Valentina DiDonato, CNN
Bobbi Brown, the makeup mogul who pioneered the “no makeup makeup” look in the early 90s, is back at it with a new venture.
Based on the belief that the world “doesn’t need more beauty products, it just needs better beauty products,” her new brand, Jones Road, which she launchred during the pandemic, offers a relatively small range of “clean” products, formulated to eliminate potentially harmful ingredients such as parabens, phthalates and sulfates. And, in keeping with her less-is-more approach, many items in her new range are multifunctional — such as a balm that can be applied to cheeks, lips and eyelids.
Jones Road comes decades after Brown sold her namesake label and years after she exited the company.
Building a brand
Brown first entered the beauty world in the 1980s as a makeup artist when the overly made-up look was in vogue. “It was Studio 54, Liza Minnelli, Jerry Hall,” recalled Brown during an interview with CNN. “I tried to do that and it didn’t work. So I thought, ‘let me make people look more natural,'” she said.
Bucking the trend, she bid on consumers wanting a more natural look and launched Bobbi Brown in 1991, building a business that was so successful that Estée Lauder came knocking on her door just a few years later. According to Brown, the then CEO Leonard Lauder called to tell her she was beating the cosmetics giant in all the major department stores. He invited Brown and her husband over for dinner and asked if he could buy the brand. “We aren’t for sale,” she told him at the time, but eventually Lauder made an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“When Leonard said to me, ‘what if I can promise you that we can grow your business and you could do what you love’ — and this got to me — ‘you keep doing all of the creative, we do everything else and you can be a really good mom and have your family and not spend your life traveling,’ I said OK. He was the right partner at the right time,” Brown said.
She stayed on at the brand for more than two decades after the reported $74.5 million sale but eventually came to regret a non-compete agreement she had signed, which would bar her from launching any new beauty brands for 25 years. “I’ve always only put my name on things I believe in. It is one of the reasons I left the last brand,” she said. “At the end of my tenure I was forced into approving things that I never had a chance to approve. I refused. I never put my name on something that I don’t believe in.”
But there were still four years left on the non-compete agreement and she finally had the luxury of time to figure out what she wanted to do next.
In her second act, Brown went back to school to get certified as a health coach. “I didn’t go back to school with a purpose. I went because it was the first time in my life I had time to think of what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve always been a health nut and a foodie so going back to school I figured out healthier ways to eat food that I love.” During that time she said she started wearing even less make up.
“Honestly, I sort of stopped wearing it after I left the brand. I was getting healthier, I was less stressed, and I looked better,” she said.
Brown said she could see what was happening on social media with the many direct-to-consumer beauty brands emerging but saw a gap in the market for the company she was quietly starting to envision which was “somewhere between old Celine, when Phoebe Philo was there, and Supreme.”
She launched the brand on October 26, 2020, the day her non-compete was up.
Brown joined Tiktok in January this year, posting videos with straight-talking advice, including tips for people who are over 50. In one video she makes a case against contouring — a makeup technique used to define and shape certain facial features — asking, “why would you want to contour your nose?” while explaining how she learned to embrace her natural features.
Brown has also used the platform to address critics. One of the brand’s foundations had received some negative feedback from users online — some didn’t like that the oil-based foundation separated in its container, others felt the coverage wasn’t enough. She responded with a series of videos defending the product and explaining how to mix it properly and how to apply it.
A lot has changed since Brown launched her first brand, but she appears to be embracing the opportunity to talk directly to consumers and share positive beauty messages.
“I believe in life, you have to use what you have and stop fighting who you are,” she said, “I really believe in empowering people to be the best versions of themselves.”
Bobbi’s Top 5 Beauty Tips:
1. Smile a lot, you just look so much better when you do
2. Hydrate yourself, I don’t care if it’s water or herbal tea — it makes such a difference in how you feel
3. How you feel is tied to how you look, so instead of running to get work done, ask yourself “why don’t I feel good?” and make some changes to your lifestyle
4. Wear sunscreen and wear a seatbelt
5. Streamline your regime: Find a few beauty products that take you just a few minutes to apply that make you feel good no matter what, where and when
Update: This article was updated to clarify that Jones Road was first launched in October 2020.
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