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How to Come by Your Good Looks Naturally

A Moment With Bobbi Brown

July 11, 1996|VICTORIA THOMAS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the six years since she began spreading the gospel of natural-looking makeup via her own product line, Bobbi Brown has attracted some unintended followers: "I can't tell you how many men come up to me and say, 'Thank you, thank you,' " she says.

When a woman tries to paint in cheekbones or create the illusion of a narrow nose, she's probably laying it on with a trowel. "Dramatically contrasting makeup colors are a common tactical error," Brown says.

Other sins against nature: "Eyebrows shouldn't be darker than hair, lip liner shouldn't be darker than lip color. I don't like mascara on the lower lashes, or bright colors lining the eyes--they're too theatrical. Liquid eyeliner is too harsh."

The Bobbi Brown face looks like it's just gone for a little jog and had a nice glass of milk. To achieve that wholesome look, Brown advocates a yellow / brown palette, warm tones that flatter most complexions. "As a makeup artist, I just got so frustrated that I couldn't find foundation that looked natural," she says. So she formulated her own products, eschewing the cool, blue-based tradition and becoming the first among a bunch of hands-on professionals to squeeze out existing lines at cosmetics counters.

Brown's brownish lipsticks sparked a beauty trend--and a crop of muddy imitations. She notes that even her Clove, Chocolate and Golden Brown shades have hints of red, orange or pink: "They aren't flat, ashy browns."

At a recent department store demo, Brown, 38, wears sensible shoes, a flippy short skirt and a celery-green cashmere sweater knotted around her neck. It's a child's extra large, she confides. "One-hundred dollars, instead of $500 for an adult's, at TSE Cashmere in New York."

Indeed, practicality is at the core of Brown's appeal. "I work, I have a husband, I have two young kids," she says. "Please! I can't spend all morning in front of the mirror trying to get my face to look right."

To her mind, a basic makeup routine should take no more than 15 minutes: cleanse, moisturize, conceal blotches, define brows, line eyes and lips before adding muted color, brush blush across apples of the cheeks. Old-guard cosmetics empires have listened to her message. In 1995, Estee Lauder bought Brown's company, its first outside acquisition.

Unlike most lines, Bobbi Brown offers no concealer; a lighter shade of foundation is recommended for erasing under-eye circles. And Brown warns against eyebrow pencils: "Most women can't resist drawing a really hard line." Instead, she suggests filling in blank spots with a powder matched to hair color. Upper lids may be lined in the same shade, or with an eye pencil, "as long as the lining is done with a soft hand." Brown maintains she can prepare to meet the world in five minutes, and when pressed, she'll skip foundation.

Brown grew up in Wilmette, Ill., a Chicago suburb, reading the same fashion magazines as most teenagers, yet she never bought into the fantasy of fabulous makeup. For some women, a hot pink or sizzling coral lipstick is a wearable form of antidepressant. Brown's advice for the moody: "Go for a walk, buy yourself some flowers. But don't take it out on your face."

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