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Hard Candy Takes a Back-to-Basics Approach to Beauty

NEW YORK — When Wende Zomnir took over duties as creative director of Hard Candy in the spring of 2003, the brand had lost its original luster. “When [Dineh Mohajer] founded Hard Candy, it was so right on, and then it lost its way,”...

NEW YORK — When Wende Zomnir took over duties as creative director of Hard Candy in the spring of 2003, the brand had lost its original luster. “When [Dineh Mohajer] founded Hard Candy, it was so right on, and then it lost its way,” said Zomnir. “It was trying to be something it wasn’t, it was trying to be edgy like Urban Decay, rather than girly, fun and cool.”

“Girly, fun and cool” are words the founding partner and creative director of the more “edgy” Urban Decay brand often uses in describing the direction she’s taking Hard Candy, which was purchased in 1999 by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton from Mohajer and then sold to Miami-based Falic Group in 2002. But in the last two years, Zomnir has not swayed from her vision of bringing the brand back to its roots, resulting in strong growth for the company, which posted retail sales of about $10 million in 2003 and is expecting to double that number for 2005.

As part of that back-to-basics strategy, and in honor of the brand’s 10th anniversary, Zomnir will reintroduce Sky nail polish, a baby blue color that helped launch the brand in 1995, in addition to five other colors (Frigid, a sheer light blue; Jailbait, a lavender shade; Pussy Kat, a sparkly pink; Tantrum, a shimmery lime, and Trailer Trash, a gunmetal silver) to Hard Candy counters in June. The move is a bit of an homage to Mohajer, who used her premed chemistry knowledge in 1995 to create the blue hue, hoping to match her nails to a pair of strappy blue heels. In addition, the revamped polishes are packaged in the brand’s original square bottle and feature the original simple jelly rings — minus the jewel that has been included on the ring as of late — on the bottle’s cap.

“It’s an iconic item that made such an impact on the whole industry,” said Zomnir of the decision to return to the original packaging. Over the years, the bottle had morphed into a slimmer, more rectangular shape. “When we started pulling out vintage product to get inspiration, everyone kept saying how much they loved it.” However, nail polish formulas and colors were updated from more opaque pastels to sheer, iridescent colors, in line with today’s trends.

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Of course, Zomnir’s changes to the brand have not always been homage-inspired, such as the complete packaging overhaul, price point slashing and the discontinuation of more than 80 percent of Hard Candy’s original stockkeeping units. “We felt like the retail pricing was too high for Hard Candy’s customer,” said Zomnir, who describes the brand’s core user as “young, gorgeous and sophisticated at the same time.”

A more streamlined approach to the brand’s packaging and the decision to do away with more “trendy” items, according to Zomnir, have resulted in about 64 percent growth for the brand since she took over. “The first step was to focus on what the brand looked like with the new packaging and to try and keep it really consistent,” she said. “Now we’re going to have more fun and be a little more playful with the brand — sassier and saucier.”

Zomnir said this more “playful” side is evident in new items such as the Lollipop Lip Gloss, a $6 item that will launch in June and features a — you guessed it — lollipop shape and candy-inspired plastic wrapping. “We try to have a fun grab-and-go item that’s priced under $10,” she said. This spring, the brand also will launch several other items, including Training Brow Eyebrow Pencil and Gel, a $10, double-ended product, and a $12 Candy Coating Lip Gloss, which features pen-like packaging. In addition, bringing back color names such as Pussy Kat and Jailbait while doing away with some of the more shocking names is another tactic to keep things young and fun without going overboard, according to Zomnir. “I don’t think we could get away with Pimp or Porno anymore,” she said, referring to some former color names.

Today, Hard Candy is sold in Ulta, select Nordstrom stores and Sephora, and continues to be a strong performer in the latter retailer, according to Betsy Olum, senior vice president of marketing for Sephora. “It’s doing very well,” said Olum. “The success [of the brand] is driven in large part by their consistency — in the branding of the products, in their uniqueness at a good price point. Hard Candy targets a younger client, and it’s nice to see that their products and pricing reflect that.”

Olum added that a palette from the brand, called The Lunch Box, which includes lip, eye and face products, continues to do “very well” since its launch over the holiday season, and that Hard Candy’s palettes in general have been “among our top-selling palettes in the month of February.”

Olum’s enthusiasm gives Zomnir all the reason to be very optimistic about the brand’s continued success. “The future is limitless,” she said. “I’m just really excited to put out a complete line for young women, created [with] them in mind.”