Chicago-born Bobbi Brown changed women’s attitude to make-up – and indeed to beauty – forever, when she launched her signature make-up range, Bobbi Brown Essentials, in 1991.
It was the first ‘make-up artist’s line’, made up initially of just 10 brown-based lipstick shades. (We remember seeing these on sale just as we stepped on an escalator in Bergdorf Goodman and being so excited that we took the next escalator back down to check them out…!) Her next innovation was ‘yellow-based’ foundation shades; until then, all foundations had been pink-toned – so that skin looked made-up, rather than naturally flawless. And so it went on…
Bobbi Brown began her make-up career as a young graduate from arts-orientated Emerson College, whisking her brushes over family and friends. But her portfolio was enough to earn her freelance magazine and advertising commissions, and Bobbi’s first Vogue cover, in 1988, featured Naomi Campbell photographed by Patrick Demarchelier.
She’d always preferred a more understated look, and was never a big fan of the lipsticks out there – so she began working with a chemist on formulas in shades that echoed the wearer’s own lips, with staying power (and scent-free, too). Bobbi Brown‘s philosophy was simple: ‘Women want to look and feel like themselves, only prettier and more confident’. And her unique, down-to-earth approach to cosmetics was like a breath of fresh air for women around the world, who were seeking a more natural look.
In 1995, Bobbi’s make-up brand was bought by the Estée Lauder Companies. Today, there are more than 1000 Bobbi Brown make-up locations in over 60 countries, with dozens of free-standing stores.
As if Bobbi wasn’t busy enough, she’s shared shares her expertise widely, as Beauty Editor of NBC’s ‘Today Show’, as well as through appearances on ‘The Martha Stewart Show’, ‘Oprah’ and more. She’s also found time (in addition to being a wife and mother to three sons) to write eight readable, instructive beauty and lifestyle books. We love that she keeps her success very much in perspective, meanwhile. Blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, Bobbi Brown tells a story: ‘My favourite aunt thinks it’s really funny that I’ve become a hero to women, and all I tell them to do is take blush and smear it on their cheeks. She says, “I could have told them that”.’
It was a no-brainer for Bobbi Brown to launch fragrances: she’s always loved scent. But as with make-up, her mission was always to keep it simple.
Bobbi explained to The Perfume Society: ‘I think fragrance is part of the whole ritual of making yourself up. Fragrances evoke a mood and feeling, and people identify with fragrances. They can make you feel happy, feminine, sexy…and can also make you more confident, which is what I always aim to help women feel.’ Her fundamental philosophy: ‘Fragrance should smell great, never overpower and make you feel good.’
So within the Bobbi Brown fragrance collection, with its chic and minimalist packaging, you’ll find five fragrances which are clean, fresh, pretty and incredibly wearable. You can read about them in-depth below, but they include signature fragrance Bobbi, with its blend of citrus and green notes – ‘crisp and bright like a tailored white shirt,’ is how Bobbi herself described it to The Perfume Society. Almost Bare features Italian bergamot, sense-soothing violet leaves, white flowers, while ‘fresh-out-of-the-shower’ Bath was created by Bobbi, so she tells us, ‘for the woman who doesn’t necessarily love perfume, but enjoys smells and loves smelling good.’ You can also explore the more dressed-up Party (a rich floral bouquet) – and of course, the legendary Beach.
For many women, Beach is an almost addictive favourite, with its notes of sea spray, jasmine and mandarin perfectly capturing the laid-back atmosphere of summer. (It’s also available seasonally as a Body Oil, with legions of fans.) As perfume writer Victoria Frolova, of the Boisdejasmin website, explains: ‘It transports me to a certain carefree summer many years ago, a summer of wearing Madras shorts, kissing my first boyfriend, listening to the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones on the radio, and slathering on Coppertone, a popular American sun lotion…’ Such is perfume’s ability to have us ‘time-travel’…
Bobbi Brown has long been committed to empowering women of all ages, supporting ventures like Dress for Success (dressforsuccess.org), a non-profit which helps women ‘move from barely surviving to significantly thriving’, through offering a network of support, career development tools – and the clothes which will help them make an impression.
We’re huge fans of the Pretty Powerful campaign she launched in 2010, inspired by her belief that ‘all women are pretty without make-up – but with the right make-up can be pretty powerful’. In addition to being invited to sit on a trade policy committee by President Obama, Michele Obama enlisted Bobbi to take part in the White House’s Leadership & Mentoring Program for young women. In the UK, Pretty Powerful is supporting Smart Works (smartworks.org.uk).
After 25 years, late in 2016 Bobbi Brown announced that she was standing down from her role at the helm of the company. But Bobbi Brown‘s beauty legacy is the simple phrase: ‘The secret to beauty is simple – be who you are’.
We’re pretty sure she’d add the postscript: ‘And be sure to smell great, too…’