Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: “We make it possible for women to express themselves, and their emotions, with colour.”

Last week in Madrid, OPI (Coty) unveiled its new Fall/Winter 2013 San Francisco Collection, which will be available from August. The event was attended by OPI Executive VP & Artistic Director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann – also known as “The First Lady of Nails”.

OPI was founded in 1981, when President and CEO George Schaeffer purchased a dental supply business called Odontorium Products Inc. He discovered that the chemistry of the company’s denture adhesives was similar to that used in nail extensions, so OPI tweaked the formula and created its own. The rest, as they say, is history. Today OPI is the world’s leading professional nail care company – and still growing.

Weiss-Fischmann has played a pivotal role within that evolution. It is she who creates each and every OPI nail lacquer shade, in line with each season’s fashion and beauty forecast. She is also responsible for OPI’s quirky, signature shade names.

On the subject of nails, she is entertaining, informative and passionate. “In 1989, OPI reinvented nail polish,” she declares. “We literally created an entirely new beauty category, based on the premise that nails are an essential fashion accessory. Today nails are a massive billion dollar phenomenon. I am asked all the time how we did it and how, after over 20 years and thousands of nail lacquer shades, we can still be growing. The answer is this: OPI is always new, always trend-setting and always relevant.”

In short, through its shade palette, memorable shade names and themed collections, OPI has managed to make nail lacquer a must-have product for millions of women. “We invent, and re-invent,” notes Weiss-Fischmann. “We capture the imagination, we define moments and make them memorable.”

Crucially, the brand has managed to make colour personal, and elevate a manicure to mean much more than a nice set of nails. “We make it possible for women to express themselves, and their emotions, with colour,” Weiss-Fischmann agrees. “OPI innovates around the idea of creating new sensory experiences that resonate with how women think and feel and where they are going.

OPI’s Fall/Winter 2013 San Francisco Collection

“In the past, we used to transform ourselves to look the same. In the future, we will transform ourselves to look different. We are breaking out of the forms that once constricted us. Modern beauty is unique and distinctive, merging the boundaries of age, race, gender and sexuality. Our image has become a performance; we are a collage of different cultures, aesthetics and influences.”

Nail polish nowadays constitutes a key element of how individuals express themselves, Weiss-Fischmann believes. “Our image proclaims “˜I am’ to the world,” she explains. “Our clothing, our accessories and our nails speak volumes about who we are, and who we are becoming.

“My personal goal is to build and connect an inspiring world full of colour for women increasingly looking for new experiences, which allows them to feel beautiful, creative and unique. Nails have become a way for women to articulate their individuality, and contextualise their lives. Who knew that 10 small canvases could speak volumes about where we are, and where we intend to go?”

Weiss-Fischmann adds: “Women relate to OPI’s collections because the colours and shade names are filled with contextual and cultural meaning. In this sense, OPI represents far more than the sum of its parts. Our bottle, logo, iconic colours and shade names have come to represent empowerment.”

That in itself is a powerful claim, and one which Weiss-Fischmann revisits time and again. She also believes nail polish represents freedom, in the sense that it gives women permission to wear the unexpected; when it comes to nails, nothing is taboo. Lastly, OPI is also an escape. “Women today fulfil more roles than any other generation has before,” Weiss-Fischmann points out. “We must take time to decompress.”

Bottling the brand
Anything and everything has the potential to inspire Weiss-Fischmann. She has created collections named after cities (San Francisco) films (Oz The Great and Powerful, Skyfall) and partnered with celebrities, singers and sports stars.

In terms of the shades themselves, she tracks trend predictions well in advance, in Milan and Paris. “For the two main collections each year, we look at the important colours for the season, then translate that with a geographic location,” Weiss-Fischmann explains. “But the extras, the collaborations that I do, have also become very important, as they help us to maintain the newness and keep OPI relevant and exciting to the consumer.”

She employs different criteria when choosing each new partner, but key to any decision is the brand itself. Interestingly, in the past OPI has collaborated with the likes of Ford Motor Company and Dell – not the most obvious partners, perhaps, for a nail lacquer brand. And that, underlines Weiss-Fischmann, is entirely the point.

“A lot of the companies that approach us really want to appeal to the female consumer,” she explains. “Because she is the decision maker, the power behind the purse, more than ever before. And remember, nail lacquer is very personal to women; it establishes a strong connection, and a powerful attraction.

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann and Coty’s Hilde Van Den Eede with the travel retail press in Madrid

“Think of the Bond movies,” she suggests. “Why do you think Barbara Broccoli pursued a nail lacquer partnership? Because she wanted to attract a female audience. Traditionally, Bond films – which are all about action, chases and guns – are very male.”

It was the same story with Ford, which approached OPI in 2005, in connection with the launch of its new Mustang, with a view to creating colours to attract female buyers. Weiss-Fischmann duly obliged with “Revved Up & Red-y,” (a dark red), “You Make Me Vroom,” (a hot red) and “Gone Platinum in 60 Seconds” (silver). Each bottle featured the Ford Mustang’s trademark galloping horse logo.

Other quirky, though profitable, collaborations include two nail colours for a new Whirlpool dishwasher (“I Don’t Do Dishes” and “Rinse Charming”), and an initiative with Dell dubbed “Match Your Nails to your Emails”, which allowed consumers to customise their laptops with a matching OPI shade.

Then there are the celebrity tie-ups, the most recent of which is the limited-edition Mariah Carey collection, within which OPI’s new Liquid Sand nail polish technology made its much-anticipated debut.

OPI represents far more than the sum of its parts. Our bottle, logo, iconic colours and shade names have come to represent empowerment.
Suzi Weiss-Fischmann
Executive VP & Artistic Director

“Each celebrity that I have collaborated with, nails are part of their life,” Weiss-Fischmann asserts. “I don’t just choose somebody and photoshop nails on them. Katy Perry, for example, is very quirky, and loves nail art. Nicki Minaj is never without those trademark long, pink nails. Mariah Carey gets a manicure twice a week. These partnerships are important, because nail colour is so aspirational.

“But,” she continues, “any celebrity that I choose has to be legitimate. Consumers today are so informed, and with social media especially, you can’t fake it any more. And if you try, you’re going to lose. So I think it’s very important to always be honest with the consumer, while allowing her to become part of, and embrace, the brand.”

GelColor, Shatter and Liquid Sand are three of the latest technologies to significantly drive the nail market, and Weiss-Fischmann is certain that OPI’s new Matte Top Coat will be another.

“Matte will continue to be huge,” she says confidently. “It’s great for nail art, great for changing your look and mixing it up a little. So far it’s exceeding all our expectations.”

Does Weiss-Fischmann have a favourite shade or collection? “Suzi loves dollar signs,” she grins. “The one that sells the most, I love the most. But my second answer is, I love red. It’s so glamorous, so Hollywood, so feminine. Today we take more risks, we experiment, but from time to time we return to our classics too.”

Journalists at the Madrid launch event were invited to experience OPI’s new San Francisco collection via a bespoke manicure

Aside from its extensive shade palette, OPI is equally known – and loved – for its original shade names. Each season Weiss-Fischmann and her team of six shut themselves away in special meetings to brainstorm those names. As the number of launches increases, does she ever worry that their inspiration will run dry?

“No, because we’re so crazy!” she responds. “Those meetings are so much fun. We have food that’s representative of the country in question – eating is very important, we eat the whole way through – and away we go. And we drink at the end,” she adds mischievously.

You get, you give
Weiss-Fischmann is committed to finding new ways to empower and inspire women, both in personal and professional terms. OPI has an extensive Corporate Social Responsibility programme, which manifests itself in many different ways.

“I have a daughter who’s 19; I love young people, they are so smart and inspiring, and they make me want to do better every day,” Weiss-Fischmann remarks. “I speak at a lot of universities and women’s conferences. At Wharton, I was asked, “˜what is your message’? I told them that the number one thing was to become A+ human beings. They were already smart – that’s why they were there – but to be [decent people] too is so important.”

And Weiss-Fischmann leads by example. OPI has a long tradition of philanthropy. The company has created several nail lacquers exclusively for specific organisations and causes, including the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and breast cancer research, for their use in raising funds both nationally and internationally.

The Moodie Blog
An audience with OPI’s pioneer of polish
Last week, courtesy of Coty and OPI, I made a flying visit to San Francisco – via Madrid. The Spanish city was the setting for the launch event of OPI’s Fall/Winter 2013 San Francisco collection, which will be available from August.

In 2009, when a close friend was diagnosed with lung cancer, Weiss-Fischmann created the shade “Breathe Life”, to support the Lung Cancer Foundation of America. “Lung cancer is a massive killer of women, even among non-smokers,” she points out. “I wanted to do something, I wanted to carry a message on a bottle. We raised a lot of money, and generated a lot of publicity. Following that, US$10 million was awarded by the US Senate for research on lung cancer, and that continues.”

OPI is also a strong proponent of education, which led to the creation of a scheme which rewards children of qualifying OPI employees with computer systems and college scholarships. “We gave away 86 computers last year,” Weiss-Fischmann confirms. “And those kids tell us how much we helped them, with research papers or homework. That’s so important against a backdrop of budget cuts, libraries closing earlier and so on.”

She continues: “I’m an immigrant to the US myself [Weiss-Fischmann was born in Hungary] and I know I am very fortunate. I was brought up with the philosophy, “˜you get, you give’ so it’s completely right to help others. OPI does it, and so do I through the Fischmann Foundation.”

Talking travel retail
Since its 2010 acquisition by Coty, OPI has made huge progress in travel retail; nearly 400 new doors will have been opened by year-end, with more planned in 2014. From its Hollywood headquarters, OPI distributes over 100 million bottles worldwide per annum. Its nail lacquers are available in more than 200 shades, in over 100 different countries. The travel retail portfolio comprises around 96 shades, in addition to new promotions.

“Next, in 2014, we are going to open up Brazil,” reveals Weiss-Fischmann. “It’s a huge colour market, so this is a big opportunity for us. And our travel retail business is fantastic. Coty is doing such a great job and we are very happy; the team is incredible. I would say the way they are developing us in travel retail is the best part of the Coty acquisition so far.”

OPI is targeting the travel retail spend with new exclusive sets

Several travel retail exclusives have been created. In March, OPI unveiled its Two Tone Manicure Set to Go and Touch & Go sets. The former allows consumers to create multiple looks, with three colours ideal for layering. It comprises four 15ml best-selling shades “Rosy Future”, “Step Right Up!” and “Alpine Snow”, in addition to the brand’s RapiDry Top Coat.

Touch & Go comprises a 7ml Avoplex Cuticle Oil To Go pen and a 4ml Correct & Cleanup Corrector Pen. The products combine to deliver perfectly polished nails and smooth cuticles, according to the brand.

Lastly, in May Coty will introduce a new OPI in the Sky travel retail exclusive set for inflight. This features four 15ml nail lacquers, in shades “The Thrill of Brazil”, “Tickly My France-Y”, “Step Right Up!” and Happy Anniversary”, all presented in a black cosmetic pouch.