Makeup Mogul Bobbi Brown on Starting Over and the Magic of Montclair

Bobbi Brown left her billion-dollar global brand in 2016. Her second act, Jones Road Beauty, has received a warm welcome in her longtime NJ hometown.

Bobbi Brown lounges on a blue couch in her Montclair office.

Bobbi Brown, a “diehard” Montclair resident, lounges in her office, a few blocks from her new Jones Road Beauty flagship. Photo courtesy of Amy Lombard

It’s noon on an early winter day in Montclair, and famed makeup mogul Bobbi Brown is live from a corner of her bathroom. More specifically, she’s live on Instagram—where her personal account, @justbobbidotcom, boasts more than half a million followers—to promote a restock of the fast-selling Bobbi Kit, a collection of five everyday products from her clean, cruelty-free cosmetics line, Jones Road Beauty. Brown launched the brand in October 2020, and opened its flagship store this past November in Montclair, where she has lived for 33 years.

Brown, 64, sports a black sweatshirt emblazoned with the Jones Road logo. Her hair is pulled into a ponytail, and she’s sipping a tall, green juice. “I kind of freaked out my entire team,” she jokes at the start of the stream. “Everyone was like, ‘Bobbi’s doing a Live!’” She feigns panic, smiling brightly.

In some ways, this kind of makeshift marketing hearkens back three decades to the scrappier beginnings of her first beauty brand, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Then a makeup artist and young mother, Brown packaged lipstick samples at her Montclair kitchen table, handing envelopes to her husband to drop at the post office.

But her impromptu Instagram Live also represents a striking departure from what became Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, a now billion-dollar global brand that has been owned by beauty titan Estée Lauder since 1995. After years of corporate protocols and politics, Brown finally left in 2016. She was ready to be in charge again—and now, with Jones Road, she is.


Brown’s obsession with beauty took root in early childhood. Born in Chicago, she grew up watching, wide-eyed, as her “gorgeous and glamorous” mother, Sandra Cain, a homemaker, did her own makeup. “I was in awe of her,” Brown recalls to New Jersey Monthly. “And no matter what, I could never make myself look as glamorous as she was—so I just stopped. My style came to me later.”

In the meantime, Brown happily accepted her mother’s hand-me-downs. Her favorite was a “big, fat, chunky stick” of cream bronzer she’d watched her mom apply to her cheeks and forehead for a sun-kissed glow. “I remember it being the perfect bronzy [color], with a bit of tawny red,” she says. “Whenever I’m creating makeup colors, I always think of it.” (Indeed, she named her go-to shade of Jones Road’s Miracle Balm “Tawny.”)

Brown’s mother encouraged her to pursue her love of makeup professionally, and she attended Emerson College in Boston to study theater makeup.

After graduating in 1979, Brown took a waitressing gig in Boston to save up for a move to New York. When she headed to Manhattan to begin her beauty career the following year, it was officially the ’80s. Harsh, heavy makeup reigned supreme.

“If you weren’t going to Studio 54 and contouring and wearing triple colors on your eyes, you were not in,” Brown says. “But I tried to do that makeup, and I just thought it looked terrible on people.”

Despite her newcomer status, Brown embraced her preferred aesthetic—“really pretty, healthy makeup”—early on. “Some people liked it; some people didn’t,” she says. “But I kind of gravitated to the people that appreciated what I did, and I kept doing it.”

From the beginning, Brown’s resistance was not merely visual, but philosophical. She recoiled at the industry’s impulse to find fault with natural features.

“The beauty industry was all about telling you, ‘Oh, your skin’s the wrong color; let me change it. Your nose is too big; let me show you how to fix it.’ And I was like, ‘No, guys—you look so good when you just walk in the door! I mean, come on: You’re a fresh-faced, 20-year-old model with freckles and a gap in your teeth—you’re so cool looking!’ All the girls were used to was being told what [was] wrong.”

Photographers and magazines—Vogue among them—started taking notice. Although she was armed with conviction, Brown remained humble and hungry to learn. After applying makeup on models, she’d hand them a mirror and watch as they fine-tuned her work to their tastes. On sets, she befriended photographers, who showed her how makeup appeared on film the following day. During photo shoots, she broke out binoculars to study how concealer and mascara fared under the bright lights.

“I always just kind of figured out ways to do things. Now, they call you an entrepreneur,” she says with a chuckle. “I was just always making stuff up.”


Back in Brown’s bathroom, when an Instagram fan wonders if the products in the Bobbi Kit can be used to achieve a smokey-eye look, Brown pulls off her glasses and, warning that she can’t see without them, begins a brief tutorial. Squinting into a small, handheld mirror, she expertly blends a matte, gray shadow onto her lids, then accentuates her lash lines with a brown pencil.

“Thoughts on covering freckles?” another follower asks. “Leave them alone,” Brown declares. “I don’t cover freckles. I love freckles.”

If the first phase of Brown’s career was marked by an aversion to excess, her second act might be defined by an embrace of restraint. Jones Road seems to double down on the philosophy Brown helped pioneer decades ago: that natural beauty should be revered.

Jones Road products lean toward forgiving formulas with lighter coverage. They’re cushiony, buildable, blendable, and conducive to applying on the go (Brown often does her makeup in the car). Most products are multipurpose: The cult favorite Miracle Balm, for instance, can be used anywhere on the face for a flush of dewy, light-reflecting color, on eyes for definition, on lips for color-tinged moisture, and even on hair for taming flyaways.

When she walked away from her namesake brand in 2016, Brown never thought she’d create a new cosmetics line. But she began to notice that her post-corporate routine—eating better, exercising more, using cleaner products—had drastically changed her relationship with makeup. No longer interested in covering up her face, she just wanted to faintly enhance it—but realized she “couldn’t get that look with the makeup on the market.”

Brown started working with new labs—many of them in Jersey—to concoct the skin-friendly formulas she craved. The resulting “clean” products are free of sulfates, parabens and phthalates, and, at a minimum, adhere to safety standards set by the European Union, which are stricter than U.S. guidelines and prohibit the use of 2,700 potentially toxic ingredients.

“I fell in love,” Brown says. Her friends did, too. “Are you kidding me? I look so good,” she recalls them raving after they’d sampled Miracle Balm. “To hear your friends, who are in their mid-60s, tell [you] how good they look is not that common,” she says. Brown launched the balm, alongside seven other products, on October 26, 2020—the exact day her noncompete clause with her former company, Estée Lauder, expired.

The industrial-chic interior of Jones Road's flagship store in Montclair.

Jones Road’s flagship store opened in Montclair this past November. Photo courtesy of Jones Road Beauty

She built a small team, and her husband, real estate developer Steven Plofker, opened a Montclair office for her. Initially, Brown hadn’t planned on a brick-and-mortar store, too—but when Plofker showed her a light-filled, 1,000-square-foot space on Grove Street, across from the bustling Corner Café, she was sold. It’s been an “extraordinary” year, she says, with “meteoric” growth. The line has grown from 8 to approximately 35 products, ranging in price from $22 for a lip gloss to $500 for the Everything Box—all the items from the core collection, plus a sweatshirt.

Jones Road has been an energetic presence in Montclair, where Brown and Plofker have lived since the day they returned from their honeymoon (and later raised their three sons, now aged 23-31). “We are diehard Montclair residents,” Brown says.

The couple opened the boutique George Hotel in town in 2018, where Brown loves to pop in and scope out celebrities. In recent years, guests have included Sir Ben Kingsley, Jane Curtin and Steven Spielberg, when the famed director was shooting West Side Story in Paterson in 2019.

Jones Road is half a mile from Lackawanna Plaza, which once housed one of Brown’s namesake stores, as well as her now shuttered fitness venture, 3Sixty Cycling Studio. (These days, Brown works out at local gym DFIT; exercise, she swears, is “the secret of youth.”)

For all her success, Brown insists she never felt like a revolutionary until others began describing her as one. “I’m someone [who] just puts my head down and does it,” she says. But eventually, she realized she had indeed been part of a wider movement—“teaching women how to appreciate what’s right with you, and not what’s wrong.”

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