Urban Decay again defies expectations

Urban Decay creative director Wende Zomnir. With product names such as "All Nighter," "Full Frontal," "Vice3" and "Perversion," Urban Decay has been promoting its notion of "beauty with an edge" for almost 20 years.
(Amber Dianda / Los Angeles Times)

With product names such as “All Nighter,” “Full Frontal,” “Naked” and “Perversion,” Urban Decay has been promoting its notion of “beauty with an edge” for almost 20 years.

Launched in 1996, in the era of grunge, the cosmetics line offered an alternative to premium makeup’s sweet standards of pink, red and beige. Urban Decay’s colors — and the brand’s overall attitude — were inspired by cityscapes and an electric underground vibe.

So it may come as something of a surprise that Urban Decay’s first ever bricks-and-mortar store is set to open Monday at sunny Fashion Island, the upscale shopping mall overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach.

“We travel; we go to cities for inspiration, but I want to live here,” says Wende Zomnir, Urban Decay’s chief creative officer and a co-founder of the brand with tech pioneer and business woman Sandy Lerner.


In fact, Urban Decay was born in Orange County and is headquartered in Newport Beach, not far from Fashion Island. Zomnir was in marketing when a mutual friend introduced her to Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems. “Sandy wanted a high-quality [makeup] with alternative colors,” says Zomnir, who has been a “makeup addict almost since birth,” as the brand’s website proclaims.

The pair collaborated and unleashed Urban Decay upon the world with 10 lipsticks and 12 nail polishes. Since then it’s grown into a global brand beloved by professional makeup artists and sold at retailers including Sephora, Ulta and Nordstrom, as well as online at Purchased in 2012 by beauty powerhouse L’Oreal, the brand, which reportedly saw sales of about $140 million that year, continues to expand, and sales have increased 45% this year compared to last, according to a company spokesman. “I thought they’d make changes, but instead they seem to want to learn from us,” says Zomnir.

The new Urban Decay store is one of two in the works; the second is to open in London, England, in December and Zomnir hopes they will give customers a more personal way to interact with the brand.

The jewel box of a shop at Fashion Island is decorated in purple and silver tones, and includes four mirrored vanity table stations for makeup applications plus a photo booth where you can record and share images of your new look. In one corner, a gleaming metal sculpture of a wintry tree twists from floor to ceiling. It’s an emblem, says Zomnir, of the brand’s aesthetic. “A tree in the city in winter, at first it’s not pretty,” she says. “But look deeper and it’s beautiful.”

A custom nickel chain chandelier also makes a statement and — surprise — so does the restroom, where custom wallpaper is printed with framed photographs of employees’ dogs.

Restrooms, it turns out, are an Urban Decay “thing.” At company headquarters all the restrooms are decorated with whimsical themes, such as Alice in Wonderland or graffiti.

And that sheds light on what “beauty with an edge” means now, almost two decades on. “Feminine, dangerous,” Zomnir says, “and fun!”