HOW does a makeup artist conquer whole continents? Just ask Napoleon Perdis.
You move to L.A., buy a home on Mulholland and decorate it in a hyper-glamorous Hollywood Regency style. You open four California stores in shopping hot spots. You make Evangeline Lilly, Amanda Bynes and Teri Hatcher feel beautiful (that must be the easy part).
Then you install your makeup at 50 branches of Canada's most fashionable department store. You become a chatty regular on NBC's "Extra" — and the only new cosmetics brand picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue in 2006. And you get a capsule collection adopted by Sephora too.
"I want to build an empire," Perdis says.
And he's well on his way with 890 employees and 56 shops selling his eponymous cosmetic line in New Zealand and Australia, where he's also a judge on "Australia's Next Top Model."
At the moment, the emperor-in-training is holding court in his new store on Hollywood Boulevard, which opens today. Perdis, a 37-year-old father of four, has a generous belly, a neat, Mephistophelean goatee and more than his share of charm. Like so many who make it in Hollywood, he combines talent with desire — a hunger to be successful and famous. "Growing up in Australia," he says, "I dreamed of America. I'm much more American than I am English. I'm much more about freeing your spirit."
The store certainly looks like the haven of a free spirit: He has succeeded in creating a giddy, girly space as friendly as a pajama party. A cluster of colored globes suspended above the front door looks like balloons floating in the sky, drifting toward a tall metal replica of the Eiffel Tower.
As he leads a tour, the cornucopia of products and his breakneck recitation of their wonders is nearly overwhelming, partially due to his penchant for cutesy names and catchy phrases — "Not to prime is a crime" or "There's really nothing 'fine' about lines." Creams, powders and potions and accessories such as coated plastic eyelash curlers, makeup bags and brush sets are displayed on mirrored tables and in glass-fronted cabinets. There are lotions too, and shower gels and body washes that smell of gardenia, pomegranate and lemon.
"The belief system operating here is we're going to have fun and look pretty," he says. "I believe in a world that is beautiful and designed and caring and nurturing."
Perdis built a following as a makeup artist in Sydney, then opened a makeup academy in 1993. He created his cosmetics line and opened his first store in 1995. Ten years later, he expanded into the United States and in 2006, into Canada.
"He's a superstar," says Australian Vogue editor Kirstie Clements. "I'm not surprised by that, because of the force of his personality, his passion and positive message. His strength is he listens to his customers."
Power talkers aren't often accomplished listeners, but Perdis is an exception. Before he became well-known enough to make up models and actresses, Perdis did thousands of makeovers for real women. He asks a woman submitting to a makeover, "Why have you been doing your makeup the way you do? What's the story you want to tell? What mood are you trying to evoke? Do you feel beautiful? Intelligent? Do you feel sexual?"
Her answers help him design a look. His line includes the seductive colors and hot finishes needed to transform plain to polished. Yet his secret weapon is products that solve problems. How to cope with a shiny face hours after makeup was applied without layering on powder? He invented a pore minimizer and mattifier. How to bring a post-coital flush to the cheeks? His Color Veil, a translucent cream blush in a tube, imparts an amazingly natural glow.
"I love looking after people. I love understanding women," he says. "I also love the marketing. I'm always energetic. I love living and breathing energy. But none of it works if the products don't perform. You have to give people quality and value. How else are you going to build trust?"
By turning women into their own makeup artists, no doubt. The new Hollywood store has a classroom that will offer training to customers and makeup artists. Of course, there's also a VIP room, with a concierge and a private entrance.
Ask any woman who's played with makeup since she was a toddler — "natural beauty" can be hard work. Here are some of Napoleon Perdis' techniques for a born-beautiful look:
Primer: To avoid a mask-like appearance when wearing foundation, Perdis recommends applying a moisturizing primer first, using your fingertips and a gentle touch.
Concealer: Many women use only flesh-tone concealers. Tinted concealers can be more effective: green neutralizes ruddy skin, yellow brightens up dark areas, purple corrects broken capillaries.
Blush: After primer and concealer, add a rosy, sun-kissed look to the cheeks by applying creme blush on the apples of your cheeks. Don't try to create the illusion of chiseled cheekbones by using dark blush on the sides of the face. "That's an old-fashioned technique," Perdis says. "Using light reflection is a more subtle way to contour." Products that make the skin dewy and impart a gleaming finish will reflect light.
Foundation: After you've given your cheeks some color, you'll be tempted not to cover that up with a coat of foundation — and that's a good thing. Foundation shouldn't be applied everywhere, and liquid foundation goes on better patted on with a foundation brush. Perdis recommends starting at the center of the face, and never putting foundation on the forehead. "It's aging," Perdis says. Don't worry about blending foundation at the chin line. Just apply less the farther from the center of the face you get.
Mascara: To get the best effect with mascara, wiggle and roll the wand as you apply, and "window wipe" across the lashes, from the base to the top. Three coats of mascara is ideal — one before eye makeup, one after and one when your face is all done. To enhance lashes without adding more color, follow up with a coat of clear mascara.
Clear mascara: Clear mascara also works to keep brows in line. Brush the brows, then set with clear mascara.
Lips: Run a lip liner pencil over lips, after lipstick and gloss have been applied. That will help color stay on longer.