Chanel's Vamp Might Be the Most Sought-After Nail Polish in History—Here's Proof

Myths can be a big part of a beauty brand’s DNA. Some of the most iconic beauty products are linked to an epic origin story. Take Benefit Cosmetics’ Benetint Lip & Cheek Stain, which was initially made as a nipple tint for exotic dancers, or how La Mer was invented after its founder suffered burns in a lab accident. (He also consulted astrology and played a specific soundtrack for each batch.) Then there’s Chanel’s Vamp aka Rouge Noir, a whole other ball game. The blood-red, almost-black shade was everything in the mid-'90s and hard to come by, as it was constantly selling out. Thankfully, there were tons of dupes for teens like me who didn’t have a Chanel-friendly budget. Almost 30 years later, Vamp remains one of Chanel’s best-selling nail polish shades. 

Vamp first debuted in March 1994 at Chanel’s fall 1994 ready-to-wear show in Paris (an iconic collection that featured gold-chain cell phone and water bottle holders, which would later inspire Mona May’s costume design in Clueless). Vamp’s legacy includes a Chanel makeup artist coloring over a red nail with a Sharpie; another has Uma Thurman wearing the shade in Pulp Fiction. Though, neither seems to be true. 

Two days before the Chanel show, the company’s director of the house’s makeup-creation studio, Heidi Morawetz, and the international director of makeup creation, Dominique Moncourtois, mixed red and black pigments in Chanel’s studio kitchen until they came up with the color. Morawetz told Interview in 2011 that she was inspired by how eyes and nails look black in black-and-white photos. When editors peeped at the models’ gothic nails, it became an instant hit. “The journalists saw it in the show, and they thought it was incredible, ‘What’s this color?’ The Americans did it right away because they could just put it on the counter. So it came out in America before it did here in Paris,” recalled Morawetz.

The nail polish was initially called Rouge Noir but changed to the catchier and more marketable Vamp right before being launched into the market. The rest was history. Madonna was rumored to have dialed up Karl Lagerfeld for a bottle after seeing it at Chanel’s S/S 95 runway show, where models wore it. The polish had a role in her music video for “Take a Bow.” Demi Moore apparently tried buying a tester from a department store. Nicole Kidman wore it on the red carpet for the Interview With the Vampire premiere. In the 1996 lesbian neo-noir thriller Bound, Jennifer Tilly wore the polish. “It had just come out, and I went into Chanel, and they said, ‘Oh, we only have one bottle. We’re saving it [for] somebody, but they were supposed to pick it up yesterday. We’re going to sell it to you.’ It was called Vamp,” she told Entertainment Weekly.  

One of the most debated myths about Chanel Vamp is its alleged role in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. It’s widely reported that Thurman’s dark-red manicure came from Vamp. However, shooting took place over two months in the fall of 1993—four months before Vamp hit the runway—so the math ain’t mathing. (Some believe she wore MAC’s Dubonnet.) But Mia Wallace’s manicure, whatever it was, helped popularize Vamp even more. After all, the film was a box-office success, earning $214 million, and turning Thurman into a bona fide style icon. In the past decade, writersYouTubersTikTokers, and nail polish bloggers have all debated the origin of Vamp. Earlier this year, I began investigating it myself, but there is still a lot of confusion and unanswered questions. Even Chanel’s PR stated it was used in Pulp Fiction when I reached out for confirmation.

For the goths and punks of the ’90s, dark nails were nothing new, but for the fashion set and average beauty consumer, it was edgy, innovative, and freshVamp struck a chord because it was something of an outlier in terms of conventional nail polish. However, it wasn’t the first dark red to hit the mainstream market. Essie’s Wicked, which is often suggested as a dupe for Vamp, launched a year prior in 1993, according to a rep from the brand. 

As Vamp’s popularity grew, Chanel released spinoffs, like the Vamp lipstick (it became a favorite of Drew Barrymore’s) and the nail polish shades Metallic Vamp, a silvery purple, and Very Vamp, a deep brown. As with all trends, Vamp’s time in the sun would eventually come to an end. Vamp was given its death sentence in 1997 during the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In a scene, new girl Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is tested for her “coolness” and is questioned by a popular girl about Vamp’s status. “Over?” she asks. “So over,” her schoolmate responds. 

At one point, Vamp was discontinued, then came back later reformulated with a shimmery finish. The Vamp we knew and loved is now sold under its original moniker, Rouge Noir. In 2015, Chanel even celebrated Rouge Noir’s 20th anniversary with a makeup collection called Vamp Attitude, which included eye shadow, two nail polishes, and a Rouge Noir lipstick. With the 30th anniversary just around the corner, I’m crossing my fingers that Chanel has something even bigger planned because the legend that is Vamp—or Rouge Noir—will forever live on. 

Ahead, shop more of our favorite blood-red shades that will make you feel vampy.

Olive and June’s take on cabernet has a gel-like finish and can last up to 10 days.

This dark burgundy comes in a 10-free formula and uses natural ingredients and jojoba, olive, sesame, and rosehip oils to keep nails and cuticles healthy and moisturized.

With Dazzle Dry’s innovative system, a mani can last up to two weeks, while a pedi can last a month or longer (if you get really lazy). If you want something a little different, try the brand’s Merlot with black undertones and a touch of shimmer.

When I watched Don’t Worry Darling, I swore Alice was wearing a Vamp-esque color, but it was actually CND Shellac in Cherry Apple, a deeper red that’s not as dark. However, you can still get a similar shade in CND’s high-resistant, long-lasting formula with Black Cherry.

Didn't know H&M offered chic nail polishes? You do now. 

This fast-drying formula promises a streak-free shine.

This eight-free, cruelty-free, and vegan formula comes in this incredible deep burgundy that will stay chip-free for days.

Opt for this dark red from Sally Hansen for vampy nails in a flash. It’s a three-in-one formula with a built-in base and topcoat, so you’ll have a brand-new mani in just one step.

This rich burgundy has a warm brown undertone and a jelly-like finish. 

You won’t want to return to regular reds and pinks after wearing this stunning, pigmented shade from OPI.

Use two coats of this rich wine for a luxe, glossy finish that will help you invoke your inner goth.

This post was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.