American makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s eponymous cosmetics brand, founded in the ’90s, became a global phenomenon soon after its launch. She speaks to Bulbul Sharma about the early phase of her career in 1980s New York, the need for inclusivity in the beauty industry, and the new direction her life took when she stepped down from Bobbi Brown Cosmetics in 2016.
Q. You are known for introducing the “no-makeup makeup look”. It was path-breaking at a time when red lips and heavy blush were in trend. How did you make it happen?
A. I wanted to teach women about how simple makeup could be. And I wanted women to realise that makeup is meant to enhance, rather than to cover up, and that true beauty lies in your health and vitality. I’ve always believed that what you put inside your body is as important as what you put on your face.
Q. When did you start taking a professional interest in cosmetics?
A. I fell in love with makeup and beauty as a young girl. I have vivid memories of watching my mother getting ready to go out and doing her makeup. When I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I kept coming back to makeup.
Q. How did your college degree in theatrical makeup, from Emerson College in Boston, add to your understanding of cosmetics? And to what extent did your education help you as a professional makeup artist?
A. I learned a lot of technical skills studying makeup in college, but it was the hands-on experience that really shaped me as a makeup artist. When I was first starting out, I had the chance to assist Linda Mason [British makeup artist and cosmetics entrepreneur]. She is a true artist who happened to choose makeup as her career. Linda has a wildly free hand and a brilliant mind to match. I don’t remember how I met her, but I assisted her at a few fashion shows—which meant I set up and cleaned up her kit. I handed her things and observed her work. The experience was invaluable…
Q. Tell us about your initial years as a young makeup artist in 1980s New York.
A. It was a lot of hard work, but the experience was incredible. I worked with everyone from Arthur Elgort [American fashion photographer] to Brooke Shields [American actress and model]. My first Voguecover was with the gorgeous Naomi Campbell and it was shot by Patrick Demarchelier [French fashion photographer] in East Hampton in 1989. I learned a lot about makeup, but also about myself and what I really wanted out of my career.
Q. What do you think was the turning point in your career?
A. After I got married and was pregnant with my first child, I realised that I didn’t want to travel as an editorial makeup artist anymore. Thanks to my years of experience on set, I came up with a simple idea for lipstick that actually looked like the colour of a woman’s lips. I started by designing 10 brown-based shades that could be blended and mixed to create unique and individual hues. It was a simple concept, but one that seemed revolutionary at the time.
Q. You left your eponymous makeup brand at the end of 2016. Was it a tough decision?
A. Leaving the company that I founded came with a mix of sadness and excitement. It gave me time to reflect on my experiences of being an entrepreneur, a beauty expert, a health and fitness advocate, an author and editor-in-chief. In doing that, I saw an opportunity to create all of these new ventures. Three years later, I have a hotel, The George Inn, in my hometown of Montclair [in New Jersey]. I started a brand of supplements, EVOLUTION_18, which is all about beauty from the inside out. And I’m sharing the best of beauty, wellness, travel, and style on my website,justbobbi.com. It has opened a new chapter of my life and so far, it’s been an exciting ride.
Q. What according to you is the most important thing one should keep in mind when creating cosmetics?
A. You can’t get distracted by gimmicks and trends. The key is using the highest quality ingredients and making formulas that really work. I’ve approached creating my wellness collection the same way I created my cosmetics line. I looked at what is wrong with what already exists and how I can make it better, simpler, and integrate what actually works.
Q. Share with us one recent beauty trend that you like and one that you completely dislike.
A. I have enjoyed seeing the clean beauty movement [a trend advocating the use of all-natural and non-toxic beauty products] really take off. Consumers are paying attention to what they put on their face in the same way they pay attention to what they eat. It’s really cool and I think it’s going to continue to grow. I’ve never been a fan of contouring, it’s just not my aesthetic. It tells women that there’s something wrong with their face. There’s beauty in a full face, so I don’t like to paint in a cheekbone that doesn’t exist.
Q. As a member of the global beauty industry, what are your views on inclusivity, diversity and the need to cater to more women of colour?
A. I became a makeup artist in the heart of the fashionindustry, New York, where models were emerging from all over the world and I understand what it took to include a range for all skin colours and textures. I hope all brands are discovering that you can’t just put the bestsellers in the market. You need something for everyone. And it goes beyond having an expanded shade range. You have to represent diverse voices through campaigns and on social media, but also consider them when you’re running a focus group and collecting feedback. Just because you have 55 shades of foundation, doesn’t mean you’ve solved the bigger problem of inclusivity.
Q. You are all set for your debut tour to India as part of the India Make Up Show. What are you most looking forward to?
A. Everything. I have wanted to come to India for a long time. The people, the history, the culture, and of course the food—I am open to absolutely anything. I’m really looking forward to eating at my friend Floyd Cardoz’s restaurant, Bombay Canteen. And, of course, the Taj Mahal.
Q. What do you think has created the demand for International cosmetics brands in India?
A. Consumers, mostly women, are on a journey of exploration irrespective of age. They are experimenting with new products and brands. This is part of a larger generational shift of younger consumers rejecting the brands their parents preferred and seeking out newer products in all consumer categories. Young, independent brands are supporting a surge in ingenuity. It seems like every day there is a new brand with a new idea about how to become beautiful.
Entrepreneurship is spewing over in the beauty industry. Gone are the days when brands made homogeneous products for a heterogeneous audience. If clothes, gadgets, accessories can be personalised keeping a consumer’s tastes and needs in mind, then customisation can also be done within the beauty industry. Indian buyers give a huge importance to perception and value, so quality and craftmanship play a key role when delivering a bespoke brand experience. India is a distinctive and multifaceted market and reveals a potpourri of cultures, customs and history.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Indian style of makeup?
A. India is so rich and beautiful. Visually, the makeup worn by women in this country ranges from over-the-top and traditional, to a cleaner, more modern look. It’s a diverse mix of looks and trends. Most importantly, everyone looks so beautiful here.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. I am really excited to share my makeup techniques and more about my career at the India Make Up Show, curated by Rahul Tuljapurkar and Ninad Shah, the founders of Mumbai-based event management company Brothers Incorporated. It’s such a unique opportunity to interact with artists and consumers in this type of setting.
I just launched a new line of supplements, EVOLUTION_18. It’s a collagen-based collection, all designed to target your beauty concerns, with one of the largest retailers in America… All the products are available on www.evolution18.com, with international shipping hopefully coming soon, and at Walmart stores in the United States. I am also back in the studio creating and curating content for my online magazine www.justbobbi.com as a working makeup artist. I am also creating content around my podcast, Long Story Short. And I’m creating new experiences for the guests at our hotel, The George, in Montclair.
As part of her India Make Up Show tour, Bobbi Brown was in Mumbai on 12-13 April and will be in Delhi on 20 April;
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