To celebrate the launch of Urban Decay at Cult Beauty, he just had to sit down with the brand's co-founder - Wende Zomnir. Evolving from Wende's brainchild in 1996 that celebrated cruelty-free formulas, gender-neutral marketing and expressing yourself and your individuality without confirming to the industry standard of what beauty really is, {Urban Decay} has taken the world by storm, solidifying itself as the OG indie brand that boasts a range of innovative and reliable formulas (read: the All Nighter range and the iconic Primer Potion).

Subverting beauty standards with bold colour choices since the start and captivating the entire beauty community by redefining what neutral means with its iconic Naked {Eyeshadow Palettes}, this cruelty-free brand is here to make your make up dreams come true. Read on for more juicy details about the brand's beginnings, the contents of Wende's handbag, and her favourite brand memories...

{Cult Beauty} First things first, can you tell us a little bit about the brand’s beginnings? What’s Urban Decay’s story so far?

{Wendy Zomir} There’s so much history - working out of my tiny Laguna Beach bungalow, being sneaky to get my hands on a list of cosmetics buyers, using a phone book to track down Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, there are so many moments to recount! It struck me the other day that so many of our customers were born into a world that included Urban Decay, but to me, it still feels so revolutionary, because it was a crazy idea when we started.

I think the most important thing about our history is that not only did we see a giant product opportunity in the beauty world back in the mid-'90s, but we also thought that this aspirational beauty business model wasn’t inclusive, it was designed to make women feel bad about themselves so that they could maybe, possibly inch toward an idealised beauty standard by buying a product. In those days, prestige beauty was kind of boring. It was sold in department stores, and there wasn’t a technicolor spectrum of colour out there. It was generally a sea of pink, beige and red. Mass-market beauty had more options, but the product was low-performance, and the colour payoff wasn’t exciting. Obviously, things have changed since then, and I like to think that Urban Decay set that in motion, paving the way for other indie brands to jump in and change the course of beauty. 

Likewise with aspiration. We wanted to trash that idea because most of us are not ever going to meet the old beauty standards. We aren’t pretty enough, skinny enough, feminine enough. We wanted the whole thing to be about self-expression, which was a completely different perspective on what beauty should be. And we fought the system valiantly, but it was like swimming up river until retailers like Sephora and Ulta arrived, and social media became a marketing tool. All of a sudden, our mission to democratise beauty was realised!

{CB} It's got such an interesting history! So how did you come up with the name?

The name Urban Decay came about because we knew we had to name it something different. Make up was so hyper-feminine and pink at the time, so we kept thinking Urban-something. Urban Decay just stuck. It sounded good, but who would be crazy enough to name a brand Urban Decay? While I was in New York, I noticed how beautiful this crumbling brick wall was. It had so much depth and history, yet it wasn’t conventionally perfect, or shiny or slick. And I thought, that’s what we are saying with the name: that something can be really imperfect, and yet incredibly beautiful at the same time. Like most of us.

{CB} Can you describe Urban Decay in just three words for us please?

Alternative, edgy and fun!

{CB} So, Urban Decay has become synonymous with incredible, industry-renowned eyeshadow and setting mists. Can you tell us more about your Naked and All-Nighter ranges?

Naked and All Nighter both have really amazing origin stories that give you a peek into how organic our product development process is.

Ironically, Naked was born because I like to wear colour. I was traveling a lot and always packing this huge bag of shadows. But I always needed to have basic, neutral shades to create a complete eye look, no matter what colour. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have a perfect quad palette of neutrals that I can just throw in my bag? So I asked two people on my product development team to bring in the four neutral shadows that they would bring with them if they were stuck on a desert island. I brought mine in too, and figured we could make a couple of options out of the shades we brought in. When we laid all the shades out, to my surprise, they were a beautiful nude palette. There was one dupe, and we all agreed on the shade that should fill in the gap. And there it was! The original {Naked Palette} in a bunch of mismatched pans. The next question was, “well, is it really Urban Decay if it’s so many nudes?” And I replied that it is if you call it Naked.

With All Nighter, we were working with a formulator to develop a mist-on moisturiser at the request of our beauty advisors in the store. And during that process, he was telling us about this Temperature Control Technology he was working with and putting into sprays to help set make up. And I asked him, “Do you think I could pull an All Nighter if I used the spray over my make up?” When the answer was yes, and that he had lab results to prove it, we started experimenting with the formula until we got to the {All Nighter Setting Spray} that famously keeps make up on through secret trysts, concerts, and all kinds of crazy life events.

{CB} We had the honour of launching your all-new Ultra Violet Palette exclusively at Cult Beauty, can you tell a little bit more about this special palette please?

The {Naked Ultra Violet Palette} palette is so fun because we’ve done to ourselves what we originally did to the beauty business back in the late 90’s, turned it on its head. Yes, it’s a Naked Palette, but to celebrate the fact that we are coming up on 25 years, we decided that we needed to make it purple. Yet Purple Naked Palette is kind of an oxymoron, right? As a beauty industry icon, we deserve a little messing with but seriously, it’s a really amazing palette, and not just because I love to wear purple shades! This is an innovative shade range of neutrals and shots of violet, so it’s really a go-to palette for me. I can create everything from a barely-there look to a soft orchid matte eye, to an iridescent pop of true purple too.

{CB} Can you tell us which product was the hardest one to formulate/develop?

I think the original {Naked Skin Liquid Makeup} was one of the hardest to develop. It was a completely new texture at the time, so we went round and round trying to get that one just right. And then there were the shades. We launched this back in 2012, and we came up with 30 shades, which was unheard of at the time.

{CB} Is there a particular moment within Urban Decay’s history that you are particularly proud of?

It was less of an actual moment and more of a moment when I realised that this crazy idea, this out-there brand, was an opportunity for so many people to work at a place that stood for things they believed in, that was fun and fulfilling, and that paid them good money so they could support their families. I’m most proud of helping to create those opportunities for people that I care about.

{CB} And for those unfamiliar with Urban Decay, what product is certain to trigger addiction?

{Perversion Mascara}! It is so good. It delivers lifted and volumised lashes and yet the formula is still so soft on the lashes as it stays flexible and doesn't dry hard so it still feels like your lashes. I love that I can flick on a coat in the morning and then seamlessly add one or two more coats before I go out in the evening. Plus, the volume is big!

{CB} Is there also an unsung hero within the range we really need to try and why?

I love the {Stay Naked Threesome}. It’s got blush, highlighter and bronzer. Sometimes I use it as an all-over palette for eyes and face, sometimes just as a blush, occasionally as only a bronzer, and often as a beautiful, subtle contour tool when I am going a little extra on my look.

{CB} Difficult question: Do you have a favourite product in the line?

That is a hard question! But I have an answer. My lip and eye shade choices flow with the times and are always changing and evolving. But I always come back to {Eyeshadow Primer Potion}. It never fails me, and shadow that stays on all day is a timeless look.

{CB} Can you tell us a little more about Urban Decay’s ‘Pretty Different’ manifesto?

When we first started, people would ask me, what’s Urban Decay all about? And I would tell them, "Urban Decay is beautiful, but unusual." 'Pretty Different' is an updated way of saying that, of saying the same thing we’ve always said about beauty: that it’s really about how you express yourself, about individuality, and not about conforming to an industry standard of what beauty is. I love how we can play with the phrase too: Pretty different, pretty weird, pretty experimental, pretty whatever!

{CB} And what sets Urban Decay apart from the rest of the make up industry?

Urban Decay is, and always has been beauty with an edge. But I’ve always said that constant evolution is part of our DNA. So while we are – and always will be - that original indie who paved the way with radical ideas about what beauty looks like, who should wear it, and what kinds of products are offered, we embrace and enjoy change. So I think this grounded sense of identity and purpose, combined with an architecture that is designed to be flexible, is what sets us apart.

{CB} Urban Decay has always been cruelty-free and gender-neutral since its launch in 1996, why has this always been important to you?

We started Urban Decay because of what we believed in: that make up should be about self-expression and showing the world who you are, not about aspiring to someone else’s idealised vision of what beauty should be. And that no animals should suffer or die for that self-expression. 

The first brand statement I wrote started like this: “Make up for girls and boys who want to show the world who they are, and put their own stamp on it.” And although we’ve been around since 1996, we have never made a brush out of animal hair. People told us we were crazy back then for making synthetic brushes, but we did it anyway. 

{CB} Now, how have you seen the beauty industry change in the last five years?

The complete digitisation of beauty and almost every other industry. Obviously, social media had been around longer than that, but the way every aspect of how we work has evolved, from how we reach people to how we try on make up, is really incredible. Virtual try-on is no longer an awkward novelty, and yes, it’s no accident that all of those ads (from any brand) are perfectly curated to what you need in your make up bag right now.

{CB} And what beauty rules do you think we still need to break?

I think it’s to get out of our own way, and not get stuck into our look. I like to think of having a quiver of looks, that can get you through anything. I would not wear the same dress to give a speech as I would to an Oscars party, so fill up your beauty wardrobe with different outfits. I always advise experimenting with a new look right before you go to bed. That way, there’s no pressure to get it right, you’re just trying new things, you can do each eye differently. If you need some creative inspo, grab one of our {24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils} in a bright colour that makes you happy. And then let good things happen!

{CB} When did you first fall in love with beauty/what was your product?

I first fell in love with beauty as a kid when I discovered my mother’s make up drawer, back in Ft. Worth, Texas. I still remember what the lipsticks smelled like. But my product was eye shadow. I remember my mom had a pot of creamy shadow, in an icy blue shade, and I longed for my own. One Christmas, I got one of those huge make up sets. It was a dream come true, there were so many shadows to chose from!

{CB} If you could go back and give your younger self any piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell myself to spend more time on some self-reflection and work on learning how to know your own mind and feelings, then think, then act. I think that unresolved stuff in life makes us reactionary, and doing this work early can help anyone reach their potential. That, and, as a New York cab driver once said to me, “Ma’am, I just let people be people.”

{CB} And if we were to have access to your handbag for a rummage, which make up item(s) are we guaranteed to find?

Something to powder my nose and refresh my lip, of course: {All Nighter Waterproof Pressed Powder} and {Hi-Fi Shine Lipgloss} in 'Rapture' and 'Big Bang'.

{CB} Do you have any bedside beauty essentials?

Yes…a large water, Laneige's Lip Sleeping Mask, and a {Slip} silk pillowcase, of course.

{CB} Finally, what does ‘cult’ mean to you, and how does this apply to Urban Decay?

To me, ‘cult’ means that people in the know are obsessed, whether it’s a particular product, or a brand. The first time I heard someone refer to Urban Decay as a ‘cult’ brand, we were not that well known in the mainstream, but beauty aficionados loved us. Today, there’s not as much ‘under the radar’ mystique, but our cult status has grown bigger, and so has the universe of people who love beauty. I think when that happens as a brand, you can get new products to cult status more quickly, but they had better be great, because more people are watching!

SHOP URBAN DECAY >>