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Dineh Mohajer admits she stumbled onto a gold mine by chance.

While strolling through a mall one afternoon, the 24-year-old founder and president of Hard Candy cosmetics received so many compliments on her homemade nail polish, she decided to open for business.

"I was a premed student at [University of Southern California], and I didn't want to study anymore," Ms. Mohajer says of her decision to turn her oddball nail-polish colors into one of the hottest cosmetics companies in recent memory.

Ms. Mohajer quickly became a savvy marketer. She concocted offbeat names such as Jailbait and Tantrum for colors ranging from tar black to pea green and ensured the polish was sold only at exclusive boutiques and department stores.

"I was approached by many stores that were considered low-end, which didn't qualify," Ms. Mohajer says. "When you create a product, there's a certain image and mystique to maintain."

Pricing the 0.45-oz. bottles initially at $18-they're now $12-heightened Hard Candy's chic appeal. Selling the product where celebrities roam-like trendy Los Angeles boutique Fred Segal-attracted enthusiastic patrons from Alicia Silverstone to Dennis Rodman, feeding the brand's exclusive image.

"We've been knocked off left and right" by both high- and low-end companies, Ms. Mohajer says. "It really says something when you're knocked off by Revlon."

To date, Hard Candy's only traditional marketing effort has been sending postcards to those on a mailing list touting new products (the company added lipstick to its line in August and rolls out eye-color cosmetics this summer).

Still, Ms. Mohajer maintains Hard Candy's authenticity will keep the company competitive


rivals with massive ad budgets.

"There's a benefit to being part of your market," she says. "I know what I like. Revlon has to do market analysis."

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