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Illustrious and Colorful: Profile of Ike Sukljian

By: Cristina Samuels
Posted: August 26, 2014, from the September 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Ike Sukljian, president and founder of Zela International, and his wife and company namesake Zela Sukljian.

Innovation is a hallmark of the beauty industry, and it certainly takes a visionary to define a category and transform it completely with a new creation. Already in the forefront of the color cosmetic industry, Ike Sukljian, president and founder of Zela International, shifted nail polish into a new colorful direction with just one pioneering idea. Nearly half a century ago, he introduced never-before-seen colors that graced the fingertips of a whole new generation of women and sparked the imagination and admiration of celebrities and tastemakers alike. Ike is widely known to many on a first name basis, but for me, I have the distinct honor of calling him my father.

Raised in my father’s cosmetic manufacturing and marketing company Zela International, I can vividly recall one of my earliest childhood memories during the course of the summer of 1982, observing the sights and sounds on the factory floor, admiring the artistry in prototype sketches and eagerly taking on the role as my father’s “assistant.” Often growing restless in the office, I would venture out to where the action was—on the production floor.

I was captivated by the machinery filling, brushing and capping each glass bottle, but what struck me most was the kaleidoscope of colors that became more vibrant and fun with each run. The day began with sky blue, then pistachio green, then canary yellow... all buzzing and whizzing by before making its way to the next station. What started with just a simple glass bottle ended with a rainbow of candy colors, mesmerizing 3-D glitters, deep and daring vamps to the boldest black—each more eye-popping than the next. Let’s just say my polish collection that summer would make any woman green with envy.

Adding Some Shine

There was a time when nail polish was very limited in choice and unexceptional in color, a time it was nothing short of boring, especially when compared to today’s standards. So, how was it that such a dynamic industry as ours was once so very dull, and what changed? As an entrepreneur, already with businesses in retail and manufacturing, Ike cofounded his first cosmetic manufacturing and marketing company, Ardex, in Brooklyn in 1966, a time when there were only three other nail polish brands on the market: Revlon, Cutex and Dura-Gloss.

Ike explains, “At the time, the cosmetic industry as a whole was still in its infancy. The standard nail color was limited to between nine and 12 mundane shades of red, pink and peach—and that was it. That was the extent of what was available to women in the market.” But these also were the times of the counterculture—long hair, free love and experimentation. The 1960s were associated with rebellion against the conservative social norms of fashion and included the introduction of the mini-skirt and go-go boots, a stark contrast to the formalities of the 1950s. And while society and fashion were changing, the beauty industry largely remained stagnant and disconnected from the changing times.