Even if you don't recognize the name Dineh Mohajer, you either wore or lusted after her iconic '90s nail-polish label Hard Candy. I remember flipping through an issue of Seventeen and coming across an image of five bottles of nail polish, all in dreamy pastel shades that were definitely not available at the local Walgreens. The best part? That each bottle came with a little plastic ring that perfectly complemented the polish.
While I was never able to get my hands on one of those colors, I soon began experimenting with (and getting into trouble at my conservative Catholic school for) wearing the strange polish shades that were available only during Halloween, mostly blues and blacks. I'm not saying Hard Candy is the root of my nail-polish obsession, but one need only take a look at the number of pastel teals, purples, and nude shades currently inside my refrigerator (I don't know, I read once that they last longer if they're refrigerated, so that's where they live) to know that it had to come from somewhere.
As the legend goes, Dineh, who was then a premed student, mixed these iconic colors by herself at home, buying tons of white Essie nail polish to mix with whatever neon colors she found at her beauty-supply store. That's how a line, and eventually a whole movement, was born. The shades, with names like Sky, Violet, and Coconut, were a big part of the pastel craze that enveloped the '90s. It makes sense, then, that it was Alicia Silverstone, our patron saint of '90s nostalgia, who helped make the brand a household name when in 1995 she appeared on the David Letterman show sporting Hard Candy's pale-blue Sky on her toes (of course Letterman noticed, and of course he commented). The rest is, beauty history.
Now helming a new label called Smith & Cult, Dineh is still very much entrenched in the industry that she helped innovate. We spoke over the phone about the realities behind starting a business at home, dubious hiring practices, and why partnering up can often be the best road to success.
Laia Garcia: Can you tell me a bit about your first experiences with beauty products or rituals?
Dineh Mohajer: My first experience was watching my mom put on eye shadow and then me trying to do the same thing, but obviously it looked scary on me. It was like 27 different colors that she wore, and I was probably putting them in the wrong place. Later, when I was five or six, I was playing with nail polish on my bedspread, and I dripped it everywhere. We were selling our house and having an open house, and I sat on my yellow bedspread when the people came in to look at the house, to hide the stains. Which, like, why would they have ever noticed or cared? They did not care for my bedspread. [Laughs.]
LG: I want to talk about Hard Candy, because it started a completely new trend. Not only with nontraditional nail-polish colors, but also the trend of weird and descriptive nail-polish names.
DM: That's 100 percent true. Sometimes I feel like this happened to me, as opposed to me actively doing something, like I was on this roller-coaster ride that I had no control over, but it started with me. It took on a life of its own so quickly. Nobody had those colors, and nobody had names like that. Nobody had packaging. I was 21, and when you're young, you do shit that's not like anybody else. You take risks because you don't know any better.