Bobbi Brown talks 25 years in the biz
She hates contouring and loves diversity, and we adore her for it!
After over two decades of uncharted success in the make-up industry, Bobbi Brown has decided to step down from her eponymous line. The brand’s 25-year anniversary is said to have prompted her decision. “This wonderful milestone has made me realize it was time to start a new chapter and move on to new ventures,” she said in a statement.
Given her background in theatrical make-up, it’s surprising what launched a young Bobbi Brown into the big league: the idea that beauty should be fresh and natural. In the late ’80s, when the trending look was over-the-top and excessive, Brown did fashion editorials that stood out for their bare faces and unusual subtlety. She learned to disregard trends early on and followed her instincts, especially when she decided to go from artist to entrepreneur.
She launched a line of 10 eminently wearable lipsticks in 1991. It caught the popular imagination, defined the look of the ’90s (brown lips, nude skin, matte everything) and set her little business idea on fire. Twenty-five years later, it’s a global empire. Through it all, Brown has kept her reputation for being grounded (you’ll mostly see her in sneakers) and very hands-on with everything from developing new products at her New Jersey studio, to designing looks at New York Fashion Week.
Her mission to create make-up that’s quietly flattering hasn’t changed. She’s fond of saying that every woman is pretty and with the right tools and make-up, she can be confident too. That means instead of handing out contouring tips (she hates them) or making skin-lightening creams, the 59-year-old champions inclusivity at her make-up counters.
Her products have always had shades beyond the usual ‘peach’ and ‘beige’, to suit women of diverse ethnicities. All her major campaigns have featured models of colour, with the most recent being Bhumika Arora, who stars alongside 39 other women from various backgrounds.
As the brand celebrates its 25th anniversary and other milestones along the way (like Kate Middleton wearing Bobbi Brown on her wedding day), Brown remains as keen today as she was all those years ago to prove that make-up can be a powerful tool of empowerment.
ELLE: What are the big lessons you’ve learned over these last 25 years?
Bobbi Brown: It’s taken me a while to notice that you have to constantly reinvent yourself while staying true to your message. The first time it happened was when I got married, moved to New Jersey and was travelling a lot for editorial work. I knew I didn’t want to continue doing this and decided to make my own lipsticks. With the business, I’ve stopped so many times, usually when there is a downturn in the economy, to look at what’s not working and press the reset button. You have to be new and fresh because people get bored.
ELLE: As a make-up artist who started off in the OTT era of the ’80s, how did you find your voice?
BB: Honestly, one of the strange things about me is that I don’t always think ahead—I just do what feels right. For me, it always has to be make-up that looks pretty. Every time I tried to conform to a trend, it looked awful. And when I came into the fashion industry I worked with models from all over the world. My style really evolved from working with girls of different skin tones. I would never change their natural skin or lip colour. I thought about this even when I made my first line of lipsticks.
ELLE: Is that how you came to create shades for women of every colour?
BB: I realised that the make-up used on blondes or brunettes with very light skin does not work for everyone. It’s like the time I created my corrector while doing make-up for an Indian woman at Bergdorf. We kept applying make-up on her but nothing worked on the purple under her eyes. I remember I had a peach blush stick, it was an awful colour for a blush but it corrected the purple and then I put concealer over it. Shades like peach and dark peach work well for Indians, but the secret is in picking a colour for the circles and not your skin. Corrector is usually [marketed] for women with dark circles but, truth be told, everyone looks good with it.
ELLE: What other beauty inventions have marked milestones for you?
BB: The gel eyeliner has won so many awards and it has probably been—I don’t want to say knocked-off—but everyone has one now. Honestly, I made it up when I was stuck somewhere without any shadow or liner and had to do my make-up. I used waterproof mascara with a different brush to do my eyes. The next day someone told me the mascara was gel-based and that’s how the name came about. I had it poured into an inkwell, that’s how I made it up. It’s cool man, I’m happy it’s the best-selling product in everyone’s lines.
ELLE: Apart from the models you’ve worked with, who else inspires you?
BB: I have been very lucky to work with some amazing women. I also love collaborating with creative people like photographers and fashion designers. My most favourite designer to work with has been L’Wren Scott. She really inspired me to do different things with make-up. I remember we were working on one collection where she wanted the make-up to be inspired by the artist Gustav Klimt. It was hours of make-up testing with L’Wren and Mick Jagger [her boyfriend]. I remember I was working on my retouching powder at that time and I ended up using that to create painterly powdered faces for the models. It’s always fun to try something new.
ELLE: What’s the one make-up lesson you want every woman to know?
BB: I teach women how to wear trends in their own personal way. I want to tell a woman she can make herself look good and even feel good about it without having to compare herself [to anyone]—it’s empowering. She should find make-up that makes her look fresh, natural and more like herself. There’s no need to contour and change skin colour or nose shape to look beautiful. Women have a choice and, hopefully, we can make them choose what’s positive.
Flip through the gallery for a glimpse at Bobbi Brown’s special anniversary collection inspired from fashion capitals around the world.