When Bobbi Brown enters her new store in East Hampton for her newish beauty line, no one seems to notice. And when she starts chatting with a customer about eyeliners, the shopper looks puzzled by this especially knowledgeable 66-year-old in a black cardigan and white T-shirt. “Do you work here?” the shopper asks. Her friends practically leap on her, horrified at the faux pas.
You bet she works here!
You could excuse the eyeliner buyer’s cluelessness. Brown, Cartier Love bracelets on each arm, looks like any woman on the leafy streets of East Hampton, except she isn’t wearing a sundress. Her brand also seems to be traveling incognito. It’s called, somewhat anonymously, Jones Road—she originally considered naming it Nameless, a likely reference to the fact that she no longer owns her name. The packaging is, as they say in the business, stock: white and beige plastic compacts and tubs, unadorned glass jars, wood pencils, sans serif logo.
It’s a clever disguise. Inside that almost generic packaging, the formulas are rich, creamy, luxurious, practical, effective, original, and entirely desirable. They’re as sneaky as Brown’s Uniqlo cardigan on top and Hermès sandals below. Stealth luxury!
The shop grows crowded. Perhaps word has gotten out that the artist is in residence. The many women, and one burly man holding a coffee drink, fire questions at her: What foundation shade should I buy? How do I use the concealer stick? Do you like the violet or the navy eyeliner on me? Could I give you my card? I’m a friend of Pam’s from Frenchtown—could you come over for drinks? Burgers? Brown is approachable; she seems like one of us. But she’s the wildly successful version, walking among us in Hermès sandals, making it look easy.
This is Brown’s second act, and she’s killing it—to the tune of many, many millions of off-the-record dollars in revenue. “Killing it” are the exact words I hear over and over from former colleagues, former rivals, and people who are remarkably adept at hiding their jealousy.
Brown has left a trail of Rose Lip Color and Black Ink Gel Eyeliner in her wake. She started her original line in 1991 with 10 lipsticks, and sold it and her name to Estée Lauder in 1995. Unlike most founders, who hightail it out of corporate HQ the minute their contract is up, she stayed at the company for 22 years. The ending was slightly more bitter than sweet, but she realizes more and more that all those years had enormous value, not all of it monetary.
She was ready to jump back into action when her 25-year non-compete agreement ended. She launched Jones Road with no outside investors.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing today if I didn’t have 22 years of corporate experience,” she says. “But I don’t want to be part of a corporation again.” Oh, P.S., she’s gotten offers, including one from Avon. “If anyone could fix their empowerment story that everyone forgot about, I could. But luckily it didn’t work out. Because I would’ve been miserable.”
She’s the opposite of miserable now, free of corporate structure and its sometimes baffling rules. Free of people telling her she “should wear a hat with a feather,” because, at five-feet-zero, she had trouble being spotted by Bergdorf Goodman customers at public appearances. Free of people telling her to “buy a pied-à-terre in New York City … and tell editors she lived there.” (Brown is a proud citizen of Montclair, New Jersey.) That person’s reasoning? “He told me, ‘No one wants to take advice from a soccer mom.’”
The soccer mom never left Montclair, although she does have four additional houses—in Telluride, Sag Harbor, Palm Beach Gardens, and at the Baker’s Bay club, in the Bahamas. And pretty much everyone welcomes her advice. But thank you for your thoughts, Mr. Mansplainer.
Her team at Jones Road in Montclair is deliberately free of beauty executives. And being a mom hasn’t diminished her credibility even a little. Jones Road’s secret weapon, the person who shares responsibility for Brown’s killing-it status, is a 33-year-old chief marketing officer named Cody Plofker, who just happens to be her son. Her director of brand marketing is Payal Patel Plofker, her daughter-in-law and Cody’s wife. “We were worried about nepotism,” says Brown, “but then we were like, What the hell.”
“What the hell” could be the “Just Do It” of Jones Road.
When the Dusty Rose Miracle Balm sold out and the team found 2,500 jars of the product and zero boxes in the warehouse, what the hell? Let’s put them in sandwich bags, make labels on neon tape, and get them out to the people.
“What the hell” also appears to be her M.O. on TikTok, where she’s become something of a phenomenon. When a beauty influencer with more than 15 million followers at the time posted a damning review of the new Jones Road foundation, called What the Foundation, or WTF, Brown made several response videos. Some were measured. Some were educational. And in one she mimicked the influencer by taking two enormous scoops of the creamy pigment and smearing it all over her face and lips like cake frosting. “Mom! A 60-something-year-old woman cannot go against a TikTok influencer!” her son Duke reprimanded her. So Brown asked the C.M.O. son not to put up the video. Oops, too late. “It’s going viral.”
“And I learned a new word,” Brown declares, clearly pleased. “Clap back!” And, what the hell, the sales of What the Foundation immediately quadrupled.
Want more? When the East Hampton store had to close unexpectedly one day last week because no one was able to work, Brown’s husband, Steven Plofker—a real-estate developer and the mastermind behind the Jones Road stores—said, “I’ll do it.” So he, Brown, Duke, and the 16-year-old daughter of Brown’s book agent kept the lights on. “We got bombarded,” says Brown. Rachel Zoe, the fashion stylist and designer, and Rev Run, of Run-DMC, came in to shop, although not together.
And as exhausting as some of the rolling up of sleeves undoubtedly is, Brown is having a ball. “I don’t think age,” she tells me. “And I don’t look in the mirror a lot.” That, she says, is one of her beauty secrets. “I’m as young as I’m going to be,” she announced to the audience at a BeautyMatter conference in New York City.
“I have friends that play cards. I have friends that play pickleball. I have friends that walk on the beach all the time. But I love working. And I love creating products.”
O.K., sure. But what if someone offered her, I don’t know, $2 billion for Jones Road? Would she still rather not walk on the beach?
“I’m not going to say no, of course. I would probably say yes. But…” She pauses for a moment. “I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I would do.” She repeats the sentence one more time, as if to herself. And I believe her.
Linda Wells is the Editor at Air Mail Look