating how to grow the business and what business units to focus on. We had big plans for 2020 but due to Covid-19 most of those plans are currently on hold. My dream goal for ISLA would be to become a global brand!

"Your business, just like a child, is on your mind constantly."

NT: You once compared opening your own business with being a mother. What would you say now that you recently gave birth to your son Ace?
Charissa Chioccarelli: Haha, good one – but to be honest, I would still say so. Of course, I love my son more than anything but what I meant with the comparison: Your business, just like a child, is on your mind constantly.

NT: Personal leeway (=Freiraum) - what does it mean for you and where can you find it?
Charissa Chioccarelli: Freiraum to me is being able to travel wherever and whenever I want. I love discovering new places and this is definitely where I get my inspiration and ideas from.

NT: Now, in times of social-distancing and quarantines, everything slows down. Probably also your business, how to cope with a situation like this?
Charissa Chioccarelli: We just opened our business again after being closed for seven weeks. During the time we were closed we focused on online income streams. We have our online shop but we also started offering press on nails. Luckily we also received support from the government, which helped a lot as well. Besides that, we tried to use the time to do things we usually don’t have time for, we painted the store, worked on a new website and more. So we tried to stay positive and productive.

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