“I didn’t know I wanted to be a makeup artist until I went to college. Well, I went to three colleges. I graduated high school a semester early, went to University of Wisconsin, and then I went to University of Arizona, because that’s where all the Jewish kids went. After that, I transferred to Emerson College in Boston where I studied Theatrical Makeup and minored in Photography. And so I finished school there and stayed for a year and waitressed, and then I moved to New York. You know, the old story is I didn’t know anyone, but I picked up a Yellow Pages, and looked up models and agencies, and eventually I figured out how to become a makeup artist in fashion. I thought I was going to do makeup for movies, actually. But I did one movie—it was about teenage alcoholism, this kid kept getting bruised, so I had to do continuity shots. It was deadly for me to be focused on the same thing all the time. And I hated having the food all over the place while we would just sit there and wait! So that’s how I decided not to go into the movie business.
My first magazine actually was Vogue Advertising. I met some woman and she asked, ‘Can you do hair and makeup?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes.’ So I went to the store and bought every hair product I could think of—I do not know how to do hair. On the day of the shoot, the model showed up and she had this short hair. I was really lucky, because I would have been screwed! Buying expensive products or buying all the products doesn’t make you an expert. I thought that if you went to Bergdorf Goodman and bought the most expensive products that they would be the best. With the help of my dad—he gave me his credit card—I went and bought all this stuff. I got home, opened up all these beautiful boxes, and it looked awful. At the time, the style was like white skin, red lips, contouring…and I hated the way it looked. I wanted to do more natural-looking makeup. But I couldn’t find makeup that allowed me to do it easily. I would also go to theatrical makeup stores and buy Ben Nye foundation that was yellow and orange and red in order to fix the regular makeup I had. At some point, I discovered a yellow powder that actually fixed everything. To be honest, I wasn’t really a great makeup artist—I wasn’t one of these makeup artists who could transform a face. I just always had shortcuts to make things work because I loved it so much.
I did that for seven years until I reached my big goal, which was a Vogue cover. It was Naomi Campbell’s first cover, too. That same year, I got engaged. I was 30 and I realized because I was so happily in love with my husband that I really didn’t want to be a freelance traveling makeup artist anymore. So I kind of stopped doing those trips, I got pregnant, we moved to the suburbs in New Jersey…and I just got this idea. As a makeup artist, in order to prep for a shoot, I would have to literally lug bags and bags of stuff. Then I would lay it out on the floor and try to organize it and see, there’s 15 taupes! But you just need one. At that point, no one had done a great collection of edited, natural-looking makeup. Lipstick that just looked like lips didn’t exist. And one day, serendipitously, I met a chemist and I asked him to make me this lipstick I had been thinking of. I told him, I want to make the best red, the best orange, the best beige—and we did.
After we had produced a pretty small batch, I talked to a friend of mine who was a beauty editor at Mademoiselle, and she said, ‘Can I write about it?’ I thought, Why would you want to write about it? Now I know it’s called PR and Marketing. [Laughs] She did the story and we started getting phone calls. My husband would take the lipstick, put it in a manila envelope with a little sheet of paper with the ingredients and mail it to people. Then a friend of mine invited me to a party and I asked the hostess, ‘What do you do?’ She was a cosmetics buyer at Bergdorfs—so I pitched her. They were the first store to pick up the line.
We were in Bergdorfs and Neiman Marcus for four years when Leonard Lauder [then-Chief Executive at Estée Lauder] called. We weren’t for sale. But when he said, ‘What if I promised you that you could have total autonomy and do what’s important to you, which is raise your family, and do the fun things…’ I believed him. So we sold it! It’s been worth it 150%. We’ve been an Estée Lauder brand probably 21 years, and you know, just like any business, there’s good, bad and ugly, and tough, easy, great, but… if Mrs. Greenblatt from third grade, who gave me really bad grades in math, could see it, I’d be happy!
My number one favorite product—if I could only have one thing—would be Extra Balm. If I was that kind of a marketer I would call it youth in a jar. Because it’s like a miracle. And I really don’t like the term ‘ageless,’ but that’s not how I think of it. I’m much more about making sure that everyone has really good, even skin. I’m actually completely obsessed with a new product that’s not mine called the NuFace. It’s a handheld microcurrent tool that helps lift your face where you have signs of aging. It’s unbelievable and it works. I haven’t tried this yet, but someone I work with told me it works on hands, too. It’s great because I’m not somebody who believes in injectables at all. I think they make you look like you’ve injected something. Like, when do you stop? Where’s the line?
At night, I wash my face at night with Soothing Cleansing Oil, and I just rinse it off with water. It’s nice because if I’m too tired to put moisturizer on, I just don’t have to—the oil leaves a nice cushion. If my skin is super dry, I’ll put the Extra Balm on and I’ll put oil on top of it—I’ll layer. I don’t have to wash it off [in the morning], it’s just gone somewhere. But I’ll probably put on more moisturizer again.
We just launched masks and they’re awesome. I love the way they kind of crinkle in their tubes… You can either do them separately or you can do all three of them. Everyone’s nuts for Instant Detox, which is black and has Hawaiian sea water and clay. I love Skin Nourish, which is super moisturizing. I use it with the NuFace and barely have to wash it off when I’m done. And then there’s the Radiance Boost, too, which has walnut grains in it. It’s a scrub.
I almost always do my own makeup and never in the bathroom—I usually do it in the car. If I don’t do it in the car I do it at work. Sometimes I do it during the product development meetings. But whatever I do, I could do it without a mirror. There are different schools of thought on this, but I start with our Concealer and Corrector first because after that, I don’t necessarily need foundation. I use the shade that matches my skin exactly, which is Natural Tan. Then I have these products called Retouching—there’s a pencil and a powder—that literally make you look like you’ve been retouched. There’s six shades and it just evens things out, but you don’t look like you have any makeup on. I’ll draw the stick directly onto my skin, over my whole face. I don’t use a primer. I don’t like how they feel.
Our number one selling product is Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner, which is a product category I 100% made up, from the name to the packaging. It all happened because I was in Telluride, Colorado, and someone was coming to shoot me for Architectural Digest. I went to do my makeup. And I opened my bag and realized, I have no eyeshadow, I have no brushes…but I have mascara! So I put mascara on, and because I wasn’t 22 anymore, I needed something else. When you get to a certain age, your eye shape is different. I feel like I need more to make me look awake. So I had this one waterproof mascara and I took a Q-tip, took off the fuzzy stuff, dipped it in the mascara, and I lined my eye. It worked so well! I did the shoot, and it was still on my eyes the next day because I had no eye makeup remover. So I called my head of product development, and I said, ‘Can you do me a favor and ask the lab if I did something really bad?’ She called back and said, ‘No, they said it’s OK because it has a gel base.’ Visually, I was thinking about what gel was, and I had this little inkwell on my desk that we’d been trying to turn into a product. I called her and said, ‘What if we pour this in to that inkwell, and what if we call it Gel Ink?’ And that’s how we discovered gel eyeliner.
In terms of color makeup, I think browns are the easiest for people to wear—but there are different types of brown. Personally, I like cool browns, but that doesn’t work for everyone. For instance, I have a bronzer that looks like the later afternoon sun in Telluride that I wear. But I had to make a special bronzer for my Rabbi’s daughter because she’s so white-skinned. It’s Aruba, and it’s kind of peachy for pale skin. Blush is also one of those things that you need to find your right color—and then it’s like a miracle. To find it, you pinch your cheeks and then look to match that. Mine is Sand Pink in the powder. I’ll usually switch to our Pot Rouge at the end of the day though, because it reminds me of my grandmother putting lipstick on her cheeks.
I usually don’t put anything on my lips. Instead of doing a lip if I’m going to an event, I’ll do a smoky eye with lots of sparkle—not shimmer. The difference is they’re bigger particles that are flat cut, and so they just look so cool. I always use three shadows—Brown Metal, Rock Star, and Slate. And then Gel Eyeliner in Black Ink and some Eye Opening Mascara.
My secret is that I have a big jar of Extra Balm from the lab that I use on my body. I’m not sure what that would cost, but it’s amazing. Or I’ll use this incredible-smelling body wash from Spain called Magno. When I take a bath, I love epsom salts, but they dry my skin out, so I scoop a ton of coconut oil into the bath too. I’ll just hang out in the tub and watch CNN. But God forbid you ever shave your legs in a coconut oil bath… You get such a bad ring around the tub that way. I shave my legs in the shower with our old Bobbi Brown Shaving Cream. It was discontinued but we’re bringing it back soon.
That’s the one thing where I don’t always wear my own. I wear Chanel No. 5 and Cristalle. The one in my brand I wear the most is Bobbi’s Party. It smells like Aunt Alice. I remember my Aunt Alice from Chicago… When she would get dressed up and go to a party, that’s what it smells like. And she loves it! She used to wear an old fashioned fragrance called Je Reviens… I’ve tried to buy it on the internet but they don’t make it anymore so it goes bad. And there’s a Tom Ford that I wear—Neroli Portofino. I mix it with patchouli and grapefruit and that makes a great combination.
I really love Oribe’s products. He actually did my hair for my wedding, but his products are amazing. I like to switch my shampoos in and out, so I also use Bumble and bumble. Right now my hair’s super, super dry, so I’m trying to hydrate it. I just found a conditioner called Olaplex, which is really good because I color my hair every two weeks. My hair is 100% white, and I’ve been grey since I was 25. Because of it, my hair is thinner than it used to be. To cover my roots or make my part look thicker, I use the Gel Eyeliner in Brown or the Natural Brow Shaper and Hair Touch Up when I need to. I find those easier than root sprays. And light goes right through powder—that’s why I hate HD!
So unlike how I do my makeup, I can’t do my own hair. I wash it almost everyday because I exercise everyday, and then I probably get it blown out three times a week. And I always feel so much better after that. I would love to be able to curl my own hair to get a wave, but I just can’t figure it out. I have a hundred curling irons—I have every one from Harry Josh to mini ones I buy at CVS. My friend got me one from QVC that you clip onto your hair and it rotates by itself. It’s cool but I totally had my hair stuck on this thing. I had to call my husband to get out of it!”
—as told to ITG
Bobbi Brown photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New Jersey on January 20, 2016.
Read on: Charlotte Tilbury shares your new favorite way to apply foundation, Deborah Lippmann explains why nail polish shouldn’t be serious, and Martha Stewart has a thing for Tom Ford (the makeup, not the man) in The Top Shelf.