Oral History: Bobbi Brown’s Natural Success
Last year, 59-year-old Bobbi Brown celebrated the 25th anniversary of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, the billion-dollar company she founded in 1991. Then, in December, she stepped down from the company. The anniversary, she said, made her realize that it was time to try something new.
Brown built her success through talent, intelligence, hustle and a touch of serendipity. With a degree from Boston’s Emerson College, she moved to New York in 1980 to pursue a career as a makeup artist. Dissatisfied with the palette of lipsticks she encountered, she created her own natural-looking collection—“lipstick that looked like lips, only better,” she says. A chemist agreed to produce a 10-color line, which Brown sold out of her house. When she met a Bergdorf Goodman cosmetics buyer at a party, Brown made her pitch, Bergdorf picked up her line of “no-makeup makeup,” and her incipient empire was born. Four years later, she sold the company to Estée Lauder, staying on as CEO.
For now, Brown is focusing on her Just Bobbi Brown digital platform; her three-year-old eponymous eyeglass line; the release of her ninth book, Beauty from the Inside Out: Makeup, Wellness, Confidence and collaborating with her husband, developer and attorney Steven Plofker, on the opening of the George Inn, a boutique hotel in their hometown of Montclair, N.J. Here, Brown shares the rules that helped guide her to success.
MAKE THINGS HAPPEN
“Stop talking about it, and just do it. People tell me all the things they’re going to do. Three years later, they’re still talking.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK
“I’ve never been afraid for someone to say, ‘No.’ If you don’t ask, then it’s not even possible. Sometimes you have to ask more than once, if it’s something you really believe in.”
“You just never know who you’re going to meet. You have to be open to what’s around you. So many people are worried about how to get where they’re going that they don’t realize it’s a whole journey getting there. Talk to people. I ask a lot of questions.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
“I want everything very simple, very common sense, things that just work. To me, that’s less people, less expense.”
RELY ON A SUPPORT SYSTEM
“It’s good for women to have a strong female in their lives. I’ve got Tara [Tersigni], my right hand at Just Bobbi Brown. Another woman who used to work for me, Alicia Valencia, is my go-to person business-wise when I need that female voice. Also, use the support that’s around you—whether it’s babysitting from a relative or help from a friend.”
“It’s not just about getting funding. People think if you have money, you can do it. I think if you have it then you don’t need the money, and the money will come. There are a zillion things you can do without money or with little bits of money. With social media, you can do so much yourself.”
“SO WHAT? NOW WHAT?”
“It’s a quote by a friend of mine, Liz Murray, who wrote the book Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, which changed my life. Sometimes things are not what we planned. Now what are we going to do? That’s the way I live my life.”