BOBBI BROWN: REFLECTING ON 10 YEARS OF ESSENTIALS
Byline: Julie Naughton
NEW YORK — A decade after creating her signature cosmetics collection and six years after selling her eponymous company to the The Estee Lauder Cos., makeup artist Bobbi Brown admits that the founding of Bobbi Brown Essentials wasn’t exactly written in the stars.
“Makeup was always my passion, but I had planned to do it in films,” she said. “In fact, I studied theatrical makeup in college. But when I moved to New York, I fell in love with doing makeup for fashion shoots.”
In fact, that ended up being the path that led to her classic, wearable makeup line — Brown became frustrated at the dearth of workable cosmetics colors at the department-store level. “I spent lots of time shopping for makeup at department stores,” she remembered. “I’d get home with a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of makeup, and would find that the foundations were always too pink or the colors were too fake. I decided that I could do better.”
Lipstick was first, because “that was my personal obsession. I couldn’t find neutrals — everything was pinky or orangy. Not only that, everything was so heavy and matte and dry. I wanted something matte and dense, yet creamy.” Brown formulated one of her first neutrals — her number four lipstick — from a pinky-cream blush, a taupe eye pencil and a neutral foundation, then tested it on models, family members and her nanny. “When everyone loved it, I thought I might be on to something,” she said
After Brown devised several other shades, she decided to aim for a wider customer base. “An editor friend, Lesley Jane Seymour, wrote about the lipsticks in Glamour with an 800 number. The next thing I knew, I was shipping them out of my second-floor apartment,” remembered Brown. “But there’s only so long you can do that!” She officially founded Bobbi Brown Professional Cosmetics in 1991 with partner Rosalind Landis, who is now in corporate business development at Lauder.
Brown’s first retail door was Bergdorf Goodman, which she entered with 10 neutral-toned lipsticks in 1991. “There was no space for a counter, so the buyer put me on a table,” she said. As the lipsticks sold out of the store, Brown soon expanded her range to include makeup brushes and additional color cosmetics, and added more doors, including Harrods in London. Brown is now in more than 175 doors in the U.S. and in more than 20 countries and territories globally, the latest being Kuwait.
She added skin care in 1995 — the same year that her company was purchased by The Estee Lauder Cos. While Lauder certainly provided resources and experience, the company’s considerable international presence allowed Brown the opportunity to expand beyond Harrods, entering doors in continental Europe, Asia and the Mideast. “International was one of the main reasons that we sold the company,” said Brown, who is still chief executive officer of her brand. “Lauder has had incredible experience globally, and they’ve expanded us slowly and steadily overseas. Also, I made a personal lifestyle choice — I wanted to have time for my family. Lauder has been such a phenomenal partner. They don’t push anything on me, but they’re always there.” Lauder has reportedly helped to triple the size of the Bobbi Brown business since its purchase. While Brown wouldn’t comment on numbers, industry sources estimated that the brand did more than $200 million at retail globally in 2000.
While she’s long been known as the queen of neutral cosmetics, last year, Brown took a bold step with color, adding ColorOptions, a trendy, experimental line that includes items such as Artstick, a pencil that can be used on lips and cheeks, in colors like magenta and hot pink. Brown likens Essentials to the proverbial little black dress, while ColorOptions is the trendy purse or pair of shoes. “They’re totally separate and serve different purposes,” she emphasizes.
But ColorOptions isn’t all that Brown is up to; she’s continually adding new categories. She began selling fragrance in spring of 1998 and added a baby line in 1999 — and she’s not done yet. Going forward, Brown is looking to do freestanding stores, a Bobbi school, a video and possibly a TV show — she’s already the beauty editor for the “Today” show and a contributor to E! network.
With co-writer Annmarie Iverson, Brown has also started a third book, due out in fall 2002. “We’re looking at changes — how women’s makeup evolves, whether they’re in their 20s or their 60s,” Brown said. Her second book, Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty, made the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list and is due out in paperback in November.
And while Brown admits that she does some of her best work in her car on her way to and from work, she’s excited about a planned move this fall from the GM Building to a SoHo loft. She also will use it as grist for the creative mill: After getting everything back in place after that move, Brown plans to expand her accessories line to include additional organizers for the inside of drawers, bathrooms and purses. “I’m an absolute fanatic for being organized,” she said.