Music blaring, a crowd in hysterics and pushing in front of his energetic entourage, Napoleon Perdis sure knows how to make an entrance.
Twenty minutes late for his master class at David Jones in Highpoint Melbourne, you can’t help think ‘fashionably late’ is not so much a figure of speech but a clever business ploy for Perdis.
As much as he promotes himself as makeup artist maestro, everything about Perdis screams businessman.
Entering the master class room full of more than 60 paying customers, Perdis makes it his prerogative to give every participant a firm handshake and a thank you for coming along.
His attention to detail is methodical and sometimes obsessive. I’ve never seen someone control the room so unapologetically. He even gives disclosures to his fans taking photos. “Please don’t photograph me side on, I look better and thinner front on,” he says with his signature colourful voice but still deadly serious.
As the head and face of a $130 million company with 72 concept stores, stocked in over 4,500 retailers and with a strong presence in the US, Australia and the Middle East, you can see why no apologies are needed.
A local Parramatta boy, Perdis’ beginnings weren’t as glamorous as his life today.
Jammed in a small Greek household with his two grandmothers, parents, and rooming with his younger brother, crowded was an understatement.
But, surrounded by strong female role-models, Perdis cultivated his love of makeup by watching his mother.
Propping a mirror on the sink and mixing her powders to get the perfect natural look, Perdis sat mesmerised by his mother’s daily ritual. In the less than luxurious setting, Perdis found his calling when his mother let him play with colours and do her makeup.
“She believed in me and let me do her makeup from about the age of 13,” Perdis tells Neos Kosmos.
“My mother took good care of herself and always looked her best and that was a great influence on me both personally and professionally.”
His mother’s early acceptance wasn’t joined by Perdis’ father, who, like every hardworking Greek migrant, wanted his sons to become lawyers or doctors.
Perdis started a political science and business law degree after accepting his father’s advice that he should cater to the niche of Greek divorces.
But, at the same time Perdis was moonlighting as a makeup artist for brides on the weekends. While working on creating his own line, you could see Perdis carrying a fishing tackle box filled with makeup to get the job done.
In comes his wife Soula-Marie, and brother Emanuel, to supplement Napoleon’s talent with the business side, and that’s how the empire began.
In 1994, Perdis opened his first Napoleon Perdis concept store on Oxford Street in Sydney selling his personally developed cosmetics, converting one woman at a time.
His guinea-pig has always been his wife of 22 years. If a product doesn’t get Soula-Marie’s seal of approval, it never eventuates.
“She is an absolute natural for knowing what women want to wear and use – whether that’s a particular colour palette or a great cosmetic bag,” Perdis says.
“Today, she heads up our product development team, among other responsibilities, and has been responsible for some of our most successful product launches.”
Known for his bold use of colours, Perdis isn’t content with sticking to tried and tested looks. With each season Perdis doesn’t necessarily back the trend, and chooses to change each look according to personality, something that has earned him his global seal of approval.
His celebrity converts include Miranda Kerr, Melissa George, Jessica Alba and Rihanna, while his editorial and runway looks are considered some of the best in the industry.
Asking him whether he prefers working in the fashion industry or with his everyday customers, he finds that he keeps coming back to his customers above all else.
“The runway and editorial work feeds my creativity and allows me to express myself as an artist – and work closely with my team of pro artists. But I started out doing real women and I really love meeting my customers and helping them to look like the best version of themselves,” he says.
A big part of his business that started at the same time as his concept store is the Napoleon Perdis Academy.
The makeup school has become synonymous with the brand and has led to over 600 staff members.
It is one of the most popular makeup academies since its inception and has six locations in Australia.
From thousands of products, everything to primer, eyeliner, mascara and lipstick, there isn’t much that hasn’t got the Napoleon Perdis name. But there is something that Perdis himself doesn’t like doing. Don’t ask him to do lips.
“I would say I hate doing lips, I’m just always drawn to the eyes as they tell me everything I want to know about a woman,” he reveals.
“The lips are a pretty powerful feature though. You put the focus on a woman’s lips and people tend to listen to her more!”
Now venturing into a new sector, Life.Style is Perdis’ new collection of vintage pieces and art. It includes antique furniture, art, jewellery and objects from all over the world as well as the latest trends in home furnishings, leather goods and accessories.
For all his pursuits, Perdis and his partners say their dual heritage is something that gives them a great advantage in the industry. His brother Emanuel says that’s why they are able to bring the best of European design and aesthetics and deliver it in an Australian or American appropriate way.
“Our Greekness is a very big part of our success, because we’re obsessed with work, we’re obsessed with spirit, culture, passion and beauty, and most importantly, Greeks are fundamentally obsessed with quality. And that all carries through the brand,” Emanuel Perdis tells Neos Kosmos.
In the last seven years, the Perdis clan has been trying to break into the US market and have made a lot of headway.
Moving to Los Angeles in tow with his wife and four daughters, Perdis has set himself up on the iconic Hollywood Boulevard. The LA atmosphere was a perfect fit for the flamboyant Australian icon and being closer to the fashion action has made for larger exposure. But, as successful as the brand has been in Australia, Perdis and his crew had to find a whole new way to market the brand to a different but very image conscious crowd.
“LA style is pretty casual and relaxed whereas I find Melbourne style more European, considered, and elegant. Melbourne women have that inherent sense of style. Hollywood should take notes!” he says.
Securing deals with the biggest department stores in the US, including Bergdorf Goodman and targeting the everyday consumer through his NP Sets in Target, the Napoleon army is conquering.
After more than 20 years in the industry, he has noticed a change in the way women are buying cosmetics. Women are much more informed and interested in the products they’re buying, and will actively seek out independent labels rather than sticking to the big conglomerates, he says.
“Women are really educated when it comes to makeup,” Perdis reveals.
“They know what they want and they’re looking for both a great experience and expert advice”.
And for those interested in following in his footsteps, Perdis did leave our readers with some advice.
“I’m self-taught and while I also run a network of Makeup Academies and believe education to be so important, you really just need to get out there and get as much experience as possible,” he says.
Utilising social media and documenting your makeup masterpieces is a great way to get noticed and have a back-catalogue of looks at your disposal.
“I also recommend mastering a few signatures, be it great skin, the perfect smoky eye, or impeccable lips. It’s a great way to get noticed and be known for something.”