BOSS Series Interview: Dineh Mohajer, Creator of Smith & Cult

Interview with Smith & Cult creator Dineh Mohajer and Hard Candy

This weeks BOSS series features one of my all time beauty hero’s, Dineh Mohajer. She’s the original founder of Hard Candy, back when they had that chic rectangular packaging with a plastic ring on top (I used to wear them on my pinky) and introduced pastel nail polish into the industry. I used to shop them Urban Outfitters in high school and will never forget seeing Alicia Silverstone on the David Letterman show (scroll to 4min 28seconds) rocking her Sky Blue polish and being obsessed!!! Since selling the company she re-entered the nail polish industry starting another iconic nail polish brand Smith & Cult, which has legendary packaging and art direction and has grown it to a full makeup line featuring lips, eyes and face. She is wildly creative (follow her @dinehm and @smithandcultmy), my spirit animal, and can’t be more excited for her to be sharing her awesomeness and advice with us in this weeks BOSS series.

  • How do you describe yourself?

I think my friends would describe me as kind, passionate, cuckoo for cocoa puffs, loving, warm, guilt-ridden, ADHD, germaphobic, neurotic-ish, silly, funny, fun, having good skin, obsessive-compulsive…my husband would use seven words: Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, Sneezy.

  • After you sold Hard Candy, what made you want to jump back into nail polish? And then years later expand into a full makeup line?

I never returned because I never really left. After Hard Candy was acquired by LVMH, my partner from Hard Candy, Jeanne Chavez, and I created, developed and sold another baby, called Goldie, to the Limited Brands. Smith & Cult was just another step in a natural progression for me.

  • How has the industry changed since you launched Hard Candy vs Smith & Cult. What resources make your life easier/harder?

Some aspects have remained identical at the core. The underlying motivation to feel happier, healthier and prettier is still intact. The joy of discovery, experimentation and success regarding product, packaging, imaging, education and branding has also remained the same. Our technological advancement has changed the manner in which we do all this, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. For me, technology has allowed me to better articulate my creative vision more quickly and fluidly. The level of accessibility to an incredible amount of content via Instagram, Facebook and the internet has been a game changer for both the consumer and the brands. The quick and easy access to everything is fantastic, especially for the consumer who lives in a remote area and may not necessarily have the luxury of being exposed to the same things as city folk ;). However, in certain ways many things seem to have become somewhat inauthentic, repetitive, homogenized and oversaturated. That part is kind of a bummer.

  • Can you talk a little bit about the nail polish naming process and how you come up with each collection?

Naming the shades is actually one of my favorite pieces of product development. Each and every one is derived from the chaos in my brain, bizarre characters in my life, or by something that I simply love – it’s all rooted in emotion.

  • What is the #1 underrated shade/product your brand has created?

Not sure…perhaps the base coat (Basis of Everything) and top coat (Above it All) don’t receive enough credit for the critical role they play in assisting the nail lacquer’s longevity due to adherence, intensity of color, exceptional shine and surface strength.

  • What’s the best piece of entrepreneurial advice you have ever received? 

The best style/life/everything advice I’ve ever received is actually quite simple: take care of your foundation. Remain consistent with fitness, skincare, sleep hygiene and healthy eating. Enforcing the boundaries around this self-care will allow me to think clearly and therefore make sound decisions – including of course, business ones. When I follow this advice, life is great, when I don’t, I pay the price.

The piece of advice that I wish someone had given me long before I violated this principle has to do with a zoo analogy. You can play/work with all the animals in the zoo, you just can’t play/work with them in the same manner. Most importantly be vigilant about seeing an animal for the species it is, not the species that you wish it to be.

  • What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.

  • What’s your best time management advice or app/device/book that makes your life easier?

My ability to manage my time effectively is hinged upon taking care of myself.

  • How do you stay creative?

By having fun with friends and family, first and foremost, especially my long-time business-wife Jeanne Chavez. Abandoning inhibitions and decorum is a strong and weak point of mine. It serves me in times of inspired creativity and works against me when it’s inappropriate. Also, taking in art everywhere in every manner, including exhibits, music, film, TV, visual effects, music videos, 3d animation, motion graphics, live performances. I stay curious, and I’m grateful for that. Most of my friends are artists and spending time/connecting with them inspires me deeply. Additionally, I spend an ungodly amount of time working on the computer which allows me access to everything under the sun, so when I curate what I want to see, it leads to inspiration and procrastination.

  • What is your favorite product/shade in the collection and why? 

Our Lash Dance Mascara is my favorite. I love its application and its behavior over time. It’s buildable, non-flaking and has a carbon footprint of zero. I’m overly satisfied with the formula’s performance!

  • What are your go to skincare and beauty products?

I definitely have my basic must-have everyday makeup that are essentials for me: Serge Lutens lip pencil, he only offers one shade, because it’s that perfect. By Terry bronze powder. By Terry waterproof eye pencil, literally the only waterproof pencil that gives you enough time to smudge before it sets, and Cle de Peau concealer. I love my paddle brush for spreading my Armani tinted moisturizer into a seamless, invisible layer.

As far as skincare goes, I feel like I’ve experimented with every product out there, but all the trial and error has led to this precise skincare regimen: In the AM, La Prairie Essential Exfoliator, SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cleanser, SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, 20% glycolic acid cream, Vitamin C topical cream, SkinMedica’s Dermal Repair Cream  Lastly, Armani’s tinted crème with SPF. At night I add swap out the glycolic acid cream with a prescription blend of .1 % Retinoids to the mix. These miracle workers battle to keep my skin as youthful and healthy as possible. The extra bit of pigment that my DNA has provided is also relied upon.

  • Your packaging for Hard Candy and Smith & Cult were both epic, were they your original visions or did they evolve?

Thank you!!!! They were the original versions, with the exception of Hard Candy. At the very beginning of Hard Candy, when I was making the nail lacquer in my college apartment, I used Essie bottles, which at the time had no customized elements. I would dump out half of Essie’s pure white polish and add an electric-blue, almost-fluorescent shade of a some random nail lacquer cheapie-brand and shake, shake, shake it until my arm was tired. When friends would come over to my house they would choke from the fumes, and I would look at them like they were crazy because I was so used to it I didn’t smell anything. About 3 months in, I found a glass supplier that supplied me with what became the final polish packaging. What was great was that the gummy rings fit perfectly on the top of the both the Essie and our final glass bottle.

  • You were my first yellow nail polish, my first baby blue, I used to collect your rings, even though they only fit on my pinky (I bet you get that all the time). What gave you the brilliant idea to add the rings to your bottle?

I was buying a bunch of party supplies for a friend’s birthday party at a huge store called “Party On”, which was on La Cienega at the time smack dab in the middle of West Hollywood. I had this silly idea to make goodie bags loaded with cute little useless kiddie party favors because I spotted a wall full of bulk bins. The rings were in one of the bins and I loved how they were fluorescent. It dawned on me that the ring’s fluorescent shades matched the fluorescent base color of the nail polish mixtures and the next thing I knew I was sliding the rings over the top. It was random, it worked and then it just exploded. It was a stroke of luck, timing, sillyness and inspiration.

  • How do you unwind/relax?

My favorite way to decompress is at home with my massage therapist nicknamed Chee, or watching Hart to Hart or The Love Boat (totally embarrassing, but takes me back to a time when I was a kid and everything was pure splendor – super nostalgic).

  • What are your number one sellers?

The rose gold foil shade called 1972 and the purple-ish pink foil shade called Ceremony of Secrets are our best sellers, the latter receiving an Allure 2018 Best of Beauty award. 1972 was designed by Jeanne and was inspired by my Mother, who delivered me in 1972. The pics of my Mom from back then are so cool. She was super glamorous with a sexy Xanadu vibe, rocking metallic lip gloss, frosted tips and huge wood platforms.

  • Favorite follows for fun? Favorite follows for beauty advice/review.











  • What is the #1 thing you wish consumers knew about Smith + Cult?

I think one of the best things about Smith & Cult is that every aspect of the brand is a reflection of Jeanne and I. Together we just create things that we love and want as beauty junkies. Everything from the formulas, packaging, imaging, film edits, posts, brand identity is born out of our partnership and shared vision.

  • What’s something you’re very proud of?

An enormous high point for me was creating the first ever glitter eye pencil. It had never been done before, so there were no existing regulatory guidelines for safety and testing. Jeanne and I just decided that glitter eye liner would be amazing, went to the lab and requested that they start shoving massive amounts of glitter into the molds. Unfortunately we ruined the machines, but fortunately a star was born.

  • If you weren’t a beauty bad ass, what would you be?

I was a biochemistry major on my way to medical school before I derailed my plans in the 11th hour to accidentally start Hard Candy one summer. I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Oh well, next life perhaps? Upside was no more memorizing hydrocarbon chain reactions.