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Few beauty brands command as big a cult following as OPI, industry leader and one of the most visible nail care lines. With three decades of innovation in color and technology, the California-based company has founder, executive vice president, and artistic director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann to thank for its blockbuster hues (like moody, purple "Lincoln Park After Dark" or shimmery red "I'm Not Really a Waitress").
Weiss-Fischmann, affectionately called "The First Lady of Nails," spoke in Waltham last week at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies' Annual Pomegranate Society & Friends event, where several hundred Boston area women assembled to hear her entrepreneurial story. While she was in town, we spoke with the industry veteran about OPI's philanthropic mission, how social media and fashion affect nail trends, and what goes down in the conference room when her team names each polish.
How does speaking at the Pomegranate Society and Friends event here in Boston tie into OPI's philanthropic mission?
My father always said "When you give, you get." I have always lived my life to that and OPI has the same culture. It is important to have many causes. What I can do with OPI may not be millions of dollars, but I can put a message in a bottle. It has become such a huge part of social culture that it really touches women's lives in a familiar aspect. I was the first to create a color for lung cancer, realizing that many women die from it without having ever smoked, and of course breast cancer, as well as the American Heart Association. OPI is a great messenger. In my personal life I practice the same thing. My parents are Holocaust survivors, my mother is 91. All this ties me to the Jewish community and I always try to make time when I'm asked to tell my story.
How do you think your family history influenced your drive to become such a renowned businesswoman?
I have a unique upbringing. We left Hungary, lived in Israel for a few years, then immigrated to the United States. It's very difficult. You don't have friends, you get made fun of, you have a different accent. People ask me what was your drive, and I say "I was hungry." I come from a loving, warm family but we did things on our own. Whatever I did, I had to go out and work. That was my biggest drive. As far as Judaism and my family, my children know that they have to tell the story of their grandmother because her generation is dying. All of these things are part of our make up. I try to help as many people as possible.
OPI has weathered many nail trends. What is the next big thing for nails?
The consumer is always looking for self expression. We do see a huge surge in treatment products because the consumer is looking for wellness, even in nails. They are looking for new treatments. The average consumer has 50 to 100 bottles of nail polish; she used to buy ten, maybe now she's buying two. There is a pullback with color but it's still a huge service in the salon and the consumer is still interested. Nail art connects people, especially the younger generation. The thing that's fueling that the most is social media.
OPI nails from RISD-grad Lindsey Degen's FW 2014 show; via
How do you think blogging and social media shaped the current nail industry?
I always say it connects women who do not speak the same language. I am fascinated. I don't know if I will ever catch up.
And during the recession nail polish became a very accessible luxury for people who wanted to stay up on trends.
It takes you into the world of aspiration, no matter what socioeconomic level you are.
You have a background in the New York garment industry. How did that influence your journey into beauty, and now that beauty is such an important part of the runway, how do you translate it back to fashion?
I was always interested in fashion, decorating, and color. I think things changed as far as nail trends are concerned when fashion embraced nails. Five, six years ago you never saw nail color on the runway; now you see nail designs that coordinate with the trims and fabrics of that particular designer's show. It's an accessory.
OPI does so much collaboration. Have you had a particular favorite one?
They're all my favorite. I try to touch every aspect of social culture. I have a broad spectrum of who I collaborate with: We just announced Coca Cola, we have the fiftieth anniversary of Ford Mustang. There's a whole aura about OPI that's bigger than the sum of any of its parts.
How do you know if a trend is going to stick?
You take chances in business every day. I really go with my gut feel. Of course I look at trends out of Milan and Paris, textures, fabrics, what society is wanting. Whether you're in fashion or package design or home furnishing, you look at trends at translate them to your own industry.
Colors from OPI's recent Brazil collection; via
Tell us about your infamous "punny" polish naming process.
I create all the polishes and there are about six of us who name them. It's a fun group. We sit in a room, have a collection theme (usually a geographic location), and we always eat food that's representative of that country. We love to eat and we love to travel, in that order.
You've said your favorite color is OPI Red…
I love red in general. It's very Hollywood, glamorous, sexy. But today I wear all colors. Anything goes.
Finally, are your wardrobe and home as colorful as your nails?
You would not believe it—my wardrobe consists mostly of black. I see color and work with it all day, so I'm very basic as far as my wardrobe and house are concerned. But there are pops of color.
· Boston's 38 Essential Spots to Shop All Things Beauty [Racked Boston]
· OPI [Official Site]