The Financial Times once published an article to the effect that a country’s rate of development and overall standard of living can be evaluated by the quality of manicures that it offers. Berlin lacks New York’s divine US$20 mani-pedi culture, but it leads the world in cool nail polish thanks to home-grown Uslu Airlines. Launched by make-up artist and private airline owner Feride Uslu and her husband Jan Mihm, Uslu Airlines describes its core products as “destinations,” and uses the global aviation three-letter code system to name them after airports in more than 140 counties. Recently, they steered their course towards a global goal with “One,” the US dollar-note-coloured nail polish, which they packaged with a greenback proclaiming the anthem: “One world. One love. One money.” (We hope the editors of Financial Times’ “How to Spend It” land a bottle.) Here, we discuss make-up and giving the world a make-over with Mihm.
AFH: How do you match colours to airport destinations?
JM: We use various methods. Sometimes our reasoning is the love for an individual destination. Sometimes the sound of the name or a double meaning is the inspiration. For example, TOP is the airport code for our topcoat nail polish. And FIG was the code for our collaboration with Colette on a blue nail polish that was perfumed with Eau De Colette. It smells like a fig. Or we used it to build longer words: for another Colette Collaboration in honour of Edie Sedgwick we created a product set with the airports codes EDI ESE DGW ICK.
AFH: Do you favour any particular area of the globe?
JM: Our goal was also to have at least one destination in each country of the world (no other airline can offer that!).
AFH: How you think your work suits Berlin’s internationalism?
JM: Berlin is the perfect boilerplate for a globally oriented project like ours—creatively and strategically. In exchange, of course, we also add to this internationalism. So it is a great symbiosis!
AFH: Do you really think one currency could solve world financial troubles?
JM: Yes, we do! At least the worries about the value of your holiday budget would be less a concern. Caribbean crooks that are today exchanging Spanish “Monopoly” money to unaware Japanese tourists would need to look for a new hustle, for instance. Another example are the deadly riots about high bread prices in Mozambique, which are a direct result of the global currency fluctuation: Mozambique imports most goods from neighbouring South Africa. After the SA-Rand jumped up 30% in value (probably caused by nothing more/less than Wall Street speculations), bread turned impossibly expensive in Mozambique and people started killing each other over it. One World, One Love, One Money. We all eat the same bread.
Other than that, we are no financial experts. But they did not know how to solve the problem either, did they?
AFH: What about music as a great utopian uniter? How did you pick the DJs you collaborate with?
JM: The formula is simple. We must like them, personally and in regards to their style. They must be male. They must be straight. They must wear nail polish occasionally. And they must mix a special “Uslu Airlines nail mix” (downloadable for free at our website http://www.usluairlines.com/2010/download-a-dj-nail-mix/ )
AFH: That’s far more specific than I imagined, but it really works. What are the DJs thinking when they select colours?
JM: The DJs are looking for a way to make their music and their presence in the club visible. These polishes are the colour of sound. Normally, when you see a picture of a dancing crowd, you cannot tell who is DJing. But when we had the launch party for PSG in Paris, the situation was different. All guests were obliged to wear the PSG polish to gain access to the club.
AFH: Its like gang-colours.
JM: Vanity is a big driver, even for DJs!
AFH: Are you still running your airline? How did that start?
JM: Yes we are still in the cockpit and in the control tower. We would not want it any other way! Uslu Airlines is our middle baby.
AFH: Speaking of air, your airbrush makeup is amazing. And the infomercials you do are a delight. Where and how do most people use your airbrushed makeup?
JM: There is really no cluster of users. We have old, young, rich, not so rich, women, and men. Some women buy a three-part system: for the city penthouse, for the Hamptons and for the ‘cottage’ in Tahoe. Others band up and split the cost for one unit between three girls. They then meet every weekend and do each other’s makeup. Obviously, many professional makeup artists are using it. In HD productions, airbrush is even the only way to go!
AFH: How is your collaboration with Bernhard Wilhelm developing?
JM: Just great! We started with a three-colours try out. We now we have nineteen colours and it is still growing. Bernhard and us are very happy about the response from customers, media and the new shop. It also opened avenues for all of us to new collaborations with other partners, such as Mykita, Nike, Camper and Reebok.
AFH: Why link the Solomon Islands to One?
JM: We wanted one currency, so ONE had to be the code. That happens to be an airport down there.
AFH: Why make Berlin your homebase?
JM: When we moved from to Europe in 2004 after 10 years in New York, Berlin appeared to be the only option to prevent major cases of homesickness. We were right.