Quick poll: What were you (or are you) doing at age 22? Me, I was debating between taking a job at Highlights for Children or a technical writing position at a software company. (I didn't choose Highlights.) Dineh Mohajer, on the other hand, as a biochemistry student, no less, was in the middle of launching a major trend in the beauty world--one that's still holding on today--with the creation of the nail polish/beauty brand Hard Candy in 1995.
It's hard to imagine, given the enormity of today's nail market, that there was a time when colors like lime green and baby blue simply weren't available. Hard Candy, with its rainbow palette and ring-adorned caps, was truly innovative when it launched--and a major success: By the time the brand was acquired by LVMH in 1999, it was generating $10 million in revenue.
Mohajer eventually parted ways with LVMH, and went on to helm other interesting beauty projects, like Goldie, which was sold at Bath & Body Works. Now, there's Smith & Cult, a nail polish collection that gets its inspiration from music, fashion, and whatever else captures her attention. It's familiar territory for Mohajer, but this time she's approaching it from a wiser place.
"What did I want to do differently this time? I know what, I wanted to make money," she laughs. "I was 22 [when Hard Candy launched], I did everything wrong. Everything was wrong back then. The only thing that was right was that I followed my instincts and what I was developing, and stayed true to that."
Smith & Cult's range is well-rounded--creamy neutrals, shiny brights, all manner of blues, and the right amount of sparkles. "The formula is 5-free, but I also didn't want [that] to compromise the performance, so I went far with it. When you use the base and top coat together, Basis Of Everything and Above It All, they're designed chemically so that they act like a lock and key." she says. "As far as the colors, it's difficult to narrow down exactly what you want, so I started by finding the perfect shade from each color family."
And then there are the names, some of the most unusual that I've ever run across in an industry that prides itself on insane polish names: Cut The Mullet, City Of Compton, Gay Ponies Dancing In The Show. "Maybe the names are a big part of it. Maybe that's why the colors speak to you."
So I asked her to gave me the backstory on four of my favorite Smith & Cult shades:
Kings & Thieves is an ink-blue shade that can transform gloom into ethereal lightness. I picture Cecelia Lisbon, the bravest of the five sisters in the The Virgin Suicides (film, not book) unexpectedly pairing Kings & Thieves with her soft pink lips and rosy cheeks in a ghostly blown-out photo, during a sun-flared autumn day.
Bitter Buddhist is an opaque, celadon green inspired by a book signing I once attended. Yes, it was self-help. Yes, I read it because I was devastated after a breakup, which of course ended up being a blessing in disguise. Yes, I am a living, breathing, walking cliche. I stood behind this woman in line who immediately started talking to me. She was recently divorced, in her late 30s and starting a new life as a “practicing Buddhist.” Right before her turn, some young, pixie-like girl in a vintage green jumpsuit (same St. Germain one I wore an entire summer when I was 12) and muted avocado-green nails cut in front of her. The Zen lady went ballistic on the little dodo. Admittedly, the entertainment of it all superseded my heartbreak grief. Without even reading a word it was a very effective a book.
Tenderoni is my pal Ezra's signature color: an opaque taupe brown with a touch of warmth. Head to toe in the hue, he channels a 1970s hipster version of Ice-T. Although it’s 2015 now and his grandparents own The Beverly Hunt Club, his favorite song is Ice-T’s original version of "99 Problems" (pre-Jay-Z; this was from Ice-T's 1993 Home Invasion album ) and he refers to his boo as "Tenderoni." I pray he never changes.
Dirty Baby is silver glitter suspended in an obsidian base. This textural yet smooth and glossy shade adds shine and glitz (hate that word, but it’s accurate) to a staple look: smoky eye/heavy lid (preferably day-old), perfectly messy hair, and a dark and stormy vibe.
Smith & Cult is available online, polishes are $18.
- Who out there remembers the original Hard Candy? Sky 4-eva!
- Are you 22? What are you up to in your life?
- What indie polish brands are you feeling right now?