Napoleon Perdis with his mother Liana Perdis and father John Perdis. Source: News Limited
Napoleon Perdis at the head office of Napoleon Cosmetics in Alexandria. Source: News Limited
Napoleon Perdis with his mother as a child. Source: Supplied
A family picture of Napoleon Perdis. Source: Supplied
NAPOLEON Perdis wasn’t like most 13-year-old boys growing up in Parramatta in the 1970s.Raised in a Greek-immigrant family, his “woggy” upbringing made life tough in an “Anglo-western” neighbourhood.
It didn’t help either that he loved doing his mother’s make-up.
He watched, mesmerised, as she laid out her palette of powders and creams and step by step, embellished and coloured her face in glamour.
Thirty years later, and Perdis is the country’s cosmetic king whose company turned over $82 million in Australia alone in the year to June 2012.
He’s sells through Myer and in some of the most prestigious stores in the United States, including Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue.
And Perdis has signed a deal to open four concept stores in the Middle East and distribute his make-up across the region, cementing his status as the nation’s most successful beauty export.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Los Angeles-based Perdis said his ambition from here is to “be happier” and he’s preparing to move his family back to Australia after 2014.
“I want more of a human connection now. I was very ambitious and very angry for a long period of time,” he said.
“I like human beings now. That sounds terrible: it’s just that I’m happier to get to know people.”
Perdis’ dream of a cosmetic empire began when he picked up a make-up brush, at age 13, to help his mother, Liana Perdis, prepare to head out.
“I believe in fabulous,” Perdis said.
“She would do these little tips, one of them I actually still use: she used to extend the line of the eye with the eyeliner. She’d put it and then she’d dab it.”
His first attempt at doing her make-up was a little heavy-handed.
“I remember specifically seeing this thing in a magazine: they were putting electric blue mascara on and they put a little bit in the eyebrow to give a little highlight and (I did that to her) and she went out with it – but she looked like a drag queen.
“She was very proud that I had done her make up.”
The family owned a hot food bar, Stolos Snack Bar, in the city and Perdis was obliged to work in the shop.
“There was a Salvation army car park down the road and we would wash the under arms in that car park, change, go out and do Greek dancing after closing the shop. We still stunk of hamburgers and fish but it was all okay,” Perdis said.
“It was great discipline. At the time, I hated it. It was tough for a kid, to be at school in an Anglo-western world and then have to do these very kind of Greeky, woggy things.
“They are kind of tortured memories but they do shape you.”
The money Perdis brought home on weekend gigs doing make-up for brides convinced his father John Perdis to let go of ambitions that his son was destined to be a chemist or lawyer.
“I saw how much money he would come out with: more than some people earn in a week,” Mr Perdis, 83, said.
Mr Perdis gave his son and daughter-in-law, Soula-Marie Perdis a $30,000 start-up loan.
“I said: ‘This is a little thing – I can describe this as a single brick, build on it and you will go up to the sky’. That was my wish but I never believed that they would get there.”
Sunday Style editor-in-chief Kerrie McCallum said Perdis’ persistence, determination and remarkable stamina have made him Australia’s biggest cosmetics export.
“In terms of business success and his celebrity, he would have to be the most well known Australian,” Ms McCallum said. “He is up against big international companies, which is no mean feat.”
Vogue Australia editor Edwina McCann said: “For one of our makeup artists to build a brand in Australia which today is stocked at Bergdorf Goodman, the legendary US department store on Fifth Avenue, is an incredible achievement and an indication of his international following.”
Perdis and Soula-Marie nine years ago moved to LA with their daughters, Lianna, 13, and 11-year-old triplets Athina, Alexia and Angelene.
They had intended to move back to Sydney next year, but expansion in the US, chiefly through department store Neiman Marcus, has temporarily delayed that plan.
Perdis said: “I am probably more proud (of Australia) now than when I was living here, because I left as an angry wog.”
Turning 40 was also a catalyst for change.
In the months before the milestone birthday, he had lap-band surgery and has been dieting and exercising since, shedding 78 kilos and scaring his staff with the endless energy that has injected.
“That was a big realisation when I came over 40: I’ve done all this fight and now I’m a big fat pig. I haven’t worked on myself, at all, I am really unhealthy. All I have done is worked and worked and worked.”
Napoleon Perdis Cosmetics latest Australian accounts filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show revenue grew from $72.3 million in 2010-2011 to $81.6 million in 2011-2012.
A small loss in the 2011 financial year was turned into a profit of $1.882 million in the 2012 financial year.
Perdis said the team around him is committed to his vision and those who were not, he has no time for.
“There’s people that you’re like: ‘I edit you out of my life. You are no longer relevant. I’m driving and I’m going: you are on the bus or not’. But there’e a lot of people on the bus and it’s only bigger. So for all the disbelievers, there’s a lot of believers. The volume alone of our business proves that, let alone the longevity of staff here.