An established brand and makeup artist for more than 25 years, Bobbi Brown knows beauty. Her commitment to embracing natural-looking makeup and creating quality cosmetics to empower women has seen Bobbi author eight books, launch a charity initiative and create 650 products sold in more than 70 countries.
She’s a mother of three, a businesswoman and a happy wife who wholeheartedly embodies the belief that you can have it all – if you set your priorities straight.
What prompted you to choose a career in the beauty industry?
Makeup has always been my passion – it started when I was five years old and got into my mother’s makeup drawer. I began playing with her makeup, applying it to my face, the sink and even the bathroom walls. As I grew up, I still loved playing with makeup and my parents encouraged me to go for it.
One winter, while home from college, I announced to my mother that I wanted to drop out of school. She said that I couldn’t and insisted I get a college degree instead – and I thank her for it.
She asked me what I wanted to do when I finished school and I had no idea. Then she said something so simple that changed my life: “Forget about what you want to do with your life – pretend it’s your birthday and you can do anything you want.”
I stopped and said I wanted to go to Marshall Fields (a Chicago department store) and play with makeup. And she said, “Why don’t you study cosmetics and get a degree from a school somewhere?” My passion for makeup led me to Emerson College in Boston, where I pursued a degree in theatrical makeup.
What was the turning point that pushed you to create your own line, and how did you bring your vision to life?
After graduating from college with a degree in theatrical makeup design, I headed to New York to fulfill my dream of working as a professional makeup artist. It was the 1980s and the look of the moment was loud, garish, and overdone. I soon became frustrated by the lack of flattering makeup on the market; it was impossible to find makeup that looked good on skin. I almost always had to “fix” the products I bought, blending shades together until I got something that looked natural. I saw a major void in the cosmetics industry that I knew I could help address.
I had an idea to develop a flattering lipstick – something that was different from everything available in stores. I realised that not everybody loved neutrals, so I thought about 10 different women I knew and what colours would look good on them. With this set of 10 lipsticks, a woman could create an infinite number of wearable shades, just by mixing and blending them. After launching my original 10 lipsticks at Bergdorf Goodman in February 1991, I knew a beauty revolution was underway. Women really embraced these uniquely flattering shades and my realistic approach to beauty.
Tell us about your creative process when designing new products.
My inspiration comes from a variety of places – travelling, colourful fabrics and everyday women I see on the street… and also out of sheer need. These inspirations find their way into new colour collections and new product ideas. For example, one year at Fashion Week, a designer asked me to give all the models a lit-from-within glow. I took a shimmery eye shadow and dusted it on the models’ cheeks and that’s how the concept for Shimmer Brick was born.
Also, developing the Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner was a great moment. A few years ago, I was doing my own makeup for a shoot, and I realised I forgot to bring eyeliner. I reached into my bag and found waterproof mascara, took a Q-tip and lined my eyes with it. It lasted ’til that night – that’s how Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner was born.
What does a regular day look like for you?
Exercising in the morning leaves me feeling energised and transformed so I might go spinning or running. Lately, I’ve been practising my yoga a lot – it’s a relaxing form of exercise and can actually help you sleep better at night, all of which shows on your face, giving you a refreshed, well-rested look.
I work two days a week from my studio in Montclair, New Jersey, and two in my New York office in Soho, which is about an hour away from my house. When I’m in the New York office, I typically have meetings all day. I meet for about an hour with each of my teams, including Social/Digital, Creative, Marketing, Public Relations, and Product Development. I actually get involved in every single aspect of the brand from production to artistry to the creative; I like to be part of the process. I wouldn’t put my name on a brand and products that I didn’t fully endorse.
What are some products you never leave home without?
I never leave the house without concealer, mascara and blush. Concealer is my “desert island” cosmetic – I wouldn’t dream of living without it. When applied correctly, it instantly makes you appear awake and refreshed, no matter what’s going on in the outside world. Blackest black mascara makes eyes pop and, last but not least, blush is the epitome of instant pretty. A tip for finding the most natural look: go for a shade that looks like your cheeks after you’ve just exercised.
What’s your favourite makeup style?
I’ve always loved a more nude makeup look for any occasion and environment – day to night. It’s my favourite look because it flatters everyone and is pretty much mistake-proof.
What beauty trend do you wish would die out?
Red lip or brown lip?
Brown – every woman should find her perfect nude.
You landed your first Vogue cover in 1987 with Naomi Campbell. Who has been your favourite celebrity to work with over the years?
I love working with Kate Upton, who is now the celebrity face of Bobbi Brown. When Kate appeared on the Vogue cover a couple of years ago, I set out to meet her.
I admire women who create their own rules, so I was naturally drawn to Kate because she’s a maverick who has carved her own path to success. I fell in love with her spirit, natural beauty, and energy. Kate represents the brand’s philosophy of “be who you are” beauty. She is comfortable in her own skin, has a healthy body image, has such positive energy and is a woman who creates her own rules. She loves life, and that is what my brand is about.
Bobbi Brown has been established as a successful brand for more than 20 years. How have you evolved?
Today we are in 71 countries and are sold in more than 1969 stores. We have more than 70 free-standing stores worldwide. Our three biggest markets are the US, UK and Korea. We started with 10 lipsticks but now have about 1506 SKUs and 650 products total.
Our brand philosophy remains the same as it did 25 years ago - that with the right makeup and knowledge, women can look like themselves only prettier and more confident.
Our products are driven by the needs of our consumers and we are committed to empowering women. I’ve learnt to listen and trust my instincts. I think that’s why we have maintained our integrity as a company.
I plan to continue to develop effective products that meet the needs of all women. I’ve found that women want simple, effective products that will help them look and feel their very best.
How has the industry evolved in 20 years?
When I debuted my line in 1991, women really embraced these uniquely flattering shades and my realistic approach to beauty. The women who came to our counter were quintessentially modern – very busy (like I am), and unafraid to speak out about what they wanted. They wanted to look their best and wanted products that are easy to use and actually work.
Today, women want the same thing – simple and effective products that will help them look and feel their very best, and they crave the knowledge of how to use them.
Women have become so much more knowledgeable about products and application techniques. When they go to a makeup counter, they have a higher degree of confidence about what they want, which is great.
The way women feel about aging is also beginning to change. Aging is starting to be seen as a process through which a woman can gain more vitality, strength, wisdom, and a new sense of her beauty.
As a result, the beauty industry has become more about options and less about rules. Young girls and women have more role models today. We’ve definitely moved away from the idea that there’s only one definition of beauty. We’re starting to realise that we should all strive for is a very personal definition of our own beauty.
I think that we are a society obsessed with perfection. Everywhere women look, they are confronted with the same kinds of fashion and beauty images – ones that showcase a perfectionism that’s not realistically achievable. Between long hours at the office, family responsibilities, and endless to-do lists, it’s not feasible for women to spend hours in front of the mirror trying to emulate an airbrushed photo. But it’s very real to feel this kind of pressure.
Being beautiful isn’t about having flawless, cookie-cutter looks. It’s about having self-confidence and playing up the qualities that make you unique. I strongly believe that the cosmetics industry should celebrate all women. Models are certainly beautiful, but they represent such a small cross-section of women that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone else to conform to their standards. I think women can gain a lot of confidence by seeing realistic, beautifully natural images celebrated in the media.
Tell us about your charity initiative, The Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women & Girls.
I started Pretty Powerful in 2010. It’s a campaign that celebrates the beauty of real women (my friends, neighbours, co-workers, amazing women I’ve met on the street) from a variety of backgrounds through their inspiring stories, photos and videos. I want to show women that there isn’t just one definition of beauty. The campaign is about being comfortable in your own skin, knowing what’s important to you, and doing what makes you happy. When you feel good about yourself, there’s no limit to what you can do – and that’s what I like to call pretty powerful. I hope that these images of real women will inspire others to embrace their own inner confidence so that they shine from within.
Over the years it has evolved into a philanthropic project aimed at empowering women and girls through education called The Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women & Girls, which aims to help women of all ages be who they are by supporting educational or career training programs that provide them with crucial knowledge, skills and experience needed to overcome the inequities and disadvantages that far too many of them face each day.
What does it mean to you to be a modern woman in business?
Over the last 20 years, I’ve learnt to find time to do it all – run a company, raise three kids and have a happy marriage. If you know what’s most important to you, you will always make the right decisions. Strict prioritising has been my greatest tool. My family is the most important thing to me and I fit everything else around them.
The modern Bobbi Brown woman is busier than ever – juggling a family, career, social life, charitable endeavours – the list could go on. She’s comfortable in her own skin and looks for makeup and skincare products that are high quality, easy to apply, and make her feel like the best version of herself.
What’s been your proudest moment?
My happiest, proudest moments have been the births of each of my three sons.
What advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
You have to be passionate about the product or service you’re offering. You also have to make sure that you have something that you really believe in and that people either need or really want. Then you have to figure out how to let people know about it. Start small and don’t invest a lot of your own money. There’s a lot of learning in anything you do and if you start too big, it can be very costly. In other words, make sure you have the foundation built before you build the house.
What’s your favourite country to travel in?
The UK – there are so many things I love about it: the people, the accents, that Union Jack flag (I’m obsessed). Too many things to count! I can’t tell you what it is… I just love all things British.
What’s something about you that surprises people?
If I hadn’t become a makeup artist, I’d be a nutritional chef. I love to cook, and my sons like to help so it tends to become a family activity. I like to experiment and try new healthy recipes.
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