Bobbi Brown: Makeup Maven from North Shore to New York

Bobbi Brown was recently inducted into the New Trier Alumni Hall of Honor as part of the 2013 class.

Before she arrived in town, she spoke with Make It Better about growing up on the North Shore and her busy life today.

Tell us about your life as a teenage girl here on the North Shore.

I had a normal, happy upbringing. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and spent a great deal of time with my two siblings and me. I have so many great memories of my mother, who was so incredibly glamorous in my eyes. I would watch her apply her makeup and was always so in awe of her. I’m sure that is where my love for makeup started. My father was a lawyer, and I always looked up to him. He is still the person who I go to for advice (as is my husband) and the first person who will call me after a TV interview to tell me how proud he is. My Aunt Alice was a big part of my life as well, and I would spend so much time at her house with my cousin Barbara. She also gives the best advice and is one of my biggest role models.

What do you enjoy doing here now when you return?

I visit about 2-3 times a year, so I always make sure I have time to see my family. My father, mother, sister and Aunt Alice are still there, in addition to other family members and friends, so I always look forward to going back to the North Shore and Chicago to spend time with them.

True story: My 23-year-old daughter is far better with makeup than me, and has been since she was 15. I recently learned that this is because she spent several weeks when she was grounded in her room in front of a mirror practicing everything in the Bobbi Brown makeup book. What resources do you recommend for teenage girls now?  

She must have been reading “Teenage Beauty,” which was my first beauty book written for teen girls a long time ago. I have since updated that book and came out with “Beauty Rules” in 2010, also for girls in their teens and twenties. It gives them tips on everything from what to eat, which type of exercise is right for them, how to do their makeup for certain occasions, how to find their makeup style, etc. I included before and after photos of real girls in the book so that girls could identify with someone in the book.

I think it is important for girls to look at realistic images of beauty and not the retouching that goes on in ads and magazines. I think it is also important for young girls to have strong role models in the women in their lives who can paint realistic images of beauty for them. There is a chapter about the mother/daughter relationship in “Beauty Rules” that talks a bit about that.

What about for their moms who still need to get more comfortable with makeup?

As for moms, or any woman who struggles with makeup, you can visit a Bobbi Brown counter and get a free makeup lesson. You can watch videos and read books (I recommend my book “Living Beauty”), but I also think working with a makeup artist and learning how to apply makeup, what formulas are right for you, and which colors are best for your skin tone make a big difference in your comfort level.

You earned induction into the New Trier Alumni Hall of Honor because your life reflects the New Trier motto “Minds to Inquiry, Hearts to Compassion, Lives to the Service of Mankind.” How does your life reflect this motto?

When I started my company 22 years ago, my goal wasn’t to be successful or sell millions of lipsticks; it was to create makeup that would help women look and feel like themselves, only prettier and more confident. For me, the goal was always to inspire and empower women. I do that through my brand and through my work with Dress for Success and Broome Street Academy Charter High School.

What advice do you have for teenage girls growing up on the North Shore?

The same advice I have for all teenage girls, which is to learn to love yourself and those qualities that make you who you are. Don’t use makeup to distort or change your features.  Instead, pick the features you love and play them up.

Working with models of all ages, I’ve seen so many young girls who have self-esteem issues early in their careers, and continue to have those same issues as adults. Find a role model that you can relate to.

What do you recommend people do when they visit NYC?

Go shopping in SoHo, take a walk through Central Park, visit the museums, and if you’ve never seen Times Square, go see it and take in all the buildings and lights and people. A Broadway show is always fun, I loved “Book of Mormon,” and make sure you enjoy a lot of the great food that NYC has to offer.

What do you recommend that mothers and daughters do to explore beauty together?

I think mothers should talk to their daughters about beauty—what is realistic and what is not. I also think mothers introducing their daughters to beauty can be a nice way to bond.

I will always remember my mother doing her makeup to go out at night and she looked so glamorous, so I would take her makeup and play with it myself. Your daughters will always want to experiment with makeup, especially if they see you wearing it, so show them how, or take them to a department store or Sephora and get them a lesson.

What are your favorite charitable causes in Chicago or the North Shore?

Dress for Success is the organization I work with year-round, and they have a beautiful office in Chicago that recently opened and has already helped more than 800 women get the job skills, training and wardrobe they needed to return to the workforce.