When Greek-born Maria Hatzistefanis set up her independent beauty brand Rodial in 1999, it was the dawn of a beauty revolution. Small niche brands started snapping at the heels of the large beauty behemoths such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, and this Columbia business graduate was at the forefront of it all. She created a brand that not only turned beauty products on their head, with evocative names and exotic ingredients, but also listened to women and gave them what they wanted.
With her feline eyes and glowing skin, forty-seven-year-old Hatzistefanis, otherwise known as Mrs Rodial (her Instagram moniker) is the perfect advertisement for her brand. Having just published her book, How to be an Overnight Success, we talk about what it takes to launch your own company, anti-ageing, contouring and why Dragon’s Blood and Bee Venom can make your skin glow…
What challenges did you face launching a small independent beauty company?
It was a really exciting time, because there was a lot of space for new brands. But at the beginning you really don’t know where your business is going to go, you question yourself a lot.
What sets you apart from the bigger beauty companies?
With a smaller brand you can be more agile and very quick to market. You can recognise a trend and launch a product within three months. Whereas a bigger company, such as Estée Lauder, may take two to three years.
How do you create a unique product?
The way that I always launched a product is by intuition and then by being in the stores and listening to what the customers want, and identifying a need. I then work with a very high-quality lab, one that has worked with big brands in the past, and say, ‘This is my marketing idea, let’s just make it happen!’
What was the first product you launched?
It was the Snake Serum and it’s still around. It’s the heritage of the brand and the first product that put Rodial on the map. I wanted to come up with an anti-ageing serum that was something special. I didn’t have any advertising and marketing budgets behind me, so when I was going through the ingredients list I found that my lab had used Syn-Ake, an ingredient that mimics the effects of viper venom. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this sounds really cool.’ We had a brainstorming session at the office and said why don’t we just call it Snake Serum. We had nothing to lose, nobody knew Rodial at this stage. We hired some snakes and had this snake charmer and everything went crazy after that.
How does the Syn-Ake help the anti-ageing process?
When we make expressions we form wrinkles, but when you apply a product that has this ingredient in it, it relaxes muscles in a similar way to venom. You make fewer expressions and so the fine lines and wrinkles become less visible. It’s a similar theory to topical Botox, but not to the same extent.
How do you view the term ‘anti-ageing’?
It’s more about knowing your skin type and your specific concerns, and addressing them. I think it’s all about enhancing what we have. I also think age is not about the skin and it’s not about the way your face looks, it‘s about how you dress, how you wear your hair, how you present yourself. It’s a whole way of life. It’s all about looking fresh, looking good for your age, but not necessarily trying to look much younger, because then you just end up looking strange.
Peptides are the best ingredient for reducing the appearance of wrinkles. I would also look for vitamin C to regenerate the top layers of the skin, for luminosity. Retinol is another key ingredient
What are the most potent ingredients to combat signs of ageing?
Peptides are the best ingredient for reducing the appearance of wrinkles. I would also look for vitamin C to regenerate the top layers of the skin, for luminosity. Retinol is another key ingredient. I also exfoliate two to three times a week at home. You don’t have to have a professional peel; anything with glycolic acid in it, especially when used in the evening, is really transformational.
What is your favourite product at Rodial?
It’s hard to say. I try to change my routine every few weeks to use everything that we have. But I’ve been using the Bee Venom Cleansing Balm non-stop for the last five years. It goes on like balm, nourishes the skin and when you wash it off it becomes a milky toner. It’s for someone with dry skin and a busy life! I also love the Pink Diamond Instant Lifting Serum – it gives a brightening effect to the skin.
What product can you not live without?
Our Banana Powder, a yellow-coloured powder that I apply underneath my eyes and on areas that tend to have darkness and shadows. It gives a beautiful lift to the skin. And the Banana Lowlighter. It’s a similar idea to YSL’s Touche Éclat, but it has a yellow pigment and again it’s perfect for under-eye circles. It makes your skin look like you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Can you describe your morning and evening beauty regimes?
Morning: Bee Venom Cleanser, Pink Diamond Serum and Dragon’s Blood Moisturiser with SPF15.
Evening: I exfoliate every night or every other night, with the Super Acid Cleanser. We have an extreme version that has very high potency, anything from 3-8% glycolic acid. Then I apply the Bee Venom Night Cream, which has retinol in it. A few times a week, I will apply a treatment mask when I’m watching TV or doing work at home. They really work.
What are your travel beauty tips?
Lots of masks! It’s all about masking, I put them on as soon as I get on the plane. Jet lag affects my sleep, so if I wake up super-early in New York I put on a mask at 3am. I do a lot of masks, but then I don’t take that many products with me. A cleanser, a moisturiser that I can use mornings and evenings, and an exfoliator.
You launched your make-up range in 2014, as well as a Sculpting Bar at Harvey Nichols. Have you always been a fan of contouring?
There are various levels of contouring and highlighting. There’s the professional one, that requires two hours of make-up to get right, but we have a more modern approach. I can do my day make-up in three minutes. I apply a bit of the contour bronzer on my cheekbones and a bit of the glow and highlighter under my eyes, so it looks healthy. Our aim is to teach all of our customers to do this in five minutes.
What are your top five make-up-bag items?
1. Rodial Skin Tint, a medium-coverage tinted moisturiser that I use every day. It’s sheer, but it covers and it looks like a second skin.
2. Glamolash Mascara XXL, which has collagen in it, giving the most beautifully long lashes.
3. Glamobrow Eye Brow Pencils. When I was younger it was trendy to have no eyebrows. I’ve been plucking them for 20 years and right now they’re not looking that good, so I’ve learnt how to pencil them in. It’s a trick that makes you look younger. When they’re a little bit thicker and fuller they take about five years off someone’s age.
4. Suede Lips is a creamy pencil, and you don’t need a separate lip liner and lipstick. It’s a thick crayon and it’s really smoothing.
5. The Rose Gold Deep Line Filler is a brand-new product we just launched. It goes on as a primer and gives you this flawless skin, covering pores and imperfections. It’s perfect skin in a tube.
How would you describe your style?
My style changes all the time, I see pictures of myself two years ago and I’m like, ‘What was I thinking?’ Having two boys, my style has become a little more sporty. I do like to mix something sporty with something a little more elevated. When I have meetings and I need to be polished, I love wearing anything by Balenciaga, it makes me feel put-together. I also just got into this new brand, Wardrobe.NYC, designed by Christine Centenera, who’s the fashion director of Vogue Australia.
Who are the ICONS women who inspire you?
I like to be inspired by contemporary women. I love Yasmin Sewell. I think she’s really cool. The way she puts things together is very innovative and she always wears things by up-and-coming designers. And I love Christine Centenera, obviously – she’s minimal with a twist.
What item do you have in your wardrobe that always makes you feel good?
My black Balenciaga jacket. It’s a little bit longer and I wear it over a short dress with a tight belt, like a dress blazer. I’ve thrown it on top of skinny trousers and an oversized T-shirt, or I throw it on as a coat.
Which three pieces have you got your eye on from the new season?
1. Céline Ballerina shoes are really cool and I’m considering nude, as it’s coming back into fashion, but it’s a different nude, more yellow.
2. Perhaps a Balenciaga blazer in a new colour.
3. A high-waisted pencil skirt from Calvin Klein – they’re amazing. They have some beautiful colours this season.
I think it’s all about enhancing what we have. I also think age is not about the skin and it’s not about the way your face looks, it‘s about how you dress, how you wear your hair, how you present yourself. It’s a whole way of life
You recently wrote a book, How to be an Overnight Success – how did that come about?
The title of the book is actually ironic, as it took me 18 years to be where I am now! It was nothing like an overnight success. The book goes through my journey of how I started and the challenges I faced, and it’s very candid. It’s not a book that says everything is perfect, everything is exciting. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work and you never really reach a point where you say, ‘I’m a success now and I can relax.’ You need to keep going.
With hindsight, what advice would you give yourself?
When I started and was trying to get my products into stores, when I got a no I would take it personally and would be really upset. It made me second-guess myself. Maybe my products are not good, or maybe I’m not good enough. What I’ve learnt throughout the years is that it’s not all about your new product, sometimes the time is not right, sometimes the shop floors don’t have the space or your brand doesn’t fit into that portfolio. And for the first few years it was really hard for me, but it made me work harder, made me think of ways outside the box to get the yes. I would grow from that rejection.
Where do you see Rodial in the future?
I still have a lot of dreams and plans for the brand. I want to see the make-up grow. We have the Sculpting Bar in Harvey Nichols, but I would love to see a lot more sculpting bars over the world. To see the brand bigger and better in more countries and more stores.
You have an incredible Instagram following. How would you advise a new business to gain and engage an Instagram audience?
As with everything, the amount of time you put into it is what you get back. First of all you need to engage, you can’t just post a picture, you need to be there answering comments, you need to be getting to know people and developing that community. As a business, try to find a balance between promoting your product and giving valuable content that does not require a purchase. People who are on Instagram are looking for inspiration and they’re looking for ideas, how to improve themselves; we need to keep that in mind rather than pushing products all the time.
What would you say are your top business achievements to date?
Definitely number one would be the risk of naming our first product Snake Serum, which paid off. I’m really proud of coming up with that name.
My second achievement was launching the Harvey Nichols Sculpting Bar. This was the first time that I saw Rodial elevated next to Tom Ford, Chanel and Estée Lauder. That was a really exciting moment for the business.
And I think the third one would be writing the book. I never really planned to write a book. It was written on notes on my iPhone during various moments and I pulled them together. It makes me very happy to see that people can learn from my experience to motivate themselves and make the changes they need to follow their dreams. I know it sounds a bit tacky, but it makes me feel good, helping others, and it’s been useful to kick-start the careers of other entrepreneurs and women out there.