Dineh Mohajer of Smith & Cult Is In the Hot Seat


Dineh Mohajer is the co-founder and Creative Director of Smith & Cult and her name should be instantly familiar to beauty mavens. She founded Hard Candy in the mid-’90s and the brand soared before being purchased and now sold at Walmart. But Mohajer is back with a new brand that’s hardly Hard Candy’s big sister. It’s way more chic and grown up, but still sexy and way on trend.

Of course we had to invite Mohajer to participate in an In the Hot Seat session to find out the scoop about her current brand, as well as her feelings about the “other” brand she launched sheerly by accident.

BN: What are your favorite Smith & Cult products or colors?
DM: I’m really into a glossy red lip combined with dewy, barely-there makeup because I love the non-harshness of the contrast. The Warning, a cardinal sheer red from Smith & Cult’s The Shining Lip Lacquer collection, is my favorite part of this equation.

BN: What is one S&C product/shade all women need in their handbags?
DM: I’m not sure I would go as far as it being an essential to carry around in one’s handbag, but think a handy (no pun) shade to have in emergencies is Nailed Lacquer in Shattered Souls, a chunky gold glitter suspended in a clear base. It’s a practical solution for a sudden emergency mani need. It’s so easy to haphazardly throw this shade on bare nails for an instantly put together a ‘I didn’t just roll out of bed’ look.

BN: What is one product you didn’t create but love and use daily?
DM: I didn’t create Cle de Peau Beaute Concealer, unfortunately, but I’m eternally thankful to the brilliant mind(s) behind its creation. It’s no shocker that it’s the continued favorite of numerous makeup artists and wins beauty awards every year. It’s like alchemy; it transforms my skin’s imperfections (some of them at least). For me, it’s a total game changer.

BN: Looking back on Hard Candy, which just had it’s 20th anniversary and is obviously a different brand now, what is your favorite memory from that era?
DM: My favorite memory from the Hard Candy era? Can we first chronicle the myriad of disasters? That chapter of my life captures so many breakthroughs and lessons, all seeming to hinge on surreal. I remember random bits here and there – one memory is of watching TV late one night during the early days of the business. Hard Candy’s Sky my first pastel baby blue shade became the topic of conversation between Alicia Silverstone and David Letterman during her reign as the It Girl a la Clueless. The exact bottle she had used was concocted by me earlier that week, ironically while sitting in front of that same television. I had no idea what I was in for. Everyone was calling my college apartment trying to buy polish. I knew it was the beginning of something big. Another memory I have took place mid-acquisition of the brand by LVMH. Bernard Arnault invited me to fly on the Concord to London to be his guest at an Alexander McQueen fashion show. I wasn’t able to make it because of deadlines and work demands. It is something I definitely regret, and for obvious reasons, of course, will never ever be an option again.

BN: Do you ever use any current incarnation Hard Candy products? It’s obviously very different now, and that happens to a lot of cult fave brands, so our readers are curious about how you view things as the person who started it. If you could, and had the opportunity, would you ever repurchase the brand and restore it to what it once was?
DM: I haven’t used current incarnations of Hard Candy products. I’ve evolved in one direction while Hard Candy has done the same, but on a drastically different path. That said, I am proud of having created a brand that went on to selling billions of dollars of products; wow – wish I had gotten a check for that!

When I launched Hard Candy, I had zero intention of creating a legit business. I was simply searching for a way to escape the overwhelming pressure of my biochem/ pre-med curriculum and what began as an effective method of procrastination ended up changing the course of my life and career. Ironically, in the long run, it changed everything with the exception of relieving pressure.

Looking back, as much as my ignorance or naïveté was an impediment to realizing my potential, it was also the thing that allowed Hard Candy to become as successful as it was. By not knowing that creating a multi-million dollar prestige cosmetic brand was an impossible feat, it allowed me to pursue the impossible, ultimately making it possible. For lack of knowing better and understanding boundaries, my fearlessness gave me total freedom to transcend traditional beauty industry ‘rules’ by creating products that hadn’t yet existed. I mixed colors not offered by existing brands, designed unconventional packaging, shade names, and branding. I even pioneered the glitter eye pencil category. All of these accomplishments were a reflection of my unfiltered youth. I grew up with Hard Candy, but have evolved into an adult, living in a completely different world with entirely different preferences. As for now, I’m hyper focused on every creative detail of Smith & Cult’s success. It makes me inspired and fulfilled to live in today and focus on building something fresh and exciting.

BN: Back to S&C, I love how the glosses are presented, with the “Diary” backstory. Can you talk a little more about that?
DM: I think we are all collective beauty junkies, at least to some degree. I find that my experiences in life have been that of a multi-layered polarity, and subsequently all my beauty moments have been as well. By sharing my chronicled beauty junkie memories, through the narrative of my diary, I hope to connect with people who identify with the honest, unedited experiences. All of the diary entries are borrowed moments from my own life and influence every facet of the brand, including color inspiration and shade names. It’s all quite soul baring and absurdly personal.

BN: What is one beauty tip or trick you’d like to share with our readers?
DM: Although I’ve tried every beauty trick/tip/trend in the book, I try not to subscribe to any rules other than to aim to respect my individuality and practice a healthy way of life, with an emphasis on aim. As I grow older and wiser-ish, authenticity and compassion are what I find most captivating in others. I try to surround myself with people and situations that are nourish my foundation. I know it’s a bit corny, let’s blame lack of sleep for that, but it’s what makes me feel like my most confident and beautiful self. Also, sleep! It does wonders for skin, health, mood, and overall well-being. Also, it helps one not fall over dead from exhaustion. I need to get more sleep. Seriously.

BN: What was the impetus to start Smith & Cult? Can you share a little intel about the name?
DM: Smith & Cult was inspired by my addiction to all things beautiful, which has been a constant throughout my life. The brand is representative of where I am today and the experiences that brought me to this point (I hate using the word ‘journey’ but you catch my drift). I came up with the name Smith & Cult during early days of the brainstorming process. I knew that the name had to embody the complexity and duality that we all carry inside of us because that was what the brand was ultimately about. Smith represents the timeless, elegant side of existence whereas Cult stands for the dirtier, more subversive side. This clashing, existential polarity is woven through every fiber of beauty, and thus the brand.

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[…] and nail polish line launched by Dineh Mohajer, the beauty and brains behind Hard Candy. She was In the Hot Seat with us […]

[…] S&C is the not-exactly-new brand of Dineh Mohajer, the makeup maven who founded Hard Candy back in the ’90s. In addition to megawatt shine Lip Lacquers, Smith & Cult also offers super on-trend nail polishes, poured into nifty, round bottles with banged up gold caps. It’s the epitome of tough but chic, edgy yet elegant. The brand toes the line… with absolutely perfect pedi shades. […]


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