The Pro Files: Bobbi Brown on Doing Michelle Obama's Makeup, Leaving Her Company, and What Comes Next
With a book launch and a new website on the way, the pro fills us in on what's to come
When you hear the name Bobbi Brown, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely the perfect pink lipstick you’ve been wearing for years, or the Shimmer Brick palette that everyone you know has in her makeup bag. It might be a pair of sunglasses from her eyewear collection, the coffee table book in which Brown taught you how to achieve the perfect everyday makeup, or identifying when Katie Holmes was the face of the brand.
But Brown is ready to give her name a new association, and the 5-foot-tall beauty giant is working her way into our kitchens, gyms and everyday lives as she takes on a new focus: wellness.
After leaving her namesake company and embarking on a new path, the pro is opening up to PeopleStyle about how she got her start, what it was like to work with Michelle Obama, and exactly what we can expect to see from her in the future.
What made you get into the makeup industry?
I fell in love with makeup when I was younger. Besides always getting into my mom’s makeup and watching her do her makeup, I just used to be obsessed with it. So when I was looking for a college, my mother said to me, “Why don’t you do something that you love? If it was your birthday and you could do anything, what would it be?” I said, “I’d love to go to the department stores and play with makeup.” And she said, “Alright, let’s find a school.” I found Emerson College in Boston and I did everything. Film, television… I basically was blown away by the transformation.
What happened after college?
The real moment that changed everything for me was when I read an article in a magazine about a freelance makeup artist in New York City who did all of the makeup for Bruce Weber and all of these amazing photographers. I thought, “Whoa, maybe I could do fashion shows and magazines.” Being the naïve person I am, I said “Okay, I’m going to move to New York and I’m gonna do that.” I didn’t know anyone, so I called the makeup artist who I read about and she never called me back but I got to her agent and the agent set me straight and told me what I had to do.
How did you make a name for yourself?
It took me about seven years to get my first Vogue cover, which was my goal and my dream after I moved to New York. By the time I had my Vogue cover, I was already a working celebrity makeup artist, I already had traveled the globe working with the top people on shoots.
You created one of the most well-known beauty brands, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. How did it begin?
While I was pregnant with my first child, I did a shoot for a magazine downtown and I met a chemist. I told him how frustrated I was with the lack of natural makeup on the market and that I wanted to make a lipstick that didn’t smell, wasn’t dry, wasn’t greasy, and looked like the color of my lips. He made it for me and I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” I started to think about all the women I knew and all their different lip colors, and I thought of the best red, the best orange, the best beige, and came up with 10 colors. I literally was taking a lipstick, putting it in a manila envelope with a little small piece of paper with the ingredients and mailing it at the post office. Back then, I didn’t have the time or money for a box. Then I got a call from Bergdorf Goodman to sell the lipsticks there.
Who was your first celebrity client?
I think it was Tony Randall. He was an actor in the original Odd Couple. One of the first females I worked with was when the movie The Big Chill was out, I did the press tour and worked with Glenn Close and a whole bunch of those girls.
What’s your favorite celebrity-related memory?
Michelle Obama. I hadn’t met her before, I had only met her husband. I literally had 15 minutes — maybe less — to do her makeup because her plane was late and she had to get on stage and do a speech. It was scary, but she was just amazing. My only regret is that I took a picture of the two of us and it didn’t turn out. I didn’t even check. But I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in their administration in many different ways.
You’re known for creating a natural look on women. How did that become your signature style?
When I first moved to New York, it was the ’80s. The makeup was quite theatrical and really artificial — I never really liked the way the girls looked. I couldn’t really do the makeup; I could not contour. I didn’t understand why makeup artists were changing skin tones or why blush was red and not pink, and so I slowly evolved my style into the healthy natural flush, even when people told me I probably wouldn’t make it in the industry if I didn’t conform to what was expected.
How would you define your “style” in a sentence?
I believe that women look best when they look like themselves. Even if you wear a lot of makeup, even if you’re a Las Vegas showgirl, if you wear foundation that matches your skin and blush that matches your cheeks when you exercise, you can put a red lip and a smoky eye on and you look really good.
What’s your favorite makeup look that you’ve created?
I loved when I first started working with Katie Holmes and her face was so vibrant. And when Kate Upton was the face of Bobbi. I just love to take people who wear either no makeup or a ton of makeup and give them their perfect nude face. Both of those I’ve been really proud of.
You recently announced that you’d be leaving your namesake company. What was it like to make that decision?
Well, I’m not gonna say it was easy, and I’m not gonna say it happened overnight. It was a long time in coming. At first, it’s a relief. The second emotion was shock. And then, you’ve got to deal with all the emotions. There’s excitement, there’s sadness, there’s fear, and finally those things clear and there’s a white space – and I’m like, “Okay, now what?”
You’re launching a new book, Bobbi Brown’s Beauty From the Inside Out, which is focused heavily on wellness. How did that focus come about?
I learned early on that what you eat makes all the difference. When I was starting to do a lot of shoots, there would be beautiful food on the catering tables [but not all of it was good for you]. It took me a while to realize why I wasn’t feeling good … if you look in all of my books, there’s a piece, if not a chapter, on the fact that with beauty, you’ve got to eat right. I could not be more grateful that this book came out now because it’s a reason for me to really teach and empower, which I’ve really done with makeup, about how good life habits make all the difference.
What’s your favorite piece of wellness advice to give?
Honestly, you just have to do it. Like anything else, it’s not easy – you just have to do it. And you don’t have to do what someone tells you to do, you have to decide what you want to do for yourself. I’ve tried many different things. What works for me is a lot of hydration – water and herbal tea – and as many vegetables as I can possibly get in my body. Just keep putting good things in your body, and move your body, don’t sit still. When you put those things together they make a difference.
You have an entirely new project in the works, justBobbi. What can we expect to see?
justBobbi is a lifestyle brand that is going to have content, products – but not makeup products! – and a lot of content. And there’s also a hotel called The George that I’m designing with my husband, and a couple other projects that aren’t going to be announced yet. I’m excited about what’s about to happen.
What are you most excited about?
There are no rules.
What’s your favorite product that you’ve created?
My corrector. It’s the one thing that women globally will stop me on the street and hug me because I figured out a way to get rid of darkness under the eyes.
Do you have a beauty mantra?
Breathe and be who you are.
Did you ever predict the success that you’ve had?
If there was a crystal ball and I could see what my life would become – which is so amazing and I’m so grateful – I would run the other way, 100 percent. I am a very simple person, who is happiest with my hair in a ponytail and wearing my sneakers. But I’m glad I stuck it out, because I’ve had quite an interesting ride.
What’s your favorite product from Bobbi Brown? Sound off below.