OPI founder Suzi Weiss Fischmann understood the power of money when she was a child, and we’re not talking frivolities here. Money got her father and mother out of a Communist-regime prison in Hungary numerous times, and money procured the passports that enabled her family to flee to America.
Money allowed Suzi to buy unused clothes for the first time when she was a 15-year-old working at the Dairy Queen in Forest Hills, and it allowed her brother-in-law George Schaeffer to sell his undergarment business and purchase a dental-products company in a California strip mall in 1982. Suzi followed and joined the company.
Of the many items that Ondontorium Products, Inc., sold, a dental adhesive seemed to garner a rather unusual consumer: nail technicians.
“It turned out that dentures and artificial nail extensions shared a very similar chemistry,” Suzi writes in her memoir, I’m Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry. “We knew nothing about artificial nails, but we knew we’d identified an opportunity in the market that was ripe for the taking.”
After doing a deep dive in the acrylic-nail world, she and Schaeffer developed a new, less damaging, and quicker-to-dry nail-adhesive system, then dropped off the trio of products to dozens of nail salons on Ventura Boulevard.
By 1987, the company, whose name had been trimmed to OPI, was the No. 1 nail-salon brand. Nevertheless, Suzi was already conjuring up nail-polish shades.
Two years later, OPI debuted its first color collection. While most polishes at the time bore names like Red No. 4 or Pink No. 3, Suzi grabbed that white space (again) and slapped playful names onto hers, inspired by geographical destinations like Rome or the Tropics, and sprinkling them with puns, like I Cannoli Wear OPI and Taupe-less Beach.
“We never took ourselves too serious,” she writes of the small team, culled from various departments at the company, who came up with the names with her. “Part of the overall vision was that we wanted to make people happy. The lacquer names inevitably bring a smile to peoples’ faces.”
Which is something Suzi does naturally. She might have a Margaux 15 satchel from the Row hanging from her arm, but she’s as down-to-earth and goofy as she was the first day I met her nearly 30 years ago. And without fail, every collection has had at least one name that made me fall off my chair.
In 2010 she and Schaeffer sold OPI to Coty for a reported billion dollars, a first back then. She remains an active consultant, fortunately, for those of us who appreciate a good pun.
She spoke with the Cut about her favorite beauty products, the one word she can’t stop using, and the nail-polish trends of the future.
What’s your definition of beauty? Beauty consists of inner and outer beauty, with inner beauty just as important as outer beauty. When you’re beautiful inside, it shines on the outside.
I think about _____ a lot: Color. I’ve always had a keen eye and love for color and have so many memories surrounding color. Also, my family. My family and my business are everything.
What beauty product still needs to be invented? I’d love to be able to preview beauty looks with a sophisticated platform so I could see exactly how something looked before getting my hair and makeup done. I’d love to have this be accessible for personal use, perhaps on a handheld mirror or a more advanced app.
What is your morning beauty routine? I wash my face in the shower with cold water only, then I apply moisturizer, eye cream, and a thin coat of tinted moisturizer.
What’s the last beauty product you use every night? Sisley L’Integral Anti-Age Serum.
What aspect of your beauty routine tends to be neglected? I never do masks.
Mascara of choice: Clé de Peau Perfect Lash Mascara.
Blush of choice: Clé de Peau Cream Blush.
What do you line your eyes with? Chanel Le Crayon.
Bath or shower? Shower with Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash.
Shampoo/Conditioner of choice: Moroccanoil Color Continue.
Most relied on hairstyling product and/or tool: Dyson blow-dryer. It’s amazing.
What, if anything, is usually on your lips? Chapstick always, and Charlotte Tilbury Lipstick in Pillow Talk.
What shade, if any, is usually on your toes and/or hands? OPI Malaga Wine.
What was your first beauty-product obsession? When I was 10 years old, I found a can of hair spray at home and started using it. The way it held hair in place just fascinated me! I started teasing my mom’s hair, and the hair spray would make it stick.
Work shoe of choice: The Row slingbacks with a kitten heel.
Weekend shoe of choice: Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes.
What is your classic uniform? A white blouse with pants or a skirt and a belt.
What do you splurge on? Eyeglass frames.
What do you scrimp on? Valet parking.
Any hidden or secret talent or skill you possess? I can organize anything.
If you could have one ridiculous indulgence, what would it be? Ice cream — I would love to enter an ice-cream-eating contest!
Last great book you read? Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry.
What do you disagree with others about? The importance of writing personal notes.
What word do you overuse? Fuck.
What do you think Pantone’s color of 2020 should be and why? It’s going to be all about an aqua-blue or sea-blue color because water is so important. It’s vital to life. If everyone had access to clean water, it would eliminate so much disease in the world.
Most impressive dish you make: Roasted chicken. Being Hungarian, we put paprika on everything. It adds a nice flavor, but, more important, it’s all about the rich, beautiful color it gives the chicken. I also add lots of herbs and garlic. I add garlic to everything.
How do you like your bed? I like a firm mattress with Sferra linens.
What is the opposite of beautiful? Sad. Unkind.
Please share a moment from your career that touched you. I was interviewed by a student at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. She said she had grown up with her mother and grandmother using OPI, and their shared favorite color was I’m Not Really a Waitress. And she was wearing that same shade decades later.
What do you want? I want peace in the world. Also a little less social media. I think it has taken over so many peoples’ lives; we forget to interact with people, face-to-face or even over the phone, and to enjoy important moments without distraction.
What do you foresee as the top beauty trends for the remainder of 2019? Tie-dye is such a huge trend, and that will translate to a gradation of color on nails. Negative space continues to be a big trend in nails, and pearlescence is huge across fashion and beauty, from shimmery, sheer fabrics to glow-y face highlighters. We’ll start to see it take a new, exciting form on nails.
What product is currently your favorite and why? I’m Not Really a Waitress, of course. I’ve always been a fan of red lacquer, and I spent a lot of time perfecting this shade to look good on all skin tones.