KANSAS CITY, Mo. — My first question for Leslie Blodgett, the mother of mineral makeup:
What are you wearing on your face?
She was happy to share. Original foundation. Three eye shadows including her go-to shades of plum and Bubbly because she was feeling champagne-festive that day. It was all very matter of fact, like one girlfriend sharing her book club reading list with another.
But in this case, one of the women – certainly not me – is worth an estimated $400 million, has 26,000 followers on Facebook and is recognized by makeup aficionados around the world.
The New York Times profiled her in 2011, under “Move over, Estee Lauder.”
“When I saw that headline, I was freaking out,” Blodgett laughed. “I met Estee Lauder. These are icons in the industry.”
The company might not bear her name ala Lauder, but there is no BareMinerals without Leslie Blodgett. As Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido knew when it acquired parent company Bare Escentuals for $1.7 billion in 2010.
After 16 years as chief executive officer, Blodgett was ready for change. But she agreed to stay on as the face of the company and now works on the more creative side as executive chairwoman, a title she sort of made up.
That’s Blodgett being Blodgett, a businesswoman who believes that she doesn’t have to be serious to be taken seriously. “I’m a little goofy sometimes. We’ve implemented some of that goofy into the brand.”
She must be referring to that time she led a group dance to a Rihanna song at a company meeting.
Her followers, so-called B-E addicts, take their makeup quite seriously. They weep when their favorite products are discontinued.
Behold the emotional power of makeup.
Blodgett is the business exec whose life is an open book. Or more specifically, a page on Facebook where right now she’s keeping followers posted on her kitchen remodel in San Francisco.
“Creative cooking. Camp stove in yard, dish cleaning in laundry room, chopping on picnic table. Whatever it takes. This girl’s gotta eat.”
When she travels, women line up out the door of the BareMinerals boutique waiting to hug her and get their picture taken with her.
Right before a recent Kansas City trip, she counseled students at Harvard and her alma mater in New York City, the Fashion Institute of Technology near the Garment District. Then she was in Australia advising female entrepreneurs, captivating one with her blue toenail polish.
Blodgett is a fan of color from way back. She grew up in the 1970s when the “look” veered wildly from fresh-faced Marcia Brady to brightly painted disco queens. Her feminist mother wasn’t much for makeup, one of those for whom a swipe of red lipstick was enough armor.
But once Blodgett discovered the magic of blue eye shadow – and a co-worker at McDonald’s showed her how to create the light-to-dark ombre shading she still wears today – she picked up the mascara wand and never looked back.
At FIT, she said, “all the professors there were from the industry. I was able to internship at some of the large cosmetics companies. It was really just very hands-on. Being in New York, that’s where a lot of the industry is.”
In between was Macy’s makeup counter. “I didn’t like the way women who were coming up to buy product were being treated,” she said. “There was a lot of hard-selling. There was a lot of lying to customers to make a sale. So I wasn’t the best salesperson.”
When Blodgett joined San Francisco-based Bare Escentuals in 1994, it was a flailing little company making bath and body products, a la the Body Shop. But it also sold makeup made from minerals that the company didn’t promote. Blodgett retooled the line, creating new face-friendly shades of foundation.
It was weird stuff, a fine powder made from five natural ingredients that had the consistency of confectioner’s sugar but felt like a cream. It disappeared so completely into the skin that it looked for all the world like there was nothing there – what some people love and others dislike about the makeup.
And it had a steep learning curve. It took a year of “nonstop” discussion, Blodgett said, to figure out how to properly apply it to the face with a brush.
The BareMinerals mantra became this: Swirl. Tap. Buff.
Many a YouTube video has been created to explain the fine art of swirl, tap, buff.
“The idea was brilliant. We just needed to be able to explain it to people,” she said. “But I couldn’t get people to use it until I got on QVC, because we had it around for two years and no one would buy it.
“I can’t imagine how this story would have unfolded without QVC because I was able to tell people my personal experience with this product. You can’t do that kind of advertising in a magazine.”
Blodgett’s first appearance on the home shopping channel came on a huge news day, Aug. 31, 1997, the day Princess Diana died.
But few things get between QVC customers and their beauty purchases. QVC customers tuned in to watch some woman with an earnest, arresting patter pitching a new line of makeup with popular host Lisa Robertson.
You can sleep in this makeup, the woman enthused!
They sold out the makeup. Before long, Blodgett was famously selling $1.4 million worth of product an hour and the Revlons of the world began copycatting mineral makeup.
In the early days, Blodgett spent hours answering e-mails from and writing letters to QVC customers explaining the new makeup, a personal touch long before Facebook and Twitter came along.
Blodgett’s Facebook followers today are fiercely loyal and protective, a relationship that long ago went beyond them asking for makeup tips. They offered words of comfort when her dog died and just recently jumped to her defense after someone mocked her on Twitter for the way she speaks.
“So, on Twitter someone said I need speech lessons. Hmmm. Feel bad,” Blodgett told her Facebook followers.
“You KNOW we all think you are awesome, beautiful and one of the kindest, most successful women in the world,” wrote a fan who insisted Blodgett ignore the haters.
“Thanks for (the) support,” Blodgett wrote back. “I don’t know why I let that one get to me. I do have a lisp, just didn’t know it was so obvious.
“I’m OK now. Haha. My friends got me thru as usual.”