FIRST IMPRESSION you get of the name Napoleon is a French
one—you even believe it could be Napoléon. And Perdis could
be French, too, pronounced pur-dee, but you’d be wrong. The
first question I asked Napoleon Perdis was about his origin, and
he explained, ‘Greek.’ I might have known. met the chairman of the Film Sciences [the Academy of Motion Pictures
and Sciences, the organization that Oscar winners refer to as ‘the
Academy’], Leonard Engelman, who was the make-up artist for Cher
and Val Kilmer.’ Engelman had his own cosmetics’ line, and acted
as chair for the make-up section of the awards.
Doing a telephone interview with the make-up artist
and cosmetics’ founder and line visionary, visiting Auckland in
June, meant that I could not avoid making a fool of myself, but
I was quickly redeemed as we chatted about Greece itself.
‘I go to Greece three to four times a year,’ he
explained, cementing his pride in his heritage. ‘They are very different
from Greeks internationally. They are very European, and very modern.’
Like all immigrant cultures, Perdis’s family retained,
and probably amplified, their Greek traditions when arriving in
Australia, while the Greece they left became part of the European
Economic Community and dropped the drachma after 2,000 years. This
explains why Perdis’s father wanted his son to become a lawyer,
a respectable profession.
‘I wanted to be a make-up artist. My father was
strict and wanted me to finish university. When I turned 25, I totally
broke out on my own.’
Still, he honoured his father’s request: while
he did not do the final papers to be admitted to the Bar, he completed
his degree and even worked as a barrister’s reader. ‘I hated it,’
Perdis recalled with some disgust, knowing it was taking him away
from his calling.
‘I went to LA and
As a result of a meeting, Perdis got to work on
Batman Forever as an assistant. His Hollywood career also saw
him work on Kelly Rowan (who would go on to The OC) in Mocking
the Cosmos in 1995.
‘But I realized I hated film,’ said Perdis. Perdis’s
American experiences took him to New York, where he met a fellow
Greek, a manufacturer of cosmetics in the United States. Afterwards,
Perdis returned to Australia to start Napoleon Perdis Cosmetics,
opening a flagship store at 74 Oxford Street, Paddington, Sydney.
As his reputation grew, he worked with Harper’s
Bazaar Australia and Vogue Australia. ‘My proudest cover
was Vogue with Gemma Ward in September 2004,’ he said. ‘Gemma
used to queue up for me in Perth for my personal appearances.’
Celebrity fans of Perdiss line include Teri
Hatcher, Paris Hilton and Paula Abdul.
Perdis said he is inspired by ‘muses’, the strongest
Rubinstein, and had no mentor for his work. ‘She started in Melbourne
[in 1902], then went on to the world. At her [peak], she was bigger
than Estée Lauder
and LOréal put
together.’ He saw parallels: ‘I follow a similar path.’
the full story, including Napoleon Perdiss plans for
his training schools, in the August 2005 issue of Lucire,
on sale August 8.
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Jack Yan is founding publisher of Lucire.