Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Inside Dineh's Den at Neiman Marcus, teens like Alanna
Yoshioka, right, sit on colorful inflatable chairs -- some
topped with hot pink faux fur -- to share their thoughts
about makeup, success and life with Hard Candy's
youthful founder Dineh Mohajer.

the ‘Hard’ way

By Nadine Kam
Features Editor


Today's Cinderella is a little different from the one we heard about while growing up. In the modern version of the fairy tale, "Cinderella" doesn't look for a prince to take care of her. Instead, she starts a wildly successful business and travels around the globe, looking good every inch of the way.

"Cinderella? I like that there doesn't have to be a guy," said Hard Candy founder Dineh Mohajer, in town Saturday to meet customers at Neiman Marcus and to show off her newest products.

"It's a Cinderella story in terms of how it happened. It started out of nowhere," she said. "It's crazy. You see all this baggage under my eyes? In the beginning, honestly, there was a time I never left my house. I lost touch with what was going on. I wore the same thing for a month. It was like, Ewww! Sanitize yourself!"

Those who keep up with trends are well acquainted with the prettier side of her story. As legend goes, four years ago Mohajer was a 22-year-old pre-med student in L.A., in search of the perfect blue nail polish at a time when reds were dominant. So, putting her chemistry skills to work for her, she created her own polish.

More important than the product itself, though, she brought major attitude to the then-generally stodgy business of naming colors. In the Hard Candy world, a puke green was dubbed "Shag," and "Gank" is described as a "filthy matte turquoise."

The Fred Segal store picked up Mohajer's first batch of pastels, and from that point on, she had teen-age girls calling her home 24 hours a day in search of the polish.

"We had six lines and the phone would never ring because we had call waiting. Everytime a call ended, you'd go to the next one."

Luckily, she had the help of her family, including her sister Pooneh Mohajer, now the business brains behind the company, and boyfriend Benjamin Einstein. The two have since separated, but remain on good terms and he remains with the company.

Mohajer said her life was hell for a year after Hard Candy's introduction, and didn't start approaching normalcy until she hired a CEO to alleviate some of the burden.

"I don't know what we thought we were doing," she said. Because she had been working so hard, she was unable to work out and gained 35 pounds eating junk food. She "recovered," she said, by lying in bed, breathing deeply for several days, with cucumber slices over her eyes, a kitten on her stomach, and New Age music playing in the background.

Today, there's no hint of her bedraggled past. She's fit and trim, and doesn't look much older than the teens that rush the Hard Candy counter.

Mohajer started her day at Neiman Marcus with breakfast with a group of teens, talking makeup and business. After meeting Mohajer, who describes herself in terms such as "immature" or by blurting, "I'm such a freak!," Kaiser High School senior Cynthia Tsou said, "It's so amazing that someone so ordinary could come up with her own makeup, make it happen.

"Everyone talks about it, but don't do anything. She's kind of like an inspiration."

Mohajer said her business probably would have taken off more smoothly if she had started with a plan, but she said. "I'm not interested in business. I'm interested in creating a product that stimulates me from a fashion and beauty aesthetic.

"I'm not interested in profit and loss statements, and if I were, this business would probably be a lot different."

Today, there are dozens of companies angling for success built on Hard Candy's blueprint of attitude and color. But Mohajer isn't concerned with the competition.

"Maybe I should be," she said. "But to me, it's become less of a struggle. We finally have a full line, so I feel like we're finally in the running with the big guys.

"I feel like we've really made a name for ourselves and we're on a different level from them, all these knock-offs. I don't think they have much staying power."

And there's no sign of stopping her. Hard Candy's newest introductions, transparent, glittery Sonic Gloss ($12) and Glitter Eye powder eye pencils ($17), with glitter incorporated into the crayon, are already hits. As is the "Training Brow" kit ($28), for those who have problems shaping brows.

In the works are a foundation and skin care products, and let's not forget packaging. Hard Candy nail polish always came with plastic rings a girl could wear. Now she offers cosmetic kits with rhinestone barettes or tiaras; some products are packaged with T-shirts and small tote bags.

Yet, Mohajer -- who plans to come back to Hawaii for a vacation soon -- still seems surprised by the force that propelled her to this place in life.

Her voice takes on a wistful tone when she talks about her pre-med days, and she says, "Sometimes I think about it and I don't know what happened. It's all a blur."

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