Bobbi Brown On Natural Beauty—Before "I Woke Up Like This"
Nobody Ever Tells You This, But: Being uncomfortable is never worth it. Ahead, beauty icon Bobbi Brown tells the story of how she built her cosmetics empire—while learning to get comfortable in her own skin.
In 1988, I was at the top of my editorial career as a makeup artist. I’d just worked on an eight-page spread for Vogue that really put me on the map, which was quickly followed by a cover shoot with Naomi Campbell.
All these amazing things were happening—I was traveling to exotic locations and showing off this really incredible, beautiful makeup. There was a point I thought to myself, “OK, you’ve made it.”
I got married at the end of ’88, and I got pregnant with my first son in ’89. And it was right around that time I had my first idea for a lipstick.
I remember being frustrated with never being able to find one that looked good on me, one that I didn't want to wipe off immediately. So I created my own color on my lips with an old taupe pencil, a cream blush, and a lip balm.
I was living in the suburbs at the time, so I was commuting to New York for shoots. On a shoot in New York at Kiehl's, one day I was talking with a chemist behind the counter about formulating this product, and he said he could make it.
After a couple back and forths, I knew we had something. I loved it so much, and it was as simple as that. We formed a partnership where he made it and I sold it for $15. We each got $7.50. And that's how I got started.
My husband had just gone back to law school at the time, so in between working and taking my kid to the park and going to mommy-and-me things, I was just always thinking about this lipstick. I eventually curated it down to 10 colors, which I called “The Essentials,” and I started selling them out of my house.
Then one day I was having lunch with a friend who happened to be the beauty editor of Glamour, and she was like, "Can I write about this?". I said, "Why would you want to write about this?" Now I know this is called PR. And after that, we were bombarded with orders.
Eventually, we got into Bergdorf Goodman as our first retailer, which was crazy. They didn't have room at a counter, and we only had 10 lipsticks, so we were on a table in the middle of the floor, which turned out to be pretty attention-getting.
It started off so simple and basic. The lipsticks were named the actual colors that they were, and that was kind of revolutionary, as it turns out. Instead of “Cherries in the Snow” or all these other crazy names, we did red, pink, orange, beige, or brown. Then we added pencils, and I just named those “pink lip pencil,” “red lip pencil,” or “orange lip pencil.” That's how it all started.
And now it's been nearly 27 years since the beginning, when we started with that first lipstick.
My “aha” moments are always based on me having a reaction of “this makes no sense" or, "this would make sense if." In those early years, I was traveling around the country as a new mom, so I wouldn't have slept all night, and I’d have to show up to a fancy store in the morning, which was really challenging.
Back then, there was no "I woke up like this." You needed to look put together, and I never did. It was really tough not feeling confident that I looked the part—and feeling that pressure all the time.
I remember one day in particular, thinking, “Oh my God. I have a crazy day. I have to do something at the kids' school. Then I have to go to a business meeting at the corporate offices at Estée Lauder, and then I have to go to Bergdorf Goodman. Then, I have to go downtown and do a shoot for a couple hours with an actress, and then I have to go home and go back to the kids' school." So, I packed a bag of, like, four pairs of shoes and different outfits to get me through that day.
And then I thought about how stupid that was.
That was a big moment for me. I realized it sure would a lot easier to be who I am than to pack four outfits for a single day of meetings. I realized that if I was uncomfortable, I wouldn't have fun.
I had spent so much time trying to figure out who I should be—until one day I realized that who I am is actually the right answer.
Bobbi Brown is a pioneer of the natural-look beauty movement and founder of Bobbi Brown Essentials, which was acquired by Estee Lauder in 1995. The New York Times best-selling author has penned eight beauty and lifestyle books, the most recent of which, Bobbi Brown Beauty from the Inside Out: Makeup * Wellness * Confidence, hit shelves on April 18, 2017.
Words: Bobbi Brown, as told to Deena Drewis