Urban Decay's latest collection has the Gwen Stefani stamp of approval

It's no surprise that Urban Decay founding partner Wende Zomnir is a stickler not just for rich colors but also product performance — both reasons why the line of humanely tested eyeliners, mascaras and lipsticks have amassed a cult-like following.

With experience at a department store makeup counter in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, to working closely with No Doubt co-founder Gwen Stefani in developing the singer's eyeshadow collection, Zomnir has revolutionized the way millions of American women think about makeup.


In a sleeveless tank that reads "Look Me in the Eyeliner and Say That," Zomnir, 48, hardly exudes the look of the hard-charging, button-down industry titan.

"You're going to think I'm crazy for rearranging these chairs," she said to a visitor at the cosmetic brand's headquarters in an industrial complex in Newport Beach, obviously annoyed that the seats in a conference room didn't match.


At work, she is known for pushing the team to great heights while still leaving time for pranks and hijinks.

On April Fool's Day, she ordered a new dress code that required a staff predominantly dressed in casual clothing to wear shirts, slacks and cardigans. The male employees who consistently wore sports caps would no longer be allowed to wear a hat.

It was a joke.

Creating a workplace that promotes employee-friendly practices was vital, she said. The headquarters hosts a yoga class every Tuesday and is also pet-friendly, allowing employees to bring their dogs in on Fridays.


Zomnir hired a landscaping company to eliminate a lawn in front of the company's human resources building so an eco-friendly garden could be installed. Employees can take home what's grown there, including pomegranates, thyme, lemons and oregano.

"I'm here because I love these people," Zomnir said of the staff. "What's rewarding for me is that we're responsible for helping employees have a job so they can pay for their lifestyle."

The makeup line's story started 20 years ago, when the beauty market at the time was populated with pink, red and beige.

Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems, wanted an alternative to the standard colors, so her business manager, David Soward, introduced her to Zomnir, who began mixing nail polish in her Laguna Beach bungalow.

The line started with 10 lipsticks and 12 nail enamels with unconventional names like Oil Slick and Acid Rain.

Around that time of experimenting with makeup colors, Zomnir was working at home when she heard the song "Just a Girl" on the radio.

The single, sung by Stefani and No Doubt, helped the band break into mainstream music.

"I just remember thinking that girl is so cool," Zomnir said of Stefani. "She was edgy but pretty and was pushing the envelope. She was the first girl to really front a rock guy's band."


Zomnir would meet Stefani on a few occasions, but at the time, Urban Decay did not have the financial backing to bring in a rock star to collaborate on a special makeup collection.

Fast forward 20 years: Zomnir and the Urban Decay product development team spent hours at Stefani's house talking makeup and finalizing details about the limited collection that is currently for sale until spring season.

"It was great," Zomnir said of the products that were launched in December. "She was really involved. It really reflects her and it fits with the brand but is still clearly Gwen."

Stefani went so far as to direct the packaging design — black-and-white graphic prints with antique gold accents — for the limited-edition collection of lip pencils, brow boxes, eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks.

The special launch followed the July release of the cosmetic line's highly coveted new Naked Smoky eyeshadow palette at the Urban Decay flagship store at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

The fourth installment of Naked features nine new shades, three of which are able to be mixed with metallics. They sold out online but have since been restocked.

The beauty line's loyal fan base has praised Urban Decay's products, particularly its eye makeup.

"The makeup glides right on and there is nothing like it," said Irvine resident Colleen Voronel, 41, who was shopping on a recent Friday afternoon for eyeliner and eye pencils at the Fashion Island store.

"I love their shadows," said Latisha McDonald, 30, of Westminster. "It's a shadow that lasts through the day, and the color you see on the palette is the color that you will see on your eyes, unlike some of the other "prestige" brands. And I have noticed they tend to make more bold colors that not everyone else does."

Zomnir, a wife and mother of two boys ages 10 and 13, said she finds inspiration for new colors and ideas everywhere, from reading forecasting books on textiles to attending museum shows, including a street art exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach.

The beauty brand that was launched in 1996, was later acquired by L'Oreal in 2012. Today, the makeup is sold online and in shops such as Sephora, Ulta and Macy's and retailers in Canada, the UK, France, Italy and Singapore.

The headquarters' walls are covered with photos of inspiration, clothing and accessories. Purple became the chosen color of the brand as Zomnir said she found the shade to be the color of rebellion that takes two different juxtapositions.

"It's an anomaly of a color," she said. "You can't mix two colors to get purple. It's feminine and edgy."

It's a description, she said, that pushes her in keeping Urban Decay unique over the years and in the future.

She expressed big aspirations for the company's next 20 years.

"World domination," she said with a laugh. "No, it's really about keeping that force behind Urban Decay going and to create beauty with an edge that at the same time is feminine."