Former make-up artist. Founder of one of the world’s biggest beauty brands. Pioneer of the ‘less is more’ natural look – Bobbi Brown’s name is shorthand for brilliant products that are designed, quite simply, “to empower women to feel good about themselves.” And she’s built an empire on it. Shortly after we chatted to Bobbi, she announced she was stepping down from her eponymous brand after 25 years and hinted at "a new venture".
Did you always want to be a make-up artist?
Make-up has always been my passion - it started when I was five years old and got into my mother’s make-up drawer. I began playing with her make-up, applying it to my face, the sink and even the bathroom walls.
One winter, while home from college, I announced to my mother that I wanted to drop out of school. She said something that is so simple, but 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 said I wanted to go to Marshall Fields (a Chicago department store) and play with make-up. She said, “Why don’t you study cosmetics and get a degree from a school?” My passion for make-up led me to Emerson College in Boston where I pursued a degree in theatrical make-up.
Did you have a eureka moment when you decided to launch your own line of make-up? What was your first product?
I launched my line in the 1980’s when the look of the moment was loud, garish, and overdone. I couldn’t find shades or colours that looked natural. A chance meeting with a chemist at a photo shoot changed everything. I had an idea to develop a flattering lipstick that looked like lips, only better. It became reality with the creation of Brown Lip Colour. Nine other shades followed.
I debuted my lipstick line in 1991 at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City - and it was clear a beauty revolution was underway. Women seemed to really embrace my realistic approach to beauty. The women who came to our counter were modern, very busy (like I am), and weren’t afraid to speak out about what they wanted. They wanted to look their best, and wanted easy to use products that actually work.
Is there a moment you can pinpoint when you knew you’d made it?
My breakthrough moment as a make-up artist was my Vogue cover with Naomi Campbell, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. I was so excited to get that job. It was my first cover shoot and such a legendary one for Vogue with Naomi on the cover. I was so nervous and did make-up on Naomi that was out of her comfort zone, but in the end, everything went really well. I could never have predicted at that time that I’d eventually have my own line. I was just living in the moment.
What’s the best piece of beauty advice you would give every woman?
My mantra is: “Be who you are.” My goal when I started my company was to empower women with the right make-up and knowledge to look and feel their best, most confident self. Rather than trying to change or distort a woman’s features, I use make-up to enhance the features that make her unique. While make-up shouldn’t be considered a one-step prescription for self-confidence, I believe that with the right tools and knowledge, make-up can help all women achieve that little boost for looking and feeling our best. And more than make-up, beauty is really something that comes from within – it’s about having self-confidence.
Hence launching your Pretty Powerful Campaign…
I have always believed in empowering women to be their best selves. That's why I started the Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women and Girls, which supports organisations that empower women and girls through education. Launched in 2013, the campaign is dedicated to supporting women and girls with the knowledge, skills and experience needed to overcome the inequities and disadvantages that far too many of them face each day. In the UK we work with Smart Works, a charity that helps women on low incomes get jobs and become financially independent by providing professional outfits and training for interviews.
Bobbi Brown Cosmetics is the leading make-up brand founded by a woman: what’s the secret to your success?
I am so fortunate to be passionate about what I do. Make-up, colour, and everything visual have always been what makes me happy. Thanks to my parents, who understood the importance of pursuing my passion, I made make-up my major in college - a first at my school. I knew that I would eventually turn my fascination with make-up, and how it can transform women inside and out, into a career.
This also fuels my other passion – helping women. My goal when I started my company was to empower women to feel their best, most confident self – that’s what energises me and keeps me going every day.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
I know first-hand that it is not always easy being a teenager - especially a teenage girl. In a world where there are so many unrealistic images of unattainable beauty all over the media, the pressure on young girls is overwhelming. I wish I had understood that there is more than one way to be pretty, and more than one way to be smart.
The secret to true beauty is simply to be who you are. I struggled with self-acceptance as a teenager. I was short and had dark hair, while all the popular actresses and models at the time were tall and blonde. Traditional school subjects didn't come naturally to me. I had to work really hard. The good news is that, with time, I found different role models and learned to appreciate and embrace my unique beauty. I also found a subject - make-up - that I loved and did come easily to me. So I finally learned to accept, and love, what made me unique. Self-acceptance is the key to looking pretty - if you are happy being who you are, you will look your prettiest. True beauty is about feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin. We spend too much energy obsessing over things we can’t change.
Tell us about your skincare regime...
In the morning, I wash my face with Soothing Cleansing Oil and sometimes I mix Buffing Grains with Extra Balm Rinse if I want to exfoliate. I moisturise with Extra Repair Moisturising Balm and will sometimes layer the Extra Repair Serum on top, especially during the winter months when my skin tends to be dry. I recommend layering moisturisers to plump the skin and create the perfect canvas for makeup application. Also, eye cream is a must, every day, all year round. I alternate between Extra Eye Repair Cream and Hydrating Eye Cream. At night, I repeat my morning routine and add Hydrating Intense Night Cream.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My happiest, proudest moments have been birth of each of my three sons.
When are you happiest?
At the beach surrounded by my children and being with my husband.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be nice.
Desert island beauty product (we’ll give you sunscreen)?
Concealer. It’s the secret of the universe.
Your favourite scent?
Jo Malone, Orange Blossom.
Over or under dressed?
Night in or night out?
Winter or Summer?
Summer. I love the beach.
And finally, what is your guilty pleasure?