When Bobbi Brown launched her cosmetics brand two decades ago with 10 pinky-brown lipsticks, she sparked something of a revolution. With her softer shades and lighter hand, Brown presented a more natural approach to beauty, one that marked a total departure from the bright lips and bold eyes that prevailed at the time. Her philosophy was different as well: Brown saw makeup as a way to encourage confidence and celebrate individuality, as opposed to its being the means of achieving a one-size-fits-some standard of beauty. She clearly touched a nerve. The first day her lipsticks went on sale at Bergdorf Goodman in 1991, she sold 100. Today, she sells 21 million products a year in more than 60 countries.
Beyond the products, Brown’s global success also rests on her oft-expressed belief — whether she’s speaking on the Today Show or espousing wisdom in one of her seven best-selling books — that inner and outer beauty are linked. In her view, if you are healthy and confident — whatever your race, age, style or “flaws” — you are beautiful. True to her word, in her ad campaigns she frequently features “real” women of all ages and ethnicities. The quirky and the unconventional are celebrated; perfection is not.
Her approach to decorating is similar, whether at home in Montclair, New Jersey, her weekend house in nearby Bay Head or her cozy cabin in Telluride, Colorado. “Simple, practical and comfortable,” she says, “but with a twist of the unexpected.” To wit: She recently bought a portrait series of U.S. Presidents on 1stdibs that now line her entryway. “I love 1stdibs because it offers a really eclectic mix of cool luxury items that you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” she says, admitting that she spends hours scouring the site.
Indeed, having gone from makeup artist to mogul — thanks in part to Estée Lauder acquiring the brand in 1995, while keeping her as creative director — Brown has never lost her down-to-earth style. On a recent visit to the White House she wore what would make her most comfortable and confident: blue jeans.
Montclair, New Jersey
Husband, Steven Plofker; children Dylan, 22; Dakota, 20; and Duke, 14
First makeup memory:
I remember being a young girl and watching my mom get ready for a big night out. I was amazed at how she transformed herself with her white eye shadow and glamorous liner. It wasn’t long before I started doing makeovers on everyone in sight, even the family dog.
My mother was actually the one who inspired me to pursue a career in makeup. One day I told her that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had gone to college and didn’t think it was for me. She told me to forget about my “life” and pretend it was my birthday. She asked, “What would you want to do today?” I said that I wanted to go to the makeup counter at Marshall Field’s to play with makeup. So my mom said, “Why don’t you become a makeup artist?”
“I want women to look and feel like themselves — only prettier and more confident”
My first cover of Vogue, with Naomi Campbell, in 1987. It was her first Vogue cover too.
Even bigger break:
Leonard Lauder called me and wanted to meet. I couldn’t believe it. He said, “You’re beating us in the stores — we’d like for you to join our family.” When I met with him, we had dinner on his terrace overlooking Central Park, with classical musicians playing in the background. The moment was so surreal. I never intended to sell my company, and I knew that if I did, it would have to be to the right partner. When I met Leonard, I felt in my gut that it would be the right move. But what really struck me was his understanding of how important it was for me to run my business but also to be a good mother and wife. He promised me complete autonomy and that I could still do what I believed in. It has proven to be a very successful partnership.
I believe in empowering women and teaching them to be their own makeup artists. I think makeup should enhance a woman’s natural features. I want women to look and feel like themselves — only prettier and more confident.
I’ve learned that you can’t do it all. Hire people who are great at what they do and let them do it. And when it comes to work versus family, family comes first. Don’t miss your child’s school play for a meeting. Those moments are fleeting. It is a true balancing act. Sometimes you have to focus more on work, sometimes more on life. It’s a give-and-take situation. Something that has helped me is putting all of my family obligations and breaks on the calendar ahead of time. Then I don’t book anything else during important family time.
Advice for would-be entrepreneurs:
You need an idea, something that you really believe in, that people either need or really want. You need tons of passion, and you have to be willing to put in enormous amounts of hard work. Trust your gut, be persistent and don’t take no for an answer. When a door closes, find a window.
So many women inspire me, from my mother to Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night: Homeless to Harvard, to Lauren Bush Lauren, founder of FEED. I am constantly meeting women with incredible stories — several of whom are featured in my latest book, Pretty Powerful. All women have the power to be inspirational.
My house is incredibly busy with three sons, two nephews, a foreign-exchange student or two, and three dogs, so it has to be livable. I appreciate vintage pieces, contrasted with an industrial feel — eclectic mixes à la Ralph Lauren.
I know what I like and what makes me feel happy and comfortable, which is how you should feel when you’re at home. I don’t follow trends. I go with my gut. That said, I love off-white and gray with accents of chocolate and navy. I prefer a unisex palette and design — not super-feminine at all.
Between you and your real estate-developer husband, who gets final say on home design?
It’s strange, but we are often on the same page. We have a very similar aesthetic, and after 25 years of marriage, whoever wants it more wins.
Favorite piece in your home:
A vintage Louis Vuitton trunk in my living room
The Waldorf in Chicago
Grace Coddington’s memoir, Grace
My favorite music is hip-hop, especially Jay-Z, Flo Rida and Kanye. It gets you grooving and keeps you moving.
How you look really does start with how you treat yourself. You have to care of yourself from the inside out. Drink lots of water, get enough rest, exercise, eat right and meditate. When you feel good, you radiate confidence, and it shows. Don’t overanalyze, and always look at yourself in good light.
Makeup advice that will outlive any fads:
Use the right concealer. Concealer is the secret of the universe. Once you have that right, everything else falls into place. The right yellow-toned concealer will instantly brighten your eyes and make you look refreshed.
My three sons and my husband