For more than 30 years, Bobbi Brown has dipped her proverbial brush well beyond the makeup palette, as an entrepreneur, author and media figure.
The makeup artist has had a self-titled line of products since 1991, penned eight beauty and lifestyle books, was the beauty editor of NBC's "Today" show for 15 years and recently took the helm of Yahoo! Beauty as the online publication's editor in chief. She has remained chief creative officer of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics since selling the line to the Estée Lauder Companies in 1995, and the brand is projected to reach $1 billion in cumulative sales in 2016. This year will see a U.S. expansion of Brown's brick-and-mortar stores, with a location slated to open in Beverly Hills this summer.
"Makeup was a way that I was able to make myself look prettier," says Brown, 57, who was in Los Angeles recently filming makeup tutorials for Yahoo! Beauty. "My philosophy was always to use makeup to make yourself look better, not artificial."
The belief in natural beauty and simply enhancing features, not hiding them, prompted Brown to create the product that launched her beauty empire in the early '90s. It was a subtle pinkish shade of lipstick — a bumped up version of a woman's real lip color — that caught the eye of Bergdorf Goodman, where the line was first sold, and that captured the attention of women who were tired of the artificial, overdone makeup of the 1980s.
Brown's ability to connect with a wide swath of women and empower them has been a large part of her success. "She's a visionary and helped me realize a dream I didn't even know I had," says celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann, creator of her own namesake nail product line. Lippmann was just starting her career in New York when she met Brown, who encouraged her to start thinking about creating her own product line.
"It never would have occurred to me to do a brand if it weren't for her," Lippmann says. "Bobbi was the leader of the pack, and made a real entree for artists — people who were really on the ground when it came to beauty — to start creating products."
Today, Brown aims to continue to keep things real at the heavily eyeballed Yahoo! Beauty site. Since taking the role of editor in chief in July, Brown has created what she says is a safe place for women to hear other women's stories, learn from simple how-to beauty tutorials and read interviews about beauty topics that resonate with them.
"It's a natural evolution of the brand philosophy," Brown says. "To keep telling the truth on a different platform and have very real conversations about beauty."
In a section of the website called "Beauty Stories," Brown manages to extract a rare level of candor from the subjects she interviews, most of them A-list celebrities whose images are often the ones that peer down from fashion and beauty billboards.
Brown's conversation with Jennifer Aniston led the actress to open up about her feelings on topics from diet to plastic surgery in Hollywood (she thinks it's gotten out of hand) and to reveal that, like most women, her weight fluctuates.
"Jennifer was eating a bagel and I said to her, 'OK, so how do you really stay so teeny?'" says Brown. "And she was very honest, saying that she would try not to have another [bagel] until the following week."
During her conversation with Cate Blanchett, Brown realized that regardless of the Oscar winner's poised demeanor, Blanchett struggles to juggle the same work-family issues so many people face.
"It was around 9 p.m. in New York and the early morning in Australia when I called her," Brown says. "She picked up the phone and said, 'I am so sorry, I'm so sick, my kids are running around, I've been traveling …' and we started talking about how hard it is to be working and be 'on' and then come home and be a mom and a wife. Just normal things. I want other women to hear that women are all alike, and it's not this great divide."
Brown says she's not looking for a big celebrity scoop through these interviews. "I just kind of want to share real issues," she says. "That's what I believe in. I like to empower women."
In a feature called "Ask Aunt Alice," readers can tweet questions to Brown's 83-year-old, Chicago-based Aunt Alice, who will answer their queries about anything from how to deal with jealous people to how to light Hanukkah candles.
As Brown's media presence grows, so does her brand's retail presence. The brand is sold in more than 1,000 department and specialty stores in 66 countries, and there are 44 free-standing Bobbi Brown stores globally — but only one in the U.S., a shop in her hometown of Montclair, N.J., that she says she and her husband built "with a roll of tape" in 2003.
Her second U.S. store is slated to open in Beverly Hills in July, and Brown says the space will represent the local multi-tasking, health-conscious lifestyle.
"I want a place that when you walk in you can plug in your iPhone, have a protein shake, order lunch and get your makeup done," says Brown.
After all, a little lipstick never hurts.