Created by beauty veteran Dineh Mohajer, Smith & Cult is a popular brand known for its nail lacquer products. Prior to founding Smith & Cult, Dineh had reached prominence with the brand Hard Candy, which she had started as a hobby while completing her senior year as a pre-med biochemistry student at the University of Southern California. Hard Candy had seemingly taken off overnight after Alicia Silverstone had worn the brand’s baby blue nail polish on a Late Show With David Letterman appearance in 1995.
Smith & Cult recently expanded beyond nail polish, moving into the eye makeup realm. Its new eye collection — which includes four eyeshadow quads, three liquid liners and one mascara — is called the Book Of Eyes. Long-time fans of Smith & Cult’s nail polishes, however, will be delighted to know that Fall 2016 also brings two new shades of lacquers (Darjeeling Darling and 1972).
Downtown caught up with Dineh to learn more about Smith & Cult’s recent expansion and also what keeps her going as an entrepreneuer. She can be followed directly on Twitter, while Smith & Cult — which Dineh runs with partner Jeanne Chavez — is online at www.smithandcult.com.
When Downtown interviewed you a little over a year ago, you said that the then-very-new Smith & Cult was inspired by your “addiction to beauty.” Was there a specific person that inspired your passion for the field?
Dineh Mohajer: My earliest childhood memories all center around me playing with my mom’s massive collection of makeup and being completely enamored by the colors, cremes, compacts and magic of it all. I guess my mom is the one who inspired my lifelong addiction to beauty.
You created your previous brand Hard Candy while in college. Where did your entrepreneurial spirit first come from?
DM: I would pin the birth of my entrepreneurial spirit on starvation for a creative outlet for my love of all things beauty. When I first created Hard Candy, it was purely a survival mechanism and way to escape the stressful reality of my pre-med curriculum. Since I wasn’t actually trying to create a business, I was free to transcend traditional beauty constraints. What began as a fun little passion project gave me the freedom to concoct never-seen-before products and express myself.
Having had such early success with Hard Candy, was there any hesitation in trying to create another brand?
DM: I never thought that my random urge to mix shades to match my nails would result in a baby blue nail lacquer that essentially launched my career and drastically changed the course of my life and the beauty industry. I’ve accumulated infinitely more experiences in the past 20 years in this industry. I think that the unexpected success of Hard Candy only fueled my love for the work I do. Without hesitation I jumped into creating my new brand Smith & Cult, it is a reflection of my experiences past and present.
How did you and your partner Jeanne Chavez first meet? What was it that really brought you two together?
DM: Jeanne and I initially met during the Hard Candy era and were introduced by a cosmetic buyer who thought we were like-minded. At the time, I was overworked and overwhelmed by my new business. At our first meeting we struck a handshake deal and that along with our mutual passion — bordering on obsession — for the beauty world has remained the same throughout the course of our 20-year partnership. Jeanne is the yin to my yang. We could not be more different, but I think that’s why our collaboration is effective. I bring “mad scientist” and creativity to the table, while she brings her business sense and ability to execute our vision.
How would you describe Smith & Cult to someone that hasn’t yet tried the products?
DM: I am driven by creating things I would want to use myself. I would say our products are ultra-luxurious, made from the finest ingredients. Our formulas are elevating the levels of environmental consciousness for beauty brands; the nail lacquer is 8-free and the current standard for most luxury beauty brands is 5-free. Also, our lip lacquer formulas are vegan, gluten, paraben-free.
Do you have a favorite Smith & Cult product?
DM: My favorite Smith & Cult products are constantly in flux. However, today I am loving Book Of Eyes, our new eye quad palette. Soft Shock, which is amazing for achieving a super sexy not-trying-too-hard- smoked-eye.
What is the source of inspiration for the brand’s name?
DM: In a late-night brainstorming session, I had with myself in bed, it became clear to me that the name of this collection had to embody the complexity and duality that we each carry. Smith represents the timeless, refined side whereas Cult stands for the dirtier, more subversive side. This clashing, existential polarity is woven through every fiber of the brand.
Are you a fan of The Smiths? Or the band The Cult?
DM: I do like listening to The Smiths when I am feeling nostalgic or hormonal.
How did Smith & Cult wind up with its products sold at Saks stores so early on?
DM: My partner, Jeanne Chavez, knew and worked with Steve Bock, the Executive VP of Saks, back in her La Prairie days — pre-Hard Candy. Steve has been wonderful to us over the years and has been a fan/supporter of our brands. He also brought us to Sephora when it launched in the U.S.
What’s coming up for Smith & Cult in the near-future?
DM: I’m super-excited to share our new eye collection launching this year as well as two new nailed lacquer shades; a rose gold foil called “1972” and a new matte top coat called Flatte that will transform any shade in your current collection.
When not busy with Smith & Cult, how do you like to spend your free time?
DM: Free time? I have no idea what that means, but it sounds magical. I wish I was better at creating more of a balance, but I don’t really know how to work any other way, but it’s something I am working on — that sounds counterintuitive.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
Finally, Dineh, any last words for the kids?
DM: Live authentically, express yourself with reckless abandon, and be kind — especially to yourself.