The makeup artist turned millionaire cosmetics entrepreneur talks to Claudia Chan about hard work, under-eye concealer and what truly makes a woman beautiful.
With the launch of Bobbi Brown Essentials in 1991, Brown introduced ten lipstick shades that would change the face of makeup. Her vision — to create a natural-looking line to help women look and feel more confident — shook up the cosmetics world and quickly turned her company into a globally recognized brand. Estée Lauder Cos. bought it in 1995 (the price wasn’t disclosed, although Lauder reportedly spent $74.5 million, mostly on the acquisition). Today, Brown continues to serve as chief creative officer, and her impact extends beyond the beauty industries. Her company partners with Dress for Success, and in spring 2013 Brown launched the Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women & Girls, an initiative aimed at empowering women and girls with education, job skills and work experience. As the brand continues to grow, Brown’s message remains the same: “The secret to beauty is simple — be who you are.”
Edited interview excerpt follows.
[box_light]ON THE JOURNEY[/box_light]
Claudia Chan: Please share with us the story of your professional journey.
After my first year of college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. My mom told me to pretend that it was my birthday, and I could do anything I wanted that day. I said I wanted to go to Marshall Field’s [a department store in Chicago] and play with makeup. So she said, “Why don’t you become a makeup artist?” I wound up transferring to Emerson College in Boston, which had a program in theatrical makeup. After graduating I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming a makeup artist.
As I built my career as a makeup artist, I couldn’t find shades or colors that looked natural. So I started mixing my own shades to create makeup that would truly match and complement a woman’s complexion. Then, a chance meeting with a chemist at a magazine photo shoot changed everything. In 1991, I launched my first 10 natural, wearable lip colors at Bergdorf Goodman. I thought we would sell 100 lipsticks in the first month and we sold 100 in the first day. Four years later, I got a call from Leonard Lauder and it was then that I realized I had this major company.
CC: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A. To me, the most important step to success is to follow your dreams and passions. Have a vision of where you want to see yourself and figure out a course to take you there. Don’t take no for an answer and if one door closes, look for a back door or a side door or a window. If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.
[box_light]ON STARTING OUT[/box_light]
CC: What are your top three tips for a woman entering the “real world” workforce?
A. Work on your craft, network and always be nice. Hard work and niceness come back.
CC: What are you most passionate about, and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A. Being beautiful isn’t about being flawless. It’s about having self-confidence and playing up the qualities that make you unique. Be who you are. I’ve found that you can’t go wrong when you stay true to yourself and what you believe in.
[box_light]ON GIVING BACK[/box_light]
CC: Can you share with us an experience of giving that was rewarding or transformational?
A. In 2001, Norma Kamali [the fashion designer] introduced me to Dress for Success, and in 2005 I joined the board. When I went to that first introductory meeting, I was so moved by the cause that I took off the scarf I was wearing to donate it. Now, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics offers makeup tutorials for women who are reentering the workforce in addition to the makeup they need to create work appropriate makeup looks. I also look forward to chairing the annual galas and volunteering at the DFS Walk Fundraisers. It’s so inspirational to see all of the women each year who have come so far. My goal from the beginning of my career has been to empower women, so this cause aligns perfectly with that.
CC: Why is it important for every single person sharing this earth to give back in some capacity?
A. I firmly believe that when you have the means to make a difference in other people’s lives, you need to pay it forward. The more you give in life, the more you get back.
CC: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A. My family has always been my priority. When I’m not working, I love to spend time with my family and I always make time for important life events. The key is to find a healthy and happy balance and to prioritize. If you know what’s important to you, you will always make the right decisions.
CC: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
A. Corrector/Concealer, Pot Rouge for Lips & Cheeks and Black Mascara.
CC: Do you have a beauty secret that you can share?
A. I never leave the house without Corrector/Concealer. It is the secret to the universe and my desert island must-have. When applied correctly, it can instantly brighten your face and make you look well rested, as if you’ve had eight hours of sleep when you’ve really only had five.