Interview: Napoleon Perdis On His Road To Success

Glam Adelaide sat down with Napoleon Perdis, the man behind the hugely successful, global cosmetics company that we all know and love, to chat about his success.


Those of us who love make up (or success stories) have probably come across the brand Napoleon Perdis at some point in our lives. The hugely successful, global cosmetics company was started by Sydney-sider Napoleon Perdis, who had his destiny set in stone after picking up a make up brush at the age of 13 to help his mother prepare for an evening out. Fast forward to today, and Napoleon is a renowned, international make-up artist, with his own make up academy, a full range of cosmetics, make up manuals, over 85 concept stores across Australia, regular TV appearances, and his most recent venture, the Napoleon Perdis Life Style brand.

Can you share with us the story of the moment when the idea of Napoleon Perdis cosmetics originated?

Soula-Marie and I had just gotten married and after completing an Arts degree in Political Science and Business Law at Macquarie University, (where we first met) I began working in corporate and marketing, but craved something more creative – something I was passionate about and gave me drive.

Since the age of 13 I loved makeup and the instant empowerment it gave women. I told Soula-Marie I wanted to start my own makeup business and she supported me from day one. She has always been the greatest supporter of mine, but she would also be the handbrake who made sure I wasn’t going from gear one to gear five. To this day she has an ability to understand me like no other person.

From 1992 till 1995 when I opened my first store in Sydney’s Paddington, I gradually built up my makeup business, hitting the streets and selling my skills to beauty and hair salons, and bridal designers who would then recommend me to their brides. Then, I started selling consultation courses, where I would show women how to do makeovers for themselves. I used to hold little groups of two to three women, then it got to six and then twelve.

It was around that time when I thought it would be good to have my own range because I used bits of everything, but I never had one range I totally loved. So, I worked with a chemist and manufacturer in the United States, Paris and Italy – we had three different suppliers – and started putting my concepts together. That took about two years.

Napoleon Perdis
Napoleon Perdis

Soula-Marie mentioned in 60 minutes your father loaned you $1000 to help get you started. Was this loan the first step to you becoming self sufficient, and managing the financial expectations of business? Were there other similarly significant moments where people invested in their belief in you?

Absolutely. That $1000 loan from my father meant so much more than just financial support. It took my father a long time to accept I was going to be a professional makeup artist with my own company and not the lawyer or Pharmacist he may have dreamt for me to be. But, when he saw the dollars rolling in and that this was a career I could support my family with, he never looked back.

The belief and support of my family was what got Napoleon Perdis off the ground. From day one it has been an Australian made and owned family business which is something I’m very proud of.

What does empowering women mean to you?

Empowering women goes hand in hand with freedom and independence. Allowing a woman to feel beautiful, independent and free is empowering. She should feel beautiful with or without makeup. She should feel independent within herself to try new trends and experiment with her look, and she should feel free to be empowered when she does decide to rock a red lip or daring eye.

What has the evolution of social media meant for Napoleon Perdis? Particularly with the launch of your daughter’s range ‘Total Bae’, does social media form a key part of communicating with you audience? If so, would you say the message to customers has changed since you began in the industry promoting your products?

Technology (in particular social media) has allowed us to be in contact and in touch faster and more intimately than ever before. It’s right here, right now information and relationships.

I use my Instagram account as a way to express myself, my love for art and to connect with my customers and staff. I love reading their comments and feedback and take it all on board.

My message of female empowerment has remained the same. Although, I have recently felt a strong passion to stop online bullying and haters. It’s an epidemic that needs to be stopped. So, I guess you could say it’s really a mixture of those two messages. Female empowerment and self-acceptance and love.

I think it’s fair to say we associate glamour with the makeup industry, however is it always what it seems like it’s cracked up to be? How much work goes into presenting and maintaining the idea of glamour?

Beauty and glamour can be perceived as two different things to some, but essentially it’s all the same, no matter how you see it.

A woman who is beautiful, content and kind on the inside radiates beauty on the outside. Just the same as a woman who may be suffering on the inside due to life’s hardships, but puts on her mascara, blush, lipstick and a happy face and gets on with it – everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way, and everyone is fighting their own battle. I think it’s important when admiring glamour and beauty to go deeper.

Makeup is about enhancing what we feel on the inside and bringing it out. Maintaining a picture perfect, glamorous image all day, every day is unrealistic. We’re human. We have our good days and our bad days. But it’s the days you can’t be, or don’t feel like putting on your best that you’re okay with it, and feel confident enough to know you’re beautiful no matter what.

Was there ever a time you felt like throwing in the towel? If so, what kept you going?

It was tough work in the beginning. We worked very very hard. But it was the support of my business partner and brother, Emanuel, and wife Soula-Marie which kept me going.

My biggest challenge in the early days was maintaining cash flow and getting finance to grow the business. Bankers and financiers, until you get to a certain size, don’t appreciate the services industry. You’re constantly being very tight with your cash flow; you’re constantly tied up and your bankers don’t understand the business. So, the business had to fund its own growth for the first eight years and as a business we had to be ingenious and make sacrifices until banks took us more seriously.

How do you find the balance of teaching your daughters to love/embrace themselves, whilst working in an industry that can also be quite superficial at times? Has working in the makeup industry had an impact on how you see yourself as a father and what role you play in your teenage girls lives?

From a young age my wife and I have ensured to teach our daughters self-love and acceptance. We haven’t tried to hide them from the real world. Something I remember telling my eldest is ‘You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay’. It was like a lightbulb moment. Just because one boy may not see you how you’d like him to, it doesn’t mean no boy ever will and that you’re not beautiful.

What’s one piece of business advice you would give to our readers?

My biggest advice is to just do a lot of research, do a lot of tax planning and make sure that you’re prepared for the long mile because it’s a lot of hard work and it takes a lot from you personally.

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