Is Facebook’s Campbell Brown a Force to Be Reckoned With? Or Is She Fake News?


Ms. Brown, 49, wasn’t out at Facebook. Yet she has long had to grapple with questions about whether she really has influence at the social network.

Since joining the Silicon Valley company in 2017 to repair its frayed relationship with the news media, many have considered the former CNN and NBC anchor as little more than window dressing. Others see her as a more insidious figure — a telegenic personality with close ties to conservative figures who can offer Facebook’s outreach the veneer of journalistic credibility. To them, she is an ambassador from a dictatorship, willing to deliver bad news with a smile and some canapés. No matter their view of her, almost all question what influence she has at a company where the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has viewed news — both making it and displaying it — as a headache.

But a year and a half into her tenure, Ms. Brown, who became a school-choice activist with close ties to conservative politics after her TV career, is emerging as a fiery negotiator for her vision of Facebook as a publishing platform, according to interviews with more than 30 people who work or who regularly interact with her. This month, Hollywood Reporter named Ms. Brown one of this year’s 35 most powerful New York media figures.

Facebook — with its reach of more than 2.2 billion users — already holds enormous power over the news that people consume. But now it is making its first venture into licensed news content. Facebook has set aside a $90 million budget to have partners develop original news programming, and Ms. Brown is pitching publishers on making Facebook-specific news shows featuring mainstream anchors, according to two people involved in or briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details were confidential.

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Facebook hired Campbell Brown, a former news anchor for NBC and CNN, as head of news partnerships in 2017 as part of its efforts to repair a frayed relationship with the news media.

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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Peabody

Once those shows get started, Ms. Brown wants to use Facebook’s existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming like “Palestinians Pay $400 million Pensions For Terrorist Families” — to be a breaking news destination. The result would be something akin to an online competitor to cable news.

Ms. Brown is also pushing paywalls for publishers on the social network, another first for a company that has long avoided circulating any content that users would have to pay for.

“This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before; it’s having a point of view,” Ms. Brown said in February at a tech and media conference where she discussed how Facebook planned to de-emphasize low-quality news and could even begin paying some publishers.

Whether all these changes last — or even get implemented — are open questions. Facebook has started down the road of editorial control before, only to change course. The company laid off a group of editors in 2016 after a controversy over its Trending Topics items and replaced them with an algorithm that automatically surfaces the top news of the day.

And with recent changes that have lowered the visibility of hard news in Facebook’s News Feed, frustration within the media industry is mounting. Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s executive chairman, has called for publishers to band together to force Facebook to pay for news content.

Ms. Brown declined to speak on the record but some Facebook colleagues spoke about how she has navigated the relationships with the news media and inside the company, even as the social network’s own rapport with journalism remains uneasy.

“Campbell leads a critical piece of our business,” said Dan Rose, Facebook’s vice president for partnerships. “She’s been incredibly effective, and she’s just getting started.”

Plunging Into News

Ms. Brown was born into a tight-knit Catholic family in 1968 in Ferriday, La., population about 5,000. Her father, a local politician and state insurance commissioner, once served a prison stint for lying to the F.B.I. during an investigation related to an insurance company.

In her youth, Ms. Brown was kicked out of an all-girls boarding school for sneaking off campus to a party. She spent two years at Louisiana State University before attending Regis University, a small Jesuit school in Denver. Afterward, she moved to then-Czechoslovakia for two years to teach English before returning to the United States and beginning a television news career, going from a local station in Topeka, Kan., to Richmond, Va., then Baltimore.

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Ms. Brown and her husband, Dan Senor, left, are regular figures on the media social scene. They chatted with the Google executive Eric Schmidt at a viewing party for the 2012 State of the Union speech.

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Patrick McMullan/PatrickMcMullan.com

Her approach on camera was confrontational, yet likable. In 1996, she got a call from NBC News.

“There was something about her on screen that indicated she was a person who could make you feel comfortable — the nice girl next door you could talk to,” Neal Shapiro, then president of NBC, said in 2003.

At NBC, she became a political campaign reporter, covering George W. Bush’s run for the presidency in 2000. She smoked cigarettes and threw parties. With her best friend and fellow reporter Anne Kornblut, she started “Chick Chat,” a social group for female White House correspondents that drew political guests as well as charges of elitism from those it excluded.

While in Iraq in 2004 for a story on the Abu Ghraib prison complex, she met Dan Senor, chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Ms. Brown asked him out and they married in 2006 and now have two sons, ages 8 and 10. Ms. Brown converted to Judaism, her husband’s religion, before their marriage, and friends said the couple is known for hosting raucous seders with skits and singing.

Mr. Senor now works for the conservative billionaire Paul Elliott Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, and is a power broker in the Republican fund-raising world, as well as a frequent guest on morning news shows.

In 2007, Ms. Brown joined CNN as a prime-time anchor but struggled for good ratings. She quit three years later with a statement that threw shade at her fellow CNN anchors, saying that she could not compromise her desire for honest, unbiased reporting.

“Shedding my own journalistic skin to try to inhabit the kind of persona that might coexist in that line up is simply impossible for me,” she wrote.

Some said her behavior now, seemingly throwing Facebook’s strategy of silence under the bus, mirrors that letter.

A ‘Friend of Sheryl’

But after leaving CNN, Ms. Brown did shed her journalistic skin, and turned herself into a political animal.

Ms. Brown became an activist focused on education. She fought teachers’ unions, a tactic some friends think was meant to position her for a run for office. A New York Magazine profile once posed the question, “How did an ex-news anchor become the most controversial woman in school reform?”

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Ms. Brown moderating a CNN panel discussion on the night of the 2008 vice-presidential debate.

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Josh Haner/The New York Times

“She was a celebrity in ed reform,” said Eva Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of the Success Academy Charter Schools, where Ms. Brown is a board member. “We just didn’t have people of her prominence before.”

Ms. Brown also started an education news site called The 74 Million, which often reports on issues around teachers’ unions, and an advocacy group called The Partnership for Educational Justice, which funded a lawsuit against teacher tenure. She served on the board of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children. (Ms. Devos has funded The 74 Million.) When President Trump nominated Ms. DeVos to be Secretary of Education last year, Ms. Brown wrote an op-ed in her defense, calling Ms. DeVos a “friend.”

By then, Facebook was in crisis mode over how it handled news.

In mid-2016, the social network was grappling with criticism that its Trending Topics team of editors was choosing to feature left-leaning content and leaving out right-leaning posts. A few months later, the term “fake news” would crash into the lexicon after the presidential election.

Ms. Kornblut, who had left the Washington Post to go work at Facebook with Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, called Ms. Brown in to help rebuild news relationships and ease tensions with an agitated media world. Ms. Brown’s hiring was announced in January 2017.

Many in the news business were immediately skeptical about what Ms. Brown might do.

“If you wanted to deeply understand American journalists, having a TV personality is not really the first place you would go,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a nonprofit that supports news media with research and training.

At Facebook, Ms. Brown became part of an informal cadre on the company’s business side known as the FOSSes, or “Friends of Sheryl Sandberg.” But close association with a powerful figure within the company does not assure her of success.

When it comes to decisions related to publishers, the power at Facebook has traditionally been more with the product staff, who tend to be aligned more with Mr. Zuckerberg and cloistered from meetings with partners, according to several media executives. Google, in contrast, has a similar power dynamic but, publishers said, a more robust partnership structure and easier contact with product teams.

“She’s smart, but we’re different beasts,” Richard Gingras, the vice president for news at Google, said of Ms. Brown. “I’m in a fortunate position where I’m involved with the product. I can make change. I feel for her, I really do.”

While Ms. Brown has helped Facebook mount its charm offensives at industry events, her efforts to remake Facebook’s relationships with publishers has meant cutting back her visibility to the broader public.

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In 2006, Ms. Brown traveled to the African nation of Lesotho with, from left, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Bill Clinton to tour HIV/AIDS care and treatment facilities for a segment that aired on NBC’s “Today” show.

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Ralph Alswang/NBC News

“There was a time you couldn’t turn on a T.V. and not see Campbell Brown,” said Ben Winkler, chief investment officer for OMD, a global media agency. “Since she went to Facebook, Campbell Brown is where?”

Negotiating Partnerships

The answer, it turns out, was close to home. Editors talk about Facebook as an authoritarian regime or perhaps an ideological cult, and they call Ms. Brown its emissary to the city.

She takes those ambassadorial duties seriously. She’s a regular figure in the New York media scrum, such as a recent Pulitzer reception at the media hot spot Michael’s. She also hosts frequent media and Facebook mixers at her modern, airy TriBeCa apartment.

At these events, attendees are met with wine and hors d’oeuvres (seared tuna, and a cheese and cracker buffet). Guests describe Ms. Brown as “a hoot” with a sharp humor. When she calls the party to order, the group sits around her living room on leather cowhide seats and polished wooden stumps.

Ms. Brown typically has a guest of honor from Facebook, such as the chief product officer Chris Cox, and allows questions. If she deems a question too challenging for the guest, she pushes back against the inquisitor — her go-to is some form of the retort, “Really?”

The gatherings are frequently a who’s who of the news media, mixing long-established outlets with digitally focused newcomers. The guest lists have included Ben Smith, the BuzzFeed editor in chief; David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker; Nick Thompson, the editor of Wired; and the Vox publisher Melissa Bell. One editor, who asked not to be identified because these gatherings are off the record, said he felt “humiliated” afterward, having been reminded that the power of traditional publishers is waning.

The gatherings are the first outreach Facebook has made to the New York media world — a world that is increasingly beholden to the company’s power.

“I know a lot of publishers there, they have to manage good relationships in order to survive, let alone thrive,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association serving digital content companies. “It’s not getting better.”

Some said Ms. Brown has had more influence on Facebook than they expected, citing the introduction of paywalls and the prospect of the company paying for content.

“I think she’s been a stronger figure in that role than any platform has ever had,” Mr. Smith said.

As much as those soirees may include needling from her, Ms. Brown’s daytime summits with publishers tend to be more overtly contentious. At one recent meeting, two publishers complained about having lost a lot of online traffic after changes to Facebook’s News Feed. According to one publisher who was present, Ms. Brown told them the company would give them more traffic if they stopped doing clickbait.

Still, the media industry has been so beaten down by Facebook that some said they were happy to just have someone in the company who talks to them.

“We see some small movement in the right direction in terms of at least improving transparency,” said Jim Bankoff, chief executive of Vox Media. There had not been “real movement in terms of providing better business opportunity,” he added. “But at least we’re being listened to.”

Ms. Brown recently helped arranged a meeting between Mr. Zuckerberg and several members of The Washington Post management team: Martin Baron, the editor; Fred Ryan, the chief executive; and Shailesh Prakash, the chief product officer. The group discussed whether a Facebook user should hit a paywall on Post content after clicking on three, five or 10 articles. Mr. Zuckerberg said 10, but The Post executives wanted a paywall to start after 3 articles, according to a person who was in the meeting.

Ms. Brown went for the middle ground, pushing Mr. Zuckerberg to give The Post a test run of paywalls that kick in after three and five Post articles are read. She won. Since March 1, The Post has been doing just that, according to Mr. Prakash.

“She’s helped us,” Mr. Prakash said.

But Ms. Brown’s biggest project is developing a news apparatus within Facebook’s premium video section, called Watch.

She is negotiating with BuzzFeed, Vox, CNN, Fox News and others to partner on creating about a half-dozen Facebook-exclusive shows, which will launch in May and June.

Building off these shows, Ms. Brown is pushing to create a curated breaking news destination and envisions a cohesive daily Facebook newscast using partner content highlights — paid for by Facebook, made by media partners, and edited by a growing editorial team, according to a person familiar with her thinking.

Discussing Facebook’s reticence to put paywalls in and engage with publishers transparently, Ms. Brown said at the February media and tech conference that it had taken too long for the social network to come around to a workable news strategy.

“I’m having a hard time with patience right now,” she said. “And I know publishers are too.”

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As Trump Leads a ‘War’ on California, Who Will Lead California?


For his part, Mr. Brown said Washington was “basically going to war against the state of California.”

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Antonio R. Villaraigosa, a former two-term mayor of Los Angeles and Assembly speaker, is a leading contender in the race for governor.

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Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Polls suggest that the two leading contenders to succeed Mr. Brown are Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and a former mayor of San Francisco, and Antonio R. Villaraigosa, the former two-term mayor of Los Angeles and Assembly speaker, both Democrats. The two are known as effective public speakers with extensive political experience that could prove important in navigating the fight against Washington.

Of the two, Mr. Newsom has assumed the more aggressive stance in taking on the Trump administration, drawing strong support from liberal Democrats in the process. He has also called for the impeachment of Mr. Trump. A centerpiece of his campaign is a pledge to adopt a government-run, single-payer health care system, a direct challenge to the free-market vision embraced by Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans.

“This is more than a political campaign,” Mr. Newsom told cheering delegates at the state Democratic convention here this year. “It’s about Democrats acting like Democrats in a battle for America’s soul against a president without one.”

“Some of the defeatist Democrats are saying we just want to defend against the status quo,” he told another audience that day. “How can you just defend against the status quo? We need to do more than just push back against their agenda to wreak more havoc.”

Mr. Villaraigosa has struck a relatively more restrained note, saying it was too early to talk about impeachment and dismissing Mr. Newsom’s promise to have California go it alone with its own health care system as a “pie-in-the-sky” promise he was making to ride anti-Trump sentiment. In tone, Mr. Villaraigosa is closer to Mr. Brown in positioning himself against the president.

“Gavin likes to talk about the resistance — I don’t use that word,” Mr. Villaraigosa said over green tea during a break from campaigning in downtown Los Angeles. “I tell people the best way to resist is not to text and tweet, scream and yell at Donald Trump. The best way to resist is for us to chart a different path here in this state.”

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A supporter of Gavin Newsom, another leading candidate for governor, during the convention.

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Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

“We are going to push back,” he said. “But most of our attention, most of our efforts need to be focused on improving the human condition here.”

Robert Shrum, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said the divisions on health care and impeachment reflected discussions Democrats were having nationally as they debated the best way to defeat Mr. Trump. Mr. Villaraigosa’s stance reflects the calculation that while California is overwhelmingly Democratic in its voting habits, many voters are independent by registration, and thus might be less receptive to an overly confrontational position against Mr. Trump.

“Newsom is endorsing all of those things on the Democratic wish list,” Mr. Shrum said. “Villaraigosa is saying, ‘I like those things but we actually can’t do them.’

“One position speaks to the anger in the base,” he said. “The other speaks to what I think Democratic leadership in Congress prefers.”

Under California’s election system, 27 candidates will appear on a primary ballot on June 5, regardless of party. A runoff in November will be held between the top two finishers.

While polls suggest the November contest will be between Mr. Villaraigosa and Mr. Newsom, the dynamics of a multicandidate field can make it difficult to predict who might finish in the top. John Chiang, a Democrat and the state treasurer, and John H. Cox, a Republican businessman, also appear to be in position to capture a spot on the November ballot, according to some polls.

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Mr. Newsom, the lieutenant governor and a former mayor of San Francisco, posed for photos with supporters at the convention.

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Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

And Delaine Eastin, a Democrat and the former state superintendent of public education, has drawn vocal support from the left with her own call for single-payer health care and the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

If the November election ends up being between Mr. Villaraigosa and Mr. Newsom, it will be a classic north versus south contest. Candidates from Northern California tend to win those, because of heavier turnout in the Bay Area; Mr. Newsom enjoys a big advantage in fund-raising and leads in most statewide polls.

But Mr. Villaraigosa would be the first Latino governor elected in modern times. He is running when the ever-growing Latino community accounts for nearly 40 percent of the population and when California is battling with the administration over restrictive immigration policies.

Mr. Newsom, 50, has made a single-payer government-run health care system for California a central plank of his campaign as he has sought to ride the anti-Trump sentiment that is surging in Democratic circles here, including within the powerful nurses’ union. “It is a litmus test for our endorsement,” said Bonnie Castillo, the executive director of the California Nurses Association. “Gavin passes it with flying colors.”

Mr. Trump’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and his pledge to continue doing so, means that health care will likely be another challenge for the next governor, whether or not California implements single-payer.

“If our health care system is thrown into absolute chaos because of what happens in Washington, the voters in California are going to expect the Democrats who control California to deal with it,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic consultant who advises the nurses union.

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Supporters of Mr. Villaraigosa. While there are Republicans on the ballot, there is little doubt the next governor will be a Democrat.

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Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

If Mr. Newsom won and made good on that campaign promise, he would open a up a whole new area of contention with Mr. Trump. Single-payer health care is likely to require waivers from the Trump administration in order to apply Medicare payments to financing a potentially $400 billion program, along with substantial tax increases.

Mr. Villaraigosa, 65, said he supported the concept of single-payer health care, but dismissed Mr. Newsom’s promise as unrealistic.

“He’s arguing with bold leadership we’re going to do it — even though he knows you need Trump’s waivers to do it,” Mr. Villaraigosa said. “They are not going to give us the waivers for that. Think about this: You ready to double your taxes? Nobody is going to do that. Everyone is for it until they realize — whoa. The cost. ”

Mr. Chiang said he, too, supported a state health care system. “I just think Gavin Newsom should be forthcoming on how they are going to pay for it,” he said.

Mr. Newsom dismissed his critics as “defeatist Democrats.”

“It’s a jaw-dropping thing: to say you support something but it can’t be done,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview a few blocks from his office in Sacramento. “Who the hell is interested in ‘it can’t be done.’ We wouldn’t have marriage equality if I had listened to ‘it can’t be done.’”

Asked what his plan was to pay for it, Mr. Newsom responded: “The one that works is the one I support. I’m not an ideologue.”

Still, the biggest question may well be whether anyone will be able to replace Mr. Brown as California’s counterpoint to Mr. Trump — and whether the state’s stature as a national leader in this fight will diminish when Mr. Brown retires to his ranch next January.

“California is usually the leading edge,” said Ms. Eastin, one of the Democrats seeking to replace him. “It’s the sixth largest economy in the world. I think California will get attention.”

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Bobbi Brown Is Ready to Slay the Wellness Industry. Nicely.


What does she have against bread?

“I love bread more than I love my children,” Ms. Brown said. She has three grown sons — Dylan, Dakota and Duke — with her husband, Steven Plofker, a real-estate developer with many projects in the area. Like Oprah, she shared a bread fantasy: “I would have crusty bread with steak tartare. Pizza. I think I would rather have bread than pasta. I like crunch.” And on it she would put?

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Ms. Brown meeting with some of her team, next to the mood boards for her two new brands.

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Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Butterrrr!” she said lasciviously, to shrieks of laughter from her colleagues. “I mean, why mess around with cheese?”

Ms. Brown sat on a leather sofa with her plump mutt, Biggie, at her feet, and shared that a tenant upstairs was Luke Parker Bowles, a film producer who is the president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the nephew of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. ”He just comes down nonstop,” she said. “It’s like a sitcom.”

When Mr. Parker Bowles indeed made an appearance an hour later, he called Ms. Brown “the kindest woman I know in this area code,” and along with Mr. Plofker, “the beating heart of Montclair.” They are active in the town’s philanthropy, and every Yom Kippur they have a break-fast party at their house attended by prominent locals like Senator Cory Booker, Stephen Colbert and the journalist Jonathan Alter.

Still, driving past the Whole Foods near Main Street in her Range Rover, Ms. Brown will say things like “I’m a suburban mom that goes to the grocery store.”

The couple’s newest baby is the George Inn, a 32-room boutique hotel, with rooms starting at around $200 per night and a library and lobby filled with pictures of famous Georges and Georgias: O’Keeffe, Hamilton, Harrison, George Herman Ruth Jr. (a.k.a. Babe Ruth), Washington, Jefferson from the TV program, Costanza (the two presidents Bush have not yet found their spots). It is the latest addition to a portfolio that has included retail, office and sports complexes, along with her namesake eyeglass line and nine books.

Back at headquarters, Ms. Brown’s phone beeped the opening bars of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” She took the call, looking like a teenager in a white Brandy Melville T-shirt and black sweater, legs curled up under her in jeans with prefabricated holes.

On another board nearby were some of Ms. Brown’s favorite mantras, which she has had put on pencils, like “Be Who You Are” — “Everyone else is taken, you know,” she said, once off the phone — and “Focus On What You Do Like” and “Simple Is The New Black” and “Be Nice.”

“Duh. Hello?” Ms. Brown said. “Like, you don’t like something? Be nice.”

If this all seems terribly basic, consider how she amassed her fortune.

‘I’m Still Here’

Ms. Brown first moved to New York in 1980, the child of an amicable divorce in suburban Chicago (down the block, at one point, from Hugh Hefner and his ex-wife) who had gotten a degree in theatrical makeup from Emerson College after years of struggling with schoolwork. She lived with her boyfriend from high school, a photographer, in a one-bedroom apartment on West Fourth Street that cost $500 a month, maxing out credit cards and making cold calls to agencies and bookers.

Her ad in The Village Voice offering makeup lessons got one answer, from a preppily dressed man who said he was in a play and needed to look like a woman. “I was freaked out,” Ms. Brown said. “He dressed up in drag and then wanted me to teach him how to do makeup. I made a few bucks, but I didn’t put an ad in again.”

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The George, a boutique hotel Ms. Brown and her husband, Steven Plofker, are opening in Montclair on April 1.

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Lesley Unruh

The makeup artists’ union helped find her some work, including assisting on “Saturday Night Live,” and within a year she got a good gig at Glamour magazine, but there was discouragement aplenty. “I had a hairdresser tell me I would never work in this town because I didn’t have a style, I didn’t have a thing, Ms. Brown said. And now? “Well, I know he’s in Palm Springs and he’s got a salon, ha-ha, and I’m still here.”

If Ms. Brown had any look at the time, it was “Flashdance” meets Madonna, who worked out at her gym. She knew she disliked what was then modish: white skin, red lips and the practice of contouring to create cheekbones. “Just not necessary,” she said, though she admired the work of Way Bandy and Kevyn Aucoin, who “could literally paint a face. But the finished product is not a woman that walks outside. It’s being photographed. It’s not a real look.” She tried to conform and get along, watching once as Jerry Hall redid her own makeup for a Cosmopolitan shoot.

Ms. Brown got a break when an agent called to ask if she was available the next day to work with the photographer Bruce Weber. “I was a wreck,” she said. “I must have tried on 15 outfits because I wanted to just have the perfect cool when I walked in.”

She and Mr. Weber were a good match. “He didn’t want any makeup!” she said. “He wanted not to see anything.” Asked if she witnessed any bad behavior from Mr. Weber, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, Ms. Brown said, “Honestly, I grew up in the fashion industry, with photographers and assistants and male models and you know, the ’80s, everything just seemed like a big party. Which I really wasn’t a participant in because I either had a boyfriend or a husband.”

She was introduced to Mr. Plofker in 1988 by a friend over dinner at Raoul’s, a restaurant in SoHo. “All I can say is, ‘Boom,” Ms. Brown said. They talked nonstop, she remembered, then put the friend in a cab, then “talked for an hour outside my building.”

The next day, Ms. Brown was happy to find out that her new swain had a master’s degree from Harvard and was, like her, Jewish. “Then I realized his last name was Plofker,” she said. “But I married him anyway.”

Company Woman

After the newlyweds moved to Montclair and began raising a family, Ms. Brown started to tire of the fashion industry’s constant travel. She had fantasized about creating her own line. “My philosophy was women don’t need a lot of makeup, they just need a few things,” she said. “Clearly that’s not what happened to the billion-dollar brand.”

Its origin story is now part of corporate lore: the chemist she met during a Mademoiselle shoot at Kiehl’s, the 10 subtly colored lipsticks (including one named, conveniently enough, Brown) that sold 100 units their first day at Bergdorf Goodman in 1991.

Four years later, Leonard Lauder courted Ms. Brown and a business partner, Rosalind Landis, over grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, brown rice and wine on the terrace of his Fifth Avenue penthouse. “It was an out-of-body experience, to see Picassos and Dubuffets and everything there,” Ms. Brown said. As the sounds of the New York Philharmonic playing in Central Park wafted toward the sky, Mr. Lauder told her she reminded him of his mother, Estée.

“‘You’re beating us in all the stores, and I want to buy you,’” she recalled him saying. “‘What if I told you could do exactly what you love to do and want, and I would give you complete autonomy?’”

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Ms. Brown during her brief “‘Flashdance’ meets Madonna” moment, making up a model from the Ford Models Face of 80s show.

“I didn’t even know what autonomy was,” Ms. Brown said.

She added that her company’s reported selling price of around $75 million was inaccurate, but she doesn’t remember the precise amount. “Oh, it was a lot,” she said. “Yeah, I never had to work again.”

Mr. Lauder, she said, was supportive and always “very fatherly” with her. “Leonard used to tell me, ‘Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness,’” Ms. Brown said. “That’s the way he ran the company.”

But she missed not being the boss, disliked corporate-speak — “things like ‘optimize!’ That just means ‘do it better!’” — and hated meetings. In the middle of one long, boring one, Ms. Brown took out a concealer she’d been given that was way too thick under the eyes. She put it all over her face, experimented and looked in a mirror. “It turned into a sheer product,” she recalled: the Retouching Wand, joining her much copied Gel Eyeliner and Shimmer Brick, a highlighter.

By 2010, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics was available in more than 980 doors and 56 countries. . By 2012, there were over 60 freestanding Bobbi Brown Cosmetics stores worldwide. But in her later years there, Ms. Brown said she experienced more “aggravation,” like when she started a “JustBobbi” Instagram account. “I would always get in trouble,” she said. “Someone from corporate would always call down, you know, ‘What did Bobbi post?’ and I was like, ‘Guys, I’m a person.’”

Eventually such strictures began to chafe. “Look, anyone that leaves any kind of company will tell you how tough it was — that’s why you’re not there anymore,” Ms. Brown said. “I’m a good girl. I don’t live my life trying to piss people off, but honestly sometimes I can’t help it.”

After leaving her namesake company behind in 2016, Ms. Brown cycled through relief, anger and sadness. “I thought I was going to spend weeks and days in bed,” she said. “I didn’t. I moped around for a couple days and drank tequila with my best friends.”

In the Bahamas with Mr. Plofker for his 60th birthday, she met a chef who said, “I can’t wait to see what you do next.” “I don’t know,” Ms. Brown said.

“Dude, you got this!” the chef said admiringly.

“And that’s why I’ve got posters and pencils and hats that say, ‘I got this,’” Ms. Brown said. “It just kind of clicked.”

What Do Millennials Want?

Not all of her experiments have worked out. A stint as editor of Yahoo Beauty ended after two years. (“Like going to grad school,” Ms. Brown said.) A consultancy at Lord & Taylor, with justBOBBI boutiques selling products from other lines as well as her own, has quietly ended. “We just didn’t have the manpower,” she said. “It was a great creative project, but we’re overwhelmed and something had to give.”

It was time for lunch. Ms. Brown ordered a Bobbi salad, whose christening raised $10,000 for a school fund-raiser, from the renowned local sandwich shop Egan & Sons: avocado, string beans, white and black beans, bell peppers, red onion, chopped romaine, cilantro and lemon vinaigrette. Plus anchovies on the side.

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Sean Combs, Ms. Brown and some supporters at a Bobbi Brown event in New York City circa 2000.

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Steve Eichner/Getty Images

She had gone to bed at 9:30 the previous evening after returning again from the Bahamas, splashing her face with water (of makeup, she said, “I don’t really wear any”) and applying a new soothing cream derived from hemp oil on her neck and feet. The name escaped her.

“Theramu!” her team said in chorus.

“I think I took too much of it last night, I’m a little tired this morning,” Ms. Brown said. “I was supposed to do a half a dropper but didn’t measure. THC is marijuana to get you high. This is the CBD part, this is legal, and I think it’s going to be the biggest trend. It’s amazing, I’ve been putting some on Biggie, she has a little boo-boo on her tail.”

An employee, Tara Tersigni, mentioned that Ms. Brown just met with Jen Atkin, a hairstylist and social-media influencer with her own line. “She kind of came up with the Kardashians, did their hair and still does all the ‘It’ girls,” Ms. Tersigni said. “And she said to Bobbi, ‘You’re the O.G.” Pause. “Original gangster.”

“Then she said I’m ‘cool AF’ and I’m like, what the hell is ‘AF’?” Ms. Brown said.

How are millennial women, who have embraced pared-down makeup lines like Emily Weiss’s Glossier, different from her generation?

“I think they are much cooler, much more simple and caring about things that matter, meaning family, work,” Ms. Brown said. “I think it’s not about the big giant handbag, not about the designer. It’s not about a cream that promises you endless possibilities. Honestly, I think that the young girls are more simple and they just want the truth. They don’t want, like, marketing-speak. They don’t want gobbledygook.”

The “Satisfaction” riff sounded; Ms. Brown let the call go to voice mail. She recalled early in her career, doing a shoot with the photographer Annie Leibovitz. She shut the dressing room door. Then a stylist reopened it. “As I’m cleaning up, I look in the mirror and I’m with the Rolling Stones in their underwear,” Ms. Brown said. “All of them!”

Years later she became friends with a girlfriend of Mr. Jagger, the fashion designer L’Wren Scott who had asked her and the hairdresser Sam McKnight to work on one of her last fashion shows in London. (Ms. Scott committed suicide in 2014.) “She was so kind to me,” Ms. Brown said. “Once she invited me to this amazing dinner with Mick and Ron Wood and Daphne Guinness. One by one all these people would show up. Bryan Ferry.”

The next season, she and Mr. Plofker were invited to a dinner party at Mr. Jagger’s house. “I’ll never forget, we were wondering what are we going to bring them for a gift — what do you give Mick Jagger?” Ms. Brown said. “So Steven bought him a bottle of wine and a Coravin. They said to come at 7 so we came at 7, rang the doorbell. It was only Mick, home alone. L’Wren had to run out for something, and they showed us up to the study — ‘Oh, Bobbi, Steven! How are you?’ And I’ll never forget, he’s like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe you bought me a bottle, it’s amazing!’ He loved the Coravin and we sat there like a half-hour, talking with Mick. So there have been so many of those kind of cool situations in my life because of makeup.”

Another happened when the musician Patti Scialfa hired Ms. Brown to do her makeup for the 12/12 concert to raise money for Hurricane Sandy. Ms. Brown told Ms. Scialfa’s husband, Bruce Springsteen, that the first time she came to New Jersey she slept in the Livingston Mall to get tickets to see him, and sat in the last row.

“And here I was in his S.U.V. driving to New York for the 12/12 concert,” she said. “I’m with Patti and Bruce and their daughter who is a doll, and the phone rings and I hear Bruce on the phone saying, ‘Bobby, no, oh Bobby that’s too bad. Oh Bobby, Bobby’ whatever. He hangs up and he says to Patti, you know, ‘Bobby was going to surprise but he couldn’t come.’ Patti looks at me and she said, ‘That’s Bob Dylan.’ So I’m in the Lincoln Tunnel with Bruce Springsteen talking to Bob Dylan. It was bizarre. Yeah, it was one of those moments.”

Photo

Mock packaging for a chocolate drink fortified with protein, fiber and coconut oil from Ms. Brown’s new line of products.

Credit
Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Finished with her salad, Ms. Brown ate a piece of dark chocolate, which, she said, “kind of closes the deal.” She said she is not concerned about whether the new projects work out. She might do a museum, a “confidence center — you know, empowerment,” write a 10th book, though not a business one, despite that she’s been approached. “I know the title: ‘Duh.’ D-U-H. I have no advice except follow your gut, just be open.”

Buffing Up the Bidens

Ms. Brown was going to do Michelle Obama’s makeup for the 2009 inauguration, but it fell through.

“You know, she went with someone else,” she said. “I was so bummed and someone said, ‘Oh I know someone who knows the Bidens. I was hired to do Mrs. Biden’s makeup, which was awesome. It was an amazing experience. I did Jill’s makeup and touched the vice president up and I found myself alone with him in a hotel room, just me and him with a ruffled bed. I have a picture of it. The door was left open.”

The former second couple now visit Ms. Brown’s beach house on the Jersey Shore, she said. “Joe Biden is the most simple, by-the-book guy. He’s amazing.”

It was the next afternoon, and Ms. Brown, surprisingly fresh considering she’d made a quick trip to Syracuse the previous evening to watch a basketball game and feed barbecue to her youngest son and 60 of his fraternity brothers, was alone in the living room of her penthouse pied-à-terre, in Chelsea, overlooking the Highline, with spectacular views of uptown, downtown, the Hudson River and New Jersey.

She was wearing the same casual attire as the day before. “Even at the White House I wear jeans,” she said. “I don’t go to the White House anymore. I’ll just say that.”

Ms. Brown was, however, scheduled to give a talk about anti-counterfeiting at the United States Chamber of Commerce (which happened this week). “When they first called, I thought they made a mistake,” Ms. Brown said. “But they said, ‘No, we really want you,’ a female entrepreneur that had a global business.”

At the Obamas’ last state dinner, she and Mr. Plofker were in line when former President Barack Obama got her attention. “And I run over and I say, ‘Hey!’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, your skin looks so good! Can I touch it?’” He said yes. “He had quit smoking, I think, at the time. And he’s like, ‘Michelle! B. Brown just told me my skin looks good!’ And Michelle goes, ‘Steven!’ So we had a moment.’”

She hesitated to call Mr. Obama her friend. “But when I would walk into the White House, the president of the United States would say, ‘Hey B squared, how you doing? Nice kicks,’” Ms. Brown said. Mr. Obama eventually appointed her to serve on the United States Trade Commission.

“Even when that happens in my life, my husband says, ‘That’s really dumb, you hate going to meetings,’” she said. “And I said, ‘I know but it’s so cool.’”

And the truth is, those particular meetings weren’t so bad. “I’d be sitting next to someone, the head of the pork bellies,” Ms. Brown said.

Her maternal grandfather, “Papa Sam,” had owned Sandra Motors, a big car dealership in Chicago named after Ms. Brown’s mother. Calling himself “Cadillac Sam,” he appeared in local TV commercials. “And every time I was in these situations I would look up at Papa Sam,” Ms. Brown said, “and think, ‘I used to sit in these corporate meetings, and now I’m here at the White House?’”

In the apartment, staring down at her, was a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

“I mean, look, I haven’t met the queen,” Ms. Brown said. “But I did get a private tour of Buckingham Palace because I had breakfast with her granddaughter Eugenie. I started asking her questions: ‘Eugenie, so your grandma’s the queen?’ Because Eugenie’s this nice sweet girl, Fergie and Andy’s daughter. I’ve had breakfast with Kate Middleton — not Kate, Pippa! Wrong Middleton. But Kate wore Bobbi makeup on her wedding. So all those moments are close though I haven’t met the queen. Yet.”

#Goals.

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Bobbi Brown Is Ready to Slay the Wellness Industry. Nicely.


What does she have against bread?

“I love bread more than I love my children,” Ms. Brown said. She has three grown sons — Dylan, Dakota and Duke — with her husband, Steven Plofker, a real-estate developer with many projects in the area. Like Oprah, she shared a bread fantasy: “I would have crusty bread with steak tartare. Pizza. I think I would rather have bread than pasta. I like crunch.” And on it she would put?

Photo

Ms. Brown meeting with some of her team, next to the mood boards for her two new brands.

Credit
Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Butterrrr!” she said lasciviously, to shrieks of laughter from her colleagues. “I mean, why mess around with cheese?”

Ms. Brown sat on a leather sofa with her plump mutt, Biggie, at her feet, and shared that a tenant upstairs was Luke Parker Bowles, a film producer who is the president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the nephew of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. ”He just comes down nonstop,” she said. “It’s like a sitcom.”

When Mr. Parker Bowles indeed made an appearance an hour later, he called Ms. Brown “the kindest woman I know in this area code,” and along with Mr. Plofker, “the beating heart of Montclair.” They are active in the town’s philanthropy, and every Yom Kippur they have a break-fast party at their house attended by prominent locals like Senator Cory Booker, Stephen Colbert and the journalist Jonathan Alter.

Still, driving past the Whole Foods near Main Street in her Range Rover, Ms. Brown will say things like “I’m a suburban mom that goes to the grocery store.”

The couple’s newest baby is the George Inn, a 32-room boutique hotel, with rooms starting at around $200 per night and a library and lobby filled with pictures of famous Georges and Georgias: O’Keeffe, Hamilton, Harrison, George Herman Ruth Jr. (a.k.a. Babe Ruth), Washington, Jefferson from the TV program, Costanza (the two presidents Bush have not yet found their spots). It is the latest addition to a portfolio that has included retail, office and sports complexes, along with her namesake eyeglass line and nine books.

Back at headquarters, Ms. Brown’s phone beeped the opening bars of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” She took the call, looking like a teenager in a white Brandy Melville T-shirt and black sweater, legs curled up under her in jeans with prefabricated holes.

On another board nearby were some of Ms. Brown’s favorite mantras, which she has had put on pencils, like “Be Who You Are” — “Everyone else is taken, you know,” she said, once off the phone — and “Focus On What You Do Like” and “Simple Is The New Black” and “Be Nice.”

“Duh. Hello?” Ms. Brown said. “Like, you don’t like something? Be nice.”

If this all seems terribly basic, consider how she amassed her fortune.

‘I’m Still Here’

Ms. Brown first moved to New York in 1980, the child of an amicable divorce in suburban Chicago (down the block, at one point, from Hugh Hefner and his ex-wife) who had gotten a degree in theatrical makeup from Emerson College after years of struggling with schoolwork. She lived with her boyfriend from high school, a photographer, in a one-bedroom apartment on West Fourth Street that cost $500 a month, maxing out credit cards and making cold calls to agencies and bookers.

Her ad in The Village Voice offering makeup lessons got one answer, from a preppily dressed man who said he was in a play and needed to look like a woman. “I was freaked out,” Ms. Brown said. “He dressed up in drag and then wanted me to teach him how to do makeup. I made a few bucks, but I didn’t put an ad in again.”

Photo

The George, a boutique hotel Ms. Brown and her husband, Steven Plofker, are opening in Montclair on April 1.

Credit
Lesley Unruh

The makeup artists’ union helped find her some work, including assisting on “Saturday Night Live,” and within a year she got a good gig at Glamour magazine, but there was discouragement aplenty. “I had a hairdresser tell me I would never work in this town because I didn’t have a style, I didn’t have a thing, Ms. Brown said. And now? “Well, I know he’s in Palm Springs and he’s got a salon, ha-ha, and I’m still here.”

If Ms. Brown had any look at the time, it was “Flashdance” meets Madonna, who worked out at her gym. She knew she disliked what was then modish: white skin, red lips and the practice of contouring to create cheekbones. “Just not necessary,” she said, though she admired the work of Way Bandy and Kevyn Aucoin, who “could literally paint a face. But the finished product is not a woman that walks outside. It’s being photographed. It’s not a real look.” She tried to conform and get along, watching once as Jerry Hall redid her own makeup for a Cosmopolitan shoot.

Ms. Brown got a break when an agent called to ask if she was available the next day to work with the photographer Bruce Weber. “I was a wreck,” she said. “I must have tried on 15 outfits because I wanted to just have the perfect cool when I walked in.”

She and Mr. Weber were a good match. “He didn’t want any makeup!” she said. “He wanted not to see anything.” Asked if she witnessed any bad behavior from Mr. Weber, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, Ms. Brown said, “Honestly, I grew up in the fashion industry, with photographers and assistants and male models and you know, the ’80s, everything just seemed like a big party. Which I really wasn’t a participant in because I either had a boyfriend or a husband.”

She was introduced to Mr. Plofker in 1988 by a friend over dinner at Raoul’s, a restaurant in SoHo. “All I can say is, ‘Boom,” Ms. Brown said. They talked nonstop, she remembered, then put the friend in a cab, then “talked for an hour outside my building.”

The next day, Ms. Brown was happy to find out that her new swain had a master’s degree from Harvard and was, like her, Jewish. “Then I realized his last name was Plofker,” she said. “But I married him anyway.”

Company Woman

After the newlyweds moved to Montclair and began raising a family, Ms. Brown started to tire of the fashion industry’s constant travel. She had fantasized about creating her own line. “My philosophy was women don’t need a lot of makeup, they just need a few things,” she said. “Clearly that’s not what happened to the billion-dollar brand.”

Its origin story is now part of corporate lore: the chemist she met during a Mademoiselle shoot at Kiehl’s, the 10 subtly colored lipsticks (including one named, conveniently enough, Brown) that sold 100 units their first day at Bergdorf Goodman in 1991.

Four years later, Leonard Lauder courted Ms. Brown and a business partner, Rosalind Landis, over grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, brown rice and wine on the terrace of his Fifth Avenue penthouse. “It was an out-of-body experience, to see Picassos and Dubuffets and everything there,” Ms. Brown said. As the sounds of the New York Philharmonic playing in Central Park wafted toward the sky, Mr. Lauder told her she reminded him of his mother, Estée.

“‘You’re beating us in all the stores, and I want to buy you,’” she recalled him saying. “‘What if I told you could do exactly what you love to do and want, and I would give you complete autonomy?’”

Photo

Ms. Brown during her brief “‘Flashdance’ meets Madonna” moment, making up a model from the Ford Models Face of 80s show.

“I didn’t even know what autonomy was,” Ms. Brown said.

She added that her company’s reported selling price of around $75 million was inaccurate, but she doesn’t remember the precise amount. “Oh, it was a lot,” she said. “Yeah, I never had to work again.”

Mr. Lauder, she said, was supportive and always “very fatherly” with her. “Leonard used to tell me, ‘Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness,’” Ms. Brown said. “That’s the way he ran the company.”

But she missed not being the boss, disliked corporate-speak — “things like ‘optimize!’ That just means ‘do it better!’” — and hated meetings. In the middle of one long, boring one, Ms. Brown took out a concealer she’d been given that was way too thick under the eyes. She put it all over her face, experimented and looked in a mirror. “It turned into a sheer product,” she recalled: the Retouching Wand, joining her much copied Gel Eyeliner and Shimmer Brick, a highlighter.

By 2010, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics was available in more than 980 doors and 56 countries. . By 2012, there were over 60 freestanding Bobbi Brown Cosmetics stores worldwide. But in her later years there, Ms. Brown said she experienced more “aggravation,” like when she started a “JustBobbi” Instagram account. “I would always get in trouble,” she said. “Someone from corporate would always call down, you know, ‘What did Bobbi post?’ and I was like, ‘Guys, I’m a person.’”

Eventually such strictures began to chafe. “Look, anyone that leaves any kind of company will tell you how tough it was — that’s why you’re not there anymore,” Ms. Brown said. “I’m a good girl. I don’t live my life trying to piss people off, but honestly sometimes I can’t help it.”

After leaving her namesake company behind in 2016, Ms. Brown cycled through relief, anger and sadness. “I thought I was going to spend weeks and days in bed,” she said. “I didn’t. I moped around for a couple days and drank tequila with my best friends.”

In the Bahamas with Mr. Plofker for his 60th birthday, she met a chef who said, “I can’t wait to see what you do next.” “I don’t know,” Ms. Brown said.

“Dude, you got this!” the chef said admiringly.

“And that’s why I’ve got posters and pencils and hats that say, ‘I got this,’” Ms. Brown said. “It just kind of clicked.”

What Do Millennials Want?

Not all of her experiments have worked out. A stint as editor of Yahoo Beauty ended after two years. (“Like going to grad school,” Ms. Brown said.) A consultancy at Lord & Taylor, with justBOBBI boutiques selling products from other lines as well as her own, has quietly ended. “We just didn’t have the manpower,” she said. “It was a great creative project, but we’re overwhelmed and something had to give.”

It was time for lunch. Ms. Brown ordered a Bobbi salad, whose christening raised $10,000 for a school fund-raiser, from the renowned local sandwich shop Egan & Sons: avocado, string beans, white and black beans, bell peppers, red onion, chopped romaine, cilantro and lemon vinaigrette. Plus anchovies on the side.

Photo

Sean Combs, Ms. Brown and some supporters at a Bobbi Brown event in New York City circa 2000.

Credit
Steve Eichner/Getty Images

She had gone to bed at 9:30 the previous evening after returning again from the Bahamas, splashing her face with water (of makeup, she said, “I don’t really wear any”) and applying a new soothing cream derived from hemp oil on her neck and feet. The name escaped her.

“Theramu!” her team said in chorus.

“I think I took too much of it last night, I’m a little tired this morning,” Ms. Brown said. “I was supposed to do a half a dropper but didn’t measure. THC is marijuana to get you high. This is the CBD part, this is legal, and I think it’s going to be the biggest trend. It’s amazing, I’ve been putting some on Biggie, she has a little boo-boo on her tail.”

An employee, Tara Tersigni, mentioned that Ms. Brown just met with Jen Atkin, a hairstylist and social-media influencer with her own line. “She kind of came up with the Kardashians, did their hair and still does all the ‘It’ girls,” Ms. Tersigni said. “And she said to Bobbi, ‘You’re the O.G.” Pause. “Original gangster.”

“Then she said I’m ‘cool AF’ and I’m like, what the hell is ‘AF’?” Ms. Brown said.

How are millennial women, who have embraced pared-down makeup lines like Emily Weiss’s Glossier, different from her generation?

“I think they are much cooler, much more simple and caring about things that matter, meaning family, work,” Ms. Brown said. “I think it’s not about the big giant handbag, not about the designer. It’s not about a cream that promises you endless possibilities. Honestly, I think that the young girls are more simple and they just want the truth. They don’t want, like, marketing-speak. They don’t want gobbledygook.”

The “Satisfaction” riff sounded; Ms. Brown let the call go to voice mail. She recalled early in her career, doing a shoot with the photographer Annie Leibovitz. She shut the dressing room door. Then a stylist reopened it. “As I’m cleaning up, I look in the mirror and I’m with the Rolling Stones in their underwear,” Ms. Brown said. “All of them!”

Years later she became friends with a girlfriend of Mr. Jagger, the fashion designer L’Wren Scott who had asked her and the hairdresser Sam McKnight to work on one of her last fashion shows in London. (Ms. Scott committed suicide in 2014.) “She was so kind to me,” Ms. Brown said. “Once she invited me to this amazing dinner with Mick and Ron Wood and Daphne Guinness. One by one all these people would show up. Bryan Ferry.”

The next season, she and Mr. Plofker were invited to a dinner party at Mr. Jagger’s house. “I’ll never forget, we were wondering what are we going to bring them for a gift — what do you give Mick Jagger?” Ms. Brown said. “So Steven bought him a bottle of wine and a Coravin. They said to come at 7 so we came at 7, rang the doorbell. It was only Mick, home alone. L’Wren had to run out for something, and they showed us up to the study — ‘Oh, Bobbi, Steven! How are you?’ And I’ll never forget, he’s like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe you bought me a bottle, it’s amazing!’ He loved the Coravin and we sat there like a half-hour, talking with Mick. So there have been so many of those kind of cool situations in my life because of makeup.”

Another happened when the musician Patti Scialfa hired Ms. Brown to do her makeup for the 12/12 concert to raise money for Hurricane Sandy. Ms. Brown told Ms. Scialfa’s husband, Bruce Springsteen, that the first time she came to New Jersey she slept in the Livingston Mall to get tickets to see him, and sat in the last row.

“And here I was in his S.U.V. driving to New York for the 12/12 concert,” she said. “I’m with Patti and Bruce and their daughter who is a doll, and the phone rings and I hear Bruce on the phone saying, ‘Bobby, no, oh Bobby that’s too bad. Oh Bobby, Bobby’ whatever. He hangs up and he says to Patti, you know, ‘Bobby was going to surprise but he couldn’t come.’ Patti looks at me and she said, ‘That’s Bob Dylan.’ So I’m in the Lincoln Tunnel with Bruce Springsteen talking to Bob Dylan. It was bizarre. Yeah, it was one of those moments.”

Photo

Mock packaging for a chocolate drink fortified with protein, fiber and coconut oil from Ms. Brown’s new line of products.

Credit
Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Finished with her salad, Ms. Brown ate a piece of dark chocolate, which, she said, “kind of closes the deal.” She said she is not concerned about whether the new projects work out. She might do a museum, a “confidence center — you know, empowerment,” write a 10th book, though not a business one, despite that she’s been approached. “I know the title: ‘Duh.’ D-U-H. I have no advice except follow your gut, just be open.”

Buffing Up the Bidens

Ms. Brown was going to do Michelle Obama’s makeup for the 2009 inauguration, but it fell through.

“You know, she went with someone else,” she said. “I was so bummed and someone said, ‘Oh I know someone who knows the Bidens. I was hired to do Mrs. Biden’s makeup, which was awesome. It was an amazing experience. I did Jill’s makeup and touched the vice president up and I found myself alone with him in a hotel room, just me and him with a ruffled bed. I have a picture of it. The door was left open.”

The former second couple now visit Ms. Brown’s beach house on the Jersey Shore, she said. “Joe Biden is the most simple, by-the-book guy. He’s amazing.”

It was the next afternoon, and Ms. Brown, surprisingly fresh considering she’d made a quick trip to Syracuse the previous evening to watch a basketball game and feed barbecue to her youngest son and 60 of his fraternity brothers, was alone in the living room of her penthouse pied-à-terre, in Chelsea, overlooking the Highline, with spectacular views of uptown, downtown, the Hudson River and New Jersey.

She was wearing the same casual attire as the day before. “Even at the White House I wear jeans,” she said. “I don’t go to the White House anymore. I’ll just say that.”

Ms. Brown was, however, scheduled to give a talk about anti-counterfeiting at the United States Chamber of Commerce (which happened this week). “When they first called, I thought they made a mistake,” Ms. Brown said. “But they said, ‘No, we really want you,’ a female entrepreneur that had a global business.”

At the Obamas’ last state dinner, she and Mr. Plofker were in line when former President Barack Obama got her attention. “And I run over and I say, ‘Hey!’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, your skin looks so good! Can I touch it?’” He said yes. “He had quit smoking, I think, at the time. And he’s like, ‘Michelle! B. Brown just told me my skin looks good!’ And Michelle goes, ‘Steven!’ So we had a moment.’”

She hesitated to call Mr. Obama her friend. “But when I would walk into the White House, the president of the United States would say, ‘Hey B squared, how you doing? Nice kicks,’” Ms. Brown said. Mr. Obama eventually appointed her to serve on the United States Trade Commission.

“Even when that happens in my life, my husband says, ‘That’s really dumb, you hate going to meetings,’” she said. “And I said, ‘I know but it’s so cool.’”

And the truth is, those particular meetings weren’t so bad. “I’d be sitting next to someone, the head of the pork bellies,” Ms. Brown said.

Her maternal grandfather, “Papa Sam,” had owned Sandra Motors, a big car dealership in Chicago named after Ms. Brown’s mother. Calling himself “Cadillac Sam,” he appeared in local TV commercials. “And every time I was in these situations I would look up at Papa Sam,” Ms. Brown said, “and think, ‘I used to sit in these corporate meetings, and now I’m here at the White House?’”

In the apartment, staring down at her, was a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

“I mean, look, I haven’t met the queen,” Ms. Brown said. “But I did get a private tour of Buckingham Palace because I had breakfast with her granddaughter Eugenie. I started asking her questions: ‘Eugenie, so your grandma’s the queen?’ Because Eugenie’s this nice sweet girl, Fergie and Andy’s daughter. I’ve had breakfast with Kate Middleton — not Kate, Pippa! Wrong Middleton. But Kate wore Bobbi makeup on her wedding. So all those moments are close though I haven’t met the queen. Yet.”

#Goals.

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