You can take Bobbi Brown out of her namesake business, but you can’t take business out of Bobbi Brown.
Nearly a month after it was revealed she would depart Bobbi Brown Cosmetics owner Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Brown pronounced Tuesday during a Q&A session at Indie Beauty Expo’s Connect Indie event for entrepreneurs at The L.A. Hotel Downtown that she’s “again an indie beauty person.” She continued, “I don’t know what products I’m going to come out with. I don’t know what categories I’m going to come out with yet, but I’m really excited about reinventing the way I see a line should be.”
Although Brown didn’t share any details on the line other than she envisions it being “clear and concise,” she did divulge she’s adding the position of hotel decorator to her esteemed résumé. In an interview with WWD prior to the session led by beauty writer Rachel Marlowe, Brown, who sources say is constrained by a non-compete clause in her Lauder contract, said her next project is to help her husband Steven Plofker renovate The George Inn, a 32-room boutique hotel not too far from where she lives in Montclair, N.J., that should be ready by the summer.
“I travel so much, and I know what I like and what I like now is not what I liked 20 years ago. I like simple. I like calm. I’m not a Zen kind person, but I like space and I think about where you put clothes in a room. I like to solve problems,” said Brown, elaborating about the hotel, “It will be a good place to test out lifestyle products.…There will be a pop-up store, so I get to curate some of my favorite things.”
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Brown is clearly ready to move on from her makeup brand. Asked whether there was anything that could have kept her at Bobbi Brown, she responded, “I don’t think so.” Brown elucidated, “It certainly wasn’t an overnight decision. The fun thing about starting a brand is creativity and the idea of doing something that doesn’t exist. When you get really big, your mind is on different things. It’s, how do you stay big? How big can you be? It was 25 years, we reached the celebration and we reached $1 billion in sales. It was like, ‘OK, maybe it’s time for me to do this again.’ I still have some ideas and some things I want to do.”
One of those things, apparently, is to participate in a makeup revolution emphasizing cosmetics as confidence boosters. In a story penned for Refinery 29 and published last Thursday, Brown maintained “makeup is meant to enhance, rather than to cover up” and asserted it’s “disheartening to see trends like contouring.” On Tuesday, she expounded, “When I came to New York City in the late Eighties, it was the end of the Studio 54 era. You wonder about why I don’t like contour. Everything was contoured. It was just so artificial. It just wasn’t pretty. I think it made models and celebrities look like weird versions of themselves. I happen to like the natural look.”
Preceding Brown’s exit from Lauder in December, the company made deals to buy Too Faced and Becca, brands not primarily known for the natural look. The indie earthquake that has shaken the beauty industry and is at least part of the reason for Lauder’s interest in Too Faced and Becca isn’t lost on Brown. She’s a fan of upstarts. “Indie anything is cool and, right now, most people want something that they just discovered or something new or something different,” said Brown. “I think the clothes are interesting. We have three boys and two of them, they like to wear non-label things, things that were created in Brooklyn or Korea or something different. So, I just think that small, cool, creative companies are where it’s at.”
As many of these cool companies will find out, the transition from emerging indie to emerged power player can be tricky, and Brown has first-hand experience making it. Addressing founders of recently acquired brands taking similar paths, she advised, “If you were in charge of every decision, you are not going to be in charge of every decision. It’s about getting along with the people you have sold the company to.” At the Q&A session, she spoke directly to entrepreneurs with this cautionary note: “When you do sell the company and the company is big, you will look back at what you are going through right now and, I’m telling you, be happy where you are at because it’s the good stuff.”