Brown, Bobbi

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Brown, Bobbi

Bobbi Brown Cosmetics


For many little girls, playing with their mothers' cosmetics is just part of the fun of growing up. For Bobbi Brown, it turned into a $50 million line of exclusive cosmetics bearing her name. Estee Lauder acquired her company in 1995, but Brown remained as CEO, retaining full creative control over the product line. Brown's exclusive products grace the faces of Hollywood's most glamorous—and for good reason. She seems to have captured the true essence of natural color—so natural in fact that Oprah Winfrey once asked, "How does a white girl get these colors so perfect for us girls?" Princess Diana and the Spice Girls were also big fans. Brown, a career mom, has also published several bestseller books on beauty and the art of makeup. She is the exclusive beauty editor of the NBC "Today" show. Her product line, Bobbi Brown Essentials, is distributed in 170 exclusive stores in the U.S. and 16 countries worldwide.

Personal Life

The eldest of three children, Brown started playing with her mother's old makeup at an early age. She was wholly captivated with her mother's glamour and beauty rituals. She used her mother's old lipsticks as though they were crayons or markers, and proceeded to bring out the best look in her dolls—as well as her sister Linda. Brown credits her mother, Sandra, a homemaker, with teaching her at an early age to pursue whatever she loved most to do. The angst of adolescence and career indecision that plagued many young adults did not visit Brown: she knew what she wanted and didn't need to think about it. She loved cosmetics. Even her father James, a lawyer, agreed in a People Weekly story featuring his daughter that "it was something she always had on her mind." Brown related to interviewers for that article that during a vacation in Florida as a teenager, she covered herself with layers of baby oil and iodine. But coming home on the plane, she wanted to look even more bronzed, so she slipped into the plane's bathroom and covered herself with dark foundation. When everyone remarked about her deep tan, she kept her makeup secret to herself.

Brown was unhappy and unfulfilled in college. In 1976, she dropped out of the University of Arizona, and at her mother's suggestion, enrolled at Emerson College in Boston, a liberal arts school that allowed her to create a major in theatrical makeup. She graduated in 1979 and ultimately found employment as an assistant to a New York City makeup artist. Her salary was meager, but her father sent monthly rent money to help her along. Eventually, she made a name for herself, went solo as a makeup artist working on top models, and developed her own line of products after tiring of the limited colors and textures commercially available to her at the time.

Brown received the Cosmetic Executive Women's "Achievement Award" in 1998, and Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year Award" in 1997. She has two New York Times best–selling books, Bobbi Brown Beauty (1997), and Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty (1998). She offers beauty advice columns in Seventeen and Allure magazines, and has appeared on "Oprah," "Entertainment Tonight," and "E! TV's" Style channel. Brown's charitable interests include running Image workshops for the Family Respite Center, fund–raising for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Fresh Air Fund, and Dress for Success.

Today, Brown works mostly out of her house in Montclair, New Jersey. She is married to Steven Plofker, a lawyer and real estate developer, and has three sons, Dylan, Dakota, and Duke. She told People Weekly interviewers that career moms who carry some recognition among the general public do not always have it so easy. She recalled a recent trip to the grocery store, when another shopper asked whether she was Bobbi Brown? "I said yes," she lamented, "but was embarrassed because I looked like a schlump." Brown is a down–to–earth mother who on most days wears a ponytail and very little makeup. She hates travel and loves spectator basketball, particularly if her sons are playing—or the New Jersey Nets.

Career Details

Brown's modest internship as an assistant to a makeup artist eventually panned out, but it took several years. As her reputation grew, she began a solo career working on top models from Glamour and Vogue, and other "A–list" fashion designers and photographers. One of her early high–visibility jobs was a magazine cover for Vogue. The more experience she developed, the more disappointed she became with the available makeup she was forced to work with. She particularly disliked the unflattering colors and poor consistency of many of the products. There was a conspicuous absence of shades that complimented a large bandwidth of skin tones along the color spectrum. Her early motivation to create her own colors stemmed from a desire to simplify her life and work, allowing her to find just the right color for a model without having to play around for hours mixing up several other colors. Often, to find just the right color she wanted, she would mix eye pencil, blush, gloss, theatre cosmetics, or makeup from overseas.

At this turning point, Brown, already married and the mother of her first son, was asked to participate in a photo shoot for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign. She really wanted the job, which represented what she had always worked toward, but it required a two–week absence from her family. After much deliberation, she turned it down.

However, her frustration over the limited choice of product colors she had to work with stirred an entrepreneurial interest in her. Her personal goal was to develop a lipstick that would look more natural than any product commercially available at that time. With the help of an independent chemist she had found in New York, Brown decided to come up with her own lipstick product and colors. First, she created a brown–toned lipstick for herself. The chemist was able to develop just the perfect color she had envisioned, but the final result lacked the texture and consistency she wanted. Since the chemist was a man, he wouldn't try the product on his lips, but his female assistant worked with Brown to help communicate to the chemist just exactly what Brown was looking for. They worked and worked and finally got it right. Brown had a few tubes made up for her. When it drew raves from friends and models, who wanted to purchase them, she knew she was onto something good.

She decided to create ten basic lipstick colors. From the beginning, Brown had a distinct philosophy about makeup that later turned into her signature approach to fashion: she did not want her products to mask or disguise a woman's own natural good looks. As she later told Your Company's Susan Caminiti, "Beauty to me is about being yourself, and makeup should be used as a tool to enable every woman to feel good about herself."

Brown's friend, Rosalind Landis, was a publicist at Cairns and Associates in New York. She was so impressed with the colors that in 1990, she and Brown decided to market them. ("Roz" Landis is now the company president, alongside her CEO friend.) Landis agreed to write a few press releases about the lipstick. They placed an ad in Glamour, which identified Brown, the creator of the product, as a professional makeup artist. Her phone began ringing with orders. Meanwhile, Landis had referred Brown to one of her friends who was a cosmetics buyer at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. The friend thought it was a great idea to market a makeup artist's own line of makeup. She agreed to give Brown and Landis some display space at Bergdorf's and to carry the product. In a competitive field already filled with more cosmetic brands than any woman could ever use in a lifetime, this was a major step for them.

In February 1991, Brown and Landis marched into Bergdorf Goodman and set up their little display on a table that held makeup bags and which had been partially cleared off for them. Their entire inventory was about 500 tubes, estimated to sell at approximately 100 tubes a month. They sold 100 tubes the first day. During the first week, men would come in to buy all ten lipstick shades in one shot. "I learned the importance of 'buzz,'" Brown remarked in the Los Angeles Times article. "Many of those lipsticks were sold to men in suits from other cosmetic companies. They wanted to see what I was up to."

While Brown was still marketing her lipsticks at Bergdorf's, her freelance customers and the beauty editors of women's magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar began asking for lip pencils to go with the lipsticks. Brown decided to make that her next product. Needless to say, Brown's calendar began to fill up. She was still working as a freelance makeup artist, she had a husband and son, and she had her contract with Bergdorf's. After about six months, the women knew they had to find some office space to keep up with the demand. At that time, the two friends decided to make the plunge. Each committed $10,000 from her savings, and Landis quit her full–time job. "For us, it was a huge amount of money at the time," Brown told Susan Vaughn of the Los Angeles Times. "My husband was in law school, and we'd just had our first kid." The women opened up a small office at 505 Park Avenue, but had very little overhead beyond the rent. But they never had to take out a loan. Orders kept coming in, and the business was profitable the first year. They did no advertising, and their business was built upon word of mouth. The buzz from their sales at Bergdorf's attracted Neiman Marcus, then Henri Bendel, then Saks, and so on. Soon, stores from overseas began calling. Brown realized that her two–person; operation might be grossly inadequate for the demand her products created. Another turning point in her career was at hand.

Chronology: Bobbi Brown

1957: Born.

1976: Dropped out of University of Arizona and enrolled at Emerson College.

1979: Graduated from Emerson College with major in theatrical makeup.

1990: With friend Rosalind Landis, marketed her own product at Bergdorf Goodman.

1995: Sold her line to Estee Lauder, but remained as CEO.

In 1995, Brown received a telephone call from an investment banker asking if she would be interested in having dinner with Estee Lauder CEO, Leonard Lauder. Brown and Landis accepted the invitation. Over a wonderful dinner on his veranda overlooking Central Park, Lauder informed the women that he was enamored with their company, that their products were outselling his, and that he wanted to buy them out. Brown demurely replied that the company was not for sale, but agreed to think about it. She thought about it for six minutes. She knew before she left that evening that she wanted the deal to happen. She considered Lauder the best of the best, and if she were ever going to sell, she would hope it would be to Lauder.

Many meetings followed. Later, Brown told Your Company's Susan Caminiti, "[T]he best advice I can give entrepreneurs [is that]...if you sell your company and want a working relationship with the new owners, you'd better be honest about your needs and goals. Otherwise you have an arrangement that's bound to fail." As for Lauder, he told Los Angeles Times interviewers, "There was nothing we wanted to change. I was extremely impressed with her quiet ambition and her almost religious desire to make women look pretty. It was very obvious that she had what women wanted."

The deal closed for a reported $100 million. Importantly, Brown retained her position at the head of new firm and could now concentrate more on the things she knew and loved best: product development and advertising. It was a win–win situation.

Social and Economic Impact

Bobbi Brown has made nonmodels feel (and look) like models; average looking women feel beautiful. But her message in not about painted ladies. Brown has promoted products that intertwine with her philosophy of beauty coming from within, not from the surface. She strove to make products that would bring out the best in any person's natural looks, rather than try to conceal, disguise, or mask the looks. As a result, "little" has become "more" when it comes to makeup, and women can enjoy a polished appearance that looks more natural and becoming of their own personal features. For her efforts, Brown has amassed a personal fortune and a popularity that she has deserved, because she is always willing to pass her secrets on to her fans.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Bobbi Brown Cosmetics
767 Fifth Ave., 43rd Fl.
New York, NY 10153


"Bobbi Up Close." Available at

Camaniti, Susan. "The Makeover Artist." Your Company, April 1999.

Gregory, Sophronia Scott. "Powder Broker: Cosmetic Queen Bobbi Brown's Success is More Than Skin Deep." People Weekly, 14 July 1997.

Vaughn, Susan. "Making It." Los Angeles Times, 10 September 2000.

"Virtual Runway's Shining Stars." Available at

Wheeler, Carol. "The New American Heroines." Executive Female, March/April 1997.