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Women Making History: Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

suzi weiss fischmann interview
Who else could have possibly earned the title “First Lady of Nails” but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann? As Artistic Director of worldwide tip favorite OPI, Suzi single-handedly creates every shade of OPI polish based on the season’s trends. It’s a position that requires intensive fashion and beauty forecasting and a true love and understanding of color. Think it’s just a coincidence that everyone on the runway is wearing just the right shade of dark blue (try Road House Blues) or nude (San Tan-Tonio)? Suzi is at the forefront of fashion and color trends; magazine editors call on her for insights on next season’s color selections. Maintaining the idea that nails are an integral part of fashion, Suzi has upheld OPI’s well-deserved reputation as the premiere nail lacquer for both salons and consumers. We are honored to have had the chance to speak with the First Lady…

What woman besides your mother or grandmother do you find inspirational?

I always say the average woman is my muse since nail color really transcends any age or socioeconomic level. It’s really that affordable luxury to go from a very young age to my mom. I have a daughter who’s 18 so certainly she’s an influence for me in that age group, but I really look at every age. I love seeing, and people are going to love to see, women on the street. The best part of it is today, everybody wears nail color. Its amazing! I was just coming back on a flight from London. There’s a lot of hours and I walked a little bit of that, and all the women, they wear nail color. Its fabulous!

How did you get your start in the cosmetics industry?

Well one of the founders of OPI, it is a family business, he actually started in the dental supply business in the early 80s. They started the company in ’81. In the early 80s, artificial nail extensions, what was called acrylic, was very very popular. We were located in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, and there were, I mean there still are but even more than, salons. There were two or three at every block . We took three products, its very similar to making dentures the acrylic, the monomer, the polymer, and the adhesive agents that reacted to a rubberband. We called it the rubberband special. We dropped it off at every salon and the nail techs loved it. Then we were making products for salons, so when you went to a salon you got a service with OPI. The company was growing rapidly, so we realized we need to get to the consumer. In 1989 we really re-branded the nail polish category. Before, it was Revlon Professional with the #1 product and it had no personality. It was Red 7, Mauve 21, Blue 36. It was just something used in the salon. We made nail polish sexy, we made it fun, we gave it personality, we made it aspirational. I always like to compare it to Starbucks. All of a sudden even coffee became an experience, and then nail polish became an experience. It really changed how women think about polish and then the fashion industry says, ‘Oh wow, it is an accessory.’ I was saying for years ‘it is an accessory, it finishes a look.’ Now, you don’t see a model without nail color on the runway.

OPI is definitely a leader as far as the color trends. How do you choose the different palettes for each season?

Each season, inspiration is a geographic location, but I look at trend predictions that come from Milan and Paris probably two years out. Before each seasonal collection you kind of see an importance of color that society is trending as far as our moods and our changes. I always say, ‘Do we want to go to the moon, or do we want to become farmers?’ Do we want to go back to nature? Do we want the softness? The comfort? Or do we want to be in very structured clothes? It shows important colors. Everybody in the industry, whether you’re in packaging, furniture, or clothing, they kind of look at this and they translate it to their own specific niche. I travel a lot, and I look at how geographically things would work as far as trends and fashion. I mean, for Spring it’s the Holland Collection and people ask me why I chose Holland. I say it’s a small country with a lot of diversity. Fashion is very diverse. You have the neutral tones, the safari looks, the bright shades, the coral, the orange which is a huge trend shade. I mean there is so much going on in fashion, you kind of style it and individualize the look, and Holland just made sense. We have a color called ‘Do You Have a Herring Problem?’ Its kind of this blueish grey color that was the skin of the Herring. Inspiration came from the fishing villages in Holland. Inspiration can come from anywhere really which is the fun part of it.

OPI is also just as well-known for the unique names of the polishes.

Yes. There’s about six crazy people over at OPI. I am one of them, and after I select the geographic location I create the shades and then the six of us sit in a room for about six to eight hours and we just go crazy. There’s always food. We always eat something that’s representative. Holland, of course, was Gouda cheese. No drinking. And we come up with names. We play on cities, on a river, on a street, on a whatever is famous for that country.

Do you have any favorite polish names?

I always say they’re all my favorite. They’re like daughters to me. They’re great, I mean I love all of them. ‘Do You Have a Herring Problem’ I came up with. ‘My Chihuahua Bites,’ that was for the Mexico collection. They’re all really fun.

suzi weiss fischmann

Just going back to what you were saying earlier about the popularity of nail polish, it seems that the popularity has increased especially in the past few years. Having the latest nail color is almost as important as having the latest ‘it’ bag. Why do you think all of a sudden it became so popular and do you think that it will maintain its popularity as an accessory? Or do you think that its a trend and may dip and then come back up again?

I really feel that it’s gonna stay. For the next three to five years I think the popularity will remain. For $20 you can buy a few bottles which is really great, and it does make a difference in your look. I mean having nail polish on your nails kind of gives you that look, and as I said fashion really embraced it as an accessory and I think that was a very important thing. So not only is it an affordable luxury, but if fashion says it is an accessory you know it is. This generation loves nail color and it’s something that anybody can wear. If you wear blue lipstick people will say things, but if you wear blue nail polish it will look good. Adele at the Grammys wore blue nail polish. It was amazing. And you can change it, you’re not committed. You can change it as much as you like. You can wear blue one day, red the next day, green the following, etc. And its fun. And also technology has evolved in nail polish like nothing else in beauty. It glitters, shimmers, shatters. You can make it look three dimensional, or creamy, or anything else. I think it really brought it to the forefront. People expect things now from nail polish, and the consumer loves it. She can’t get enough of it.

Going to the technological development, is there anything new on the horizon that OPI is working on?

Well there’s always some new things. I really can’t discuss it, but in 2013 we’ll have some really fun things. So perhaps by the end of this year we can see how to put them into the market, but there’s always the colors, new particle size glitter or shimmer that kind of make nail color look completely different. Or these great top coats you can put over it, but there will be some other newness that’s coming out. I mean shatter was an incredible phenomenon. You saw nail art happen in front of your eyes in seconds.

I know that in addition to nail polish there’s also a growing popularity of nail stickers where you don’t even have to polish your nails, you just put a sticker on your nail.

Again, nail art is huge. I mean its like tattoos have become a part of mainstream. Again, those little sticker things you can have a lot of fun with nail art. People do one finger nail polish and then they do four with stickers. It’s all about individualizing your look. All these things allow young people to do that.

Does OPI have any plans on going into the nail sticker market?

Yes, we are. We are actually going to be launching it coming April.

Oh excellent! That’s very exciting.

We’ll have twelve or fourteen designs. I should know this, but we work so far ahead sometimes I don’t even know what day it is.

OPI has worked with some really great companies from Dell computers to films that are coming out like ‘The Muppets’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ How do these partnerships come about?

Dell came to OPI and they really wanted to personalize laptops and they realized how important nail color to women is, because it like empowers them, and they said we perfected this method of matching and recording your nails through email. As far the studios and these collaborations, I always look for different things to excite consumers. OPI is known and we are located in LA and the studios know us. These movie opportunities are presented to us from Disney to Dreamworks to Sony. I’m very lucky to be able to have choices.

Are there any companies that you would love to work with that you haven’t yet worked with?

Naturally, I’m always looking for the next hot celebrity. I feel blessed to be able to have so many opportunities to collaborate.

Going to Nicole by OPI, it seems like it’s OPI’s little sister.

It used to be the step-sister, but boy she’s getting stronger. She’s no longer the step-sister. In 2012, you’ll see that just starting now in March we have many more doors that we opened. With the Kardashians, again a big, fun collaboration, you have people say this and that, but I always say watching the Kardashian’s shows are America’s guilty pleasure. You know, they’re aspirational, they’re beautiful, they always look good. So what they make some mistakes, but who hasn’t in Hollywood? They get married, they get divorced. I always say look at Elizabeth Taylor. Not that I’m comparing them, but she got married seven times. That’s Hollywood.

Is your approach to creating color for Nicole by OPI different than the way you approach creating color for OPI?

It’s different. It’s a little edgier. You can look at OPI as the fashion kind of icon and Nicole by OPI and a little bit edgy and a little younger, but I always say there is a color for everybody in my collection.

What part of being the artistic director for OPI is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?

I love to come to work everyday. There is nothing I dislike, but you know creating shades year after year and re-inventing myself in newness…it’s many sleepless nights, but I try to do it. I always tell people I do it like I’ve never done work before. I myself have to psyche myself up that this is totally brand new and that’s how I can manage to create new shades.

Do you have any advice for women who are just starting out in the beauty or cosmetics industry?

Be passionate. Kind of follow a path. You have to look at competition, but if you have a vision follow your vision. Sometimes it’s difficult because you feel like ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to do this and that,’ but follow a vision, your culture, what you put out there for the consumer, your employees. Just follow that and don’t be afraid to make a decision because that sometimes is the hardest thing. If you can do that, you will succeed. It takes time. I always tell people for the past three years I never took a dollar out of OPI when we started. Every single time it gets re-invested. So its not like you wake up and then the next day it’s like whoa. And it’s very hard work. Discipline and hard work. I still come to work everyday and it’s long days. Yes there’s stress, but that’s okay.

Many thanks to NeKelia Henderson for transcribing the phone interview of Suzi Weiss-Fischmann.

Intro written by Emily Claeys and layout by Felicia Zarzosa.

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