By  on October 19, 2006

LOS ANGELES — No one can accuse Napoleon Perdis of lacking ambition.

In less than two years, the 35-year-old Australian makeup artist of Greek descent shepherded his cosmetic products into the U.S. market, surged up north with a Canadian launch in department store chain The Bay and is now planting four concept stores in California.

And he's not stopping there: Five more are planned for the West Coast next year.

"The great thing about the U.S. was that it encouraged entrepreneurs," said Perdis. "Companies like Estée Lauder were started by one woman. It all happened in her lifetime. The reality is that everything is achievable in your lifetime."

Perdis' first locations are in Topanga, Century City, San Francisco and Hollywood, where a 4,000-square-foot flagship will boast both retail space and a makeup academy. Openings began last month and will continue through January.

"The consumer here needs to see you in multiple places so they understand you are a player," said Perdis. "It is strategic to make sure that the consumer can be introduced in different entry points."

Like his energetic personality, the design of Perdis' stores, which cost an average of $500,000 each to build, is not subtle. Walls are covered in thick black-and-white stripes; items from Perdis' personal collection including vintage lamps and wool rugs foster a boudoir feel, and a large hanging chandelier recalls mid-century style. Perdis describes the look as "Dorothy Draper meets European baroque.

"You get a complete textural experience," he said. "The reason why I love Dorothy Draper is because it was at a time in America when everything was designed. She would go from the black-and-white wallpaper to the napkin to the menu of services right through to the knife and fork."

In 2007, Perdis predicts North American revenues — including sales at his concept stores, at least 16 Saks Fifth Avenue doors and 50 The Bay doors — will amount to $10 million. For the fiscal year ended in June, Perdis reported Napoleon Perdis Cosmetics racked up $65 million in Australia and New Zealand, where there are 52 stand-alone stores. Perdis co-owns the company with his brother Emmanuel.In addition to building the retail and wholesale sides of his firm, Perdis hopes to spread some influence by training makeup artists. In its first year, about 800 artist hopefuls will pay anywhere from $900 to $8,000 to enroll in the new Hollywood makeup academy, Perdis pro­jects. He estimates 3,000 students will attend his five Australian campuses this year, and graduates constitute about half of the country's makeup artists.

Perdis criticized U.S. makeup artist education as inconsistent and said artists in the U.S. often overdo cosmetics because their training was developed in the era of black-and-white movies. His beauty message to Americans is less is more, especially in the age of high-definition television when heavy makeup cannot be concealed.

"Americans use more product on their face with the same result that Australians get with less product," Perdis said. "My philosophy is if your forehead is good, then don't over makeup your forehead."

Perdis has some groundwork to lay here before Americans adopt his philosophy. Marie Mason, owner of Santa Monica, Calif., store Marie Mason Apothecary and a former buyer for Fred Segal, indicated his brand is not widely known. She said she's run across just a "couple of makeup artists" and "supersavvy Vogue-reading customers" who recognize the brand.

That's not stopped Mason from being convinced Perdis is on to something. Her apothecary has become one of the selected stores other than Saks in the U.S. to carry cosmetics by Perdis, which mostly retail for $18 to $50. Mason likens it to a streamlined Nars. "You can buy the line from top to bottom: powder, a brush, a liner, a mascara, eye shadows," she said. "It is a convenient, one-stop thing."

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