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Bobbi Brown on Beauty, Business and Priorities

In conversation with Fern Mallis, Brown outlined her lengthy career in beauty and key learnings.

Fern Mallis turned to a seasoned beauty multihyphenate for the latest iteration of “Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis.”

Mallis sat down with beauty entrepreneur and makeup artist Bobbi Brown at the 92Y on Thursday night. After awarding Brown with a Lingua Franca sweater embroidered with the phrase “Beauty Icon,” Brown spoke about entrepreneurship and how her family always came first.

“Honestly, there’s no such thing as balance,” Brown said of juggling her myriad duties as a businesswoman and mother. “You try the best you can, but it doesn’t exist. The secret is the priorities,” she said.

To that end, Brown said she never missed any of her kids’ musical recitals or soccer games. What enabled that, though, was selling her namesake makeup brand to the Estée Lauder Cos. in 1995.

“Leonard Lauder said, ‘What if I tell you that you could grow this company, and you can do what you love and that you believe in, which is being creative, being a makeup artist, and being a mom, a wife and a friend,'” Brown said. “And yes, I did not want to be one of these women that traveled the world and forgot about my family.”

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When the deal closed, Brown said she splurged on season tickets to the basketball team the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets).

Part of that deal, though, was a 25-year non-compete agreement barring her from working in beauty. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be in my 60s, I’m not going to want to work,'” she joked, having since started three businesses including Jones Road Beauty, which launched in 2020.

“I needed something to do, because I would drive everybody crazy, including myself,” she said. “My husband said to me, ‘let’s make a hotel.’ Then I did a Just Bobbi shop for Lord & Taylor, I did a wellness brand, and a Just Bobbi website. Then, I had the idea to go back into beauty.”

Jones Road Beauty, so named for a street in East Hampton, N.Y., Brown discovered while navigating her way to a friend’s house, took a drastically different approach to the industry than Brown’s namesake line did almost 30 years ago. The latter launched at Bergdorf Goodman, while the former launched directly on its own website.

For Brown, it was a no-brainer. “I did the whole retail thing, and it was a great learning experience,” she said. “By going direct-to-consumer, you own your customer, you own your profit, and you decide what to do and when. It just makes much sense.”

Jones Road Beauty expanded into Credo Beauty earlier this year, which Brown said was “the only store we plan on launching.”

That strategy is working for Brown, who was surprised to learn that “women of a certain age” were bolstering her virality on TikTok. “My second video was talking about makeup for women over 50, and we got over 2,000 comments of women saying, ‘Oh my god, I’m over 40, I’m over 50,'” she said.

True to Brown’s family-first mentality, she’s looked in her own household for the brand’s employees. “My head of marketing right now is my son, which is so funny to work with your kid,” she said.

Her aesthetic preferences — along the lines of the no-makeup makeup trend — were iconoclastic when she started her career, as Mallis noted. “It was the era of excess, Kevyn Aucoin, over-contouring, dark eyes, lined lips. But you were a minimalist,” she said.

“I was not a full painter of the face,” Brown said. “My first cover I did was for an Italian magazine. I just did bronzer on the cheek and eyes and lips, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.”

For more from WWD.com, see:

Fern Mallis Readies to Release Second ‘Fashion Icons’ Book

Makeup Artist Bobbi Brown’s Jones Road Launches Skin Care

Bobbi Brown Talks Jones Road, Optimism and Pivoting