Designer's success story is more than just cosmetic

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Designer's success story is more than just cosmetic

It's daunting to hear a 26-year-old say, "When I was young, I had owned my own cosmetics company for six years."

But it's even more of a stunner to hear Jessica Liebeskind say that she closed her company so she could become the product designer for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Bobbi Brown is one of Estee Lauder's top beauty brands. It has hundreds of stores in nearly two dozen countries. Ms. Brown's clients include Hollywood celebrities Winona Rider, Whitney Houston, Meg Ryan and Faye Dunaway.

Ms. Brown and Ms. Liebeskind jointly formulate Bobbi Brown's makeup line. Ms. Liebeskind acts as the global marketing chief, and was in Seoul recently to promote Bobbi Brown and do the makeup for Gucci and Jill Sander at fashion shows. Korea is Bobbi Brown's number three market, following the United States and Japan.

Born in Chicago and raised in California, Ms. Liebeskind comes from a conservative family of physicians. "No one considered makeup to be a profession," she recalls. Nevertheless, she he did her friends' makeup at parties and school, she says, and took great pleasure in making others feel happy at the "magic" she performed with her powders and colors.

She studied acting at at Syracuse University in upstate New York, and often traveled to New York City to audition for roles. "But, I didn't get any calls," she admits, "and that's when I thought I needed to do something that makes me happy. I liked makeup and it made me happy." Ms. Liebeskind's expressions are dramatic in a friendly, funny, familiar way, sort of like television actress Jennifer Aniston's.

At 18, with a few thousand dollars from babysitting, Ms. Liebeskind contracted some manufacturers and released her own line of cosmetics called Dramatic Designs. It was made for college students and sold by agents on campuses, much the way Avon's products are promoted door to door in the U.S. Ms. Liebeskind says the company was profitable in six years with just 10 representatives.

"I founded a company and did all the business, based on my own gut feelings," she says. When she turned 24, Ms. Liebeskind recalls thinking "I want to take myself to another level."

A few months later, she went to Bergdorf Goodman, one of the most exclusive department stores in Manhattan, and met Ms. Brown, already a celebrated makeup artist. Ms. Brown was promoting her new line of makeup and Ms. Liebeskind asked for a job. "As an actress, I was rejected so many times that if Bobbi Brown turned me down, it would be no big deal," Ms. Liebeskind says, "If Bobbi offered me a receptionist's job, I would have accepted because I knew people would notice that I was different." Ms. Brown did, indeed, brush Ms. Liebeskind off. But Ms. Liebeskind was persistent. Ms. Brown turned to her and said, "Come with me." The rest is fashion history.

Today, Ms. Liebeskind says that she and her boss share the same vision about makeup: use it to bring out the natural beauty in every woman. "You are the same person who came in (to buy cosmetics). But when you walk out, you just look better," she says. Both Ms. Brown and Ms. Liebeskind are "concealer and brush persons," meaning that they believe in using concealer sparingly to even out facial colors rather than covering the whole face to have flawless skin. Ms. Liebeskind says women need only two shades of color: one that matches the skin to cover blemishes, and the other one shade lighter to lighten dark circles around the eyes.

What about men? "We are against men using makeup," Ms. Liebeskind says, "unless they want to cover spots." For men, grooming is key. "They need a good haircut," she says, "trimmed eyebrows, clean nails and feet."

by Inēs Cho

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