An Interview with Edward Bess

Edward BessIt's almost impossible to talk about Edward Bess makeup without talking about Mr. Bess himself. The 27-year-old entrepreneur is charming, humble, and, to borrow a line from Zoolander, really really ridiculously good looking: long, skinny, anime proportions, and a literal mane of tousled chestnut hair. His understated, fool-proof makeup is pretty easy to love, too.

"I've had a lifelong sense for color," Bess says. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't giving my mom and my sisters my two cents on what to wear. Their trust in me gave me confidence in my opinions."

"Of course, a little confidence can be a dangerous thing," Bess continues. "When I was in the fourth grade, I told my teacher her lipstick was making her look ill. She must have been so embarrassed! She wiped it off right then and there."

Still, the decision to found his own makeup line wasn't a foregone conclusion. Bess went to high school in New York, intending to become an actor. At 17, he was "spotted" on the street, and spent the next year and a half modeling in London and around the world.

"It was an amazing, glamorous time," Bess says, "but, acting or modeling, I was always executing someone else's vision. And I couldn't stop thinking about the makeup of the women around me. I wanted to share my point of view."

So he took a leap of faith: found a chemist and created his first products, ten lipsticks and five lipglosses packaged in a black lacquer box — the Lip Wardrobe.

"The Lip Wardrobe was meant to be everything a woman needed, from nude to red, and nothing she didn't — shades that would never go out of style."

And, with the confidence of someone who didn't know he could fail, Bess called Patricia Saxby, head beauty buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, and managed to secure a meeting.

"I was 20 years old, with no background in makeup," Bess recalls. "I walked into this meeting with my box of lipsticks trembling in my hands. Pat said, 'why should I put this in my store?' and I said, 'because I made it for you — for the Bergdorf customer.'"

Saxby gave Bess his first big break: a shelf in Bergdorf Goodman. It might not sound like much, but 22 years ago, a young woman named Bobbi Brown launched a cosmetics empire with just ten lipsticks in Bergdorf.

Edward Bess, Betty Halbreich

Edward Bess with BG personal shopper Betty Halbreich. Photo by Sunny Shokrae for Refinery 29.

"Every day, I came and stood next to my shelf, and I talked to anyone who would talk to me," Bess says. "The fact that I loved it just confirmed that I was doing the right thing."

"These women, the diehard beauty junkies, they are the heart and soul and DNA of my brand. They were the first faces (aside from my family) that I put makeup on. They bought my products, spread the word about me — I would not be where I am without them. I take my customers' feedback very seriously, and every product I create, I create for them."

Though Bess is too much a gentleman to name-drop, at least one of his products was created with a rather famous customer in mind.

"I was going to visit Oprah last summer, and I didn't want to show up empty-handed. But what do you give Oprah?" Bess laughs. "It had to be something special, and I created Eau La La."

Bess describes his first foray into fragrance as a skinscent. "Something that won't make everyone else in the elevator hate you." He says the perfume is, in his mind, the essence of Paris: a subtle combination of frankincense, amber, and just a whiff of gardenia "to make it feminine." Oprah liked it so much, she wanted to name it one of her favorite things.

"I wasn't planning on doing a fragrance for the line so soon — and I wasn't even really thinking of producing Eau La La for the public. But when Oprah says, 'go for it,' you don't say no. I'm so grateful and so excited that she got me to do a fragrance now rather than later. And of course, I couldn't be more honored by her recommendation."
Oprah, Eau La La, Favorite Things, 2012, Edward Bess
Though Bess continues to innovate, his line remains fairly concise.

"I'm never going to be a line with 500 shades of lipstick," he says. "I never want a woman to take home one of my products and not know what to do with it."

But customers do get upset when a beloved product is discontinued, and Bess has had his share of kidding-but-not-kidding mafia-style threats. Still, it seems unlikely he'll come to any real harm.

"Honestly, when a woman comes up to me with tears in her eyes... I end up giving her product out of my own personal stash. I just want to make everyone happy. I've also brought products back in response to customer demand," says Bess. "Women stormed the barricades when we discontinued Demi Buff and Rose Demure lipsticks. They're back in the line now."

So what does the future hold for the inimitable Mr. Bess?

"Well, obviously," he says, "I'd love my line to be sold everywhere, worldwide. But even if I'm lucky enough to see that happen, I think, when I'm 70, I'll look back at this time, right now, as the best part of that experience. I think this is the most exciting time for me, when I can camp out at my counters, visit with my customers one on one, see the same customers over and over. This is the dream."



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Tom Ford Lipgloss

I'd previously swatched Tom Ford's lipsticks, but somehow hadn't gotten around to his lipglosses. An oversight on my part, since Mr. Ford believes in matching your gloss to your lipstick. (As opposed to MAC, which believes in tinkering with different liner, lipstick, and gloss to achieve a desired shade.)

Mr. Ford's Ultra Shine glosses are $45. They come in square tubes with a brush applicator (and an unusually long wand, to allow you to reach all the way to the bottom). They're generally creme-finish (except for Pink Guilt), but if you like a little sparkle on your lips, Mr. Ford has a solution. His Lip Lacquer Vinyl is a clear gloss with silver shimmer/sparkles. It comes in a squeeze tube with a slant-tip applicator, and is $30.
Tom Ford, lipgloss, swatches, Naked, Rose Crush, Tawny Pink, Pink Guilt, Peach Absolut, Sugar Pink, Sahara Pink, Love Bruise, Lost Cherry, Wet Violet, Lip Lacquer, KarlaSugar, Karla Sugar
Naked (01) is nude beige pink with a few tiny gold sparkles. Rose Crush (02) is warm, terracotta, rose-toffee brownie pink. Tawny Pink (10) is a warm, natural nude rose. Pink Guilt (04) is a shimmery, sparkly rose bronze. Peach Absolut (07) is peach-pink. Sugar Pink (06) is candy pink. Sahara Pink (03) is medium mauvey-rose-pink. Love Bruise (05) is a bruisey pink-plum with tiny gold sparkles. Lost Cherry (08) is lacquered cherry red. Wet Violet (09) is deep, grape-juice red-purple with a few tiny purple sparkles.

The Tom Ford lipglosses are available at Neiman Marcusicon (free shipping at any price with code APRILFS) and Saksicon (free shipping at $200 with code SFASHIP). Unfortunately, Nordstrom.com does not carry the Tom Ford lipglosses at this time.



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Guest Swatcher: MAC Acrylic Paints

This week of MAC goodness comes courtesy of professional makeup artist (and fellow blogger) Lauren Clark. Lauren does it all: excellent swatches, glamorous "face of the day" photos, makeup lessons — on top of her lengthy list of commercial and private clients. 

MAC used to have two e-commerce websites: a site for civilians, and a separate site for pros. Artists shopping the pro site got two main benefits: first, MAC has a discount program for professionals (makeup artists, aestheticians, photographers, nail techs, beauty students, MAC employees, etc.). Second, they could buy products that most of us could not.

(For what it's worth, the "civilian" site has free shipping pretty much all the time. Pros only get free shipping when they spend $150.)

About six months ago, they merged the two sites and made a bunch of pro items (like eyeshadow pans and paint sticks and certain brushes) available to all. But there are still a few pro-only items (which you can only see if you're logged in with a pro account). The Acrylic Paints are one of these.
MAC Acrylic Paint
Acrylic Paints are $20 each, intense, long-wearing (12 hours), flexible, buildable-to-full-coverage, blendable-over-hair, silicone-based paints for face and body. You can stand up, sit down, move, bend, dance around, and they won't crack or crease or flake off. You can apply them with brush or airbrush. The MAC website has a video of acrylic paints being used to paint people into statues.
MAC, Acrylic Paint swatches, Rich Purple, Marine Ultra, Hi-Def Cyan, Landscape Green, Primary Yellow, Basic Red, Process Magenta, Pure White, Pure Black
These shades can be used everywhere:
Hi-Def Cyan
Primary Yellow
Pure White
Pure Black

These shades are not eye-safe:
Rich Purple
Genuine Orange
Process Magenta
Basic Red

These shades are not lip-safe:
Rich Purple
Marine Ultra
Landscape Green

If you're desperate to buy these but you don't the credentials to do it online, you can still shop any Pro store, or call 1-800-387-6707. Click here for more information on joining MAC's Pro program.



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Guest Swatcher: MAC Pro Paint Sticks

This week of MAC goodness comes courtesy of professional makeup artist (and fellow blogger) Lauren Clark. Lauren does it all: excellent swatches, glamorous "face of the day" photos, makeup lessons — on top of her lengthy list of commercial and private clients. 

MAC's Paint Sticks are a pro product: designed for makeup artists, but available to the public. They're creamy, full-coverage sticks for face and body, $21 each.
MAC paint sticks
You can totally use Paint Sticks to make yourself look like a bronze statue. But Lauren reports that these also make great eyeshadow bases (she advises that you use product sparingly to avoid creasing), lip colors (though they don't smell like vanilla), and she especially loves using them as blush.

She says:

I mix Basic Red, Process Magenta, Genuine Orange, and White to create beautiful, custom cream blushes. I simply rub the colors on the back of my hand, blend them together with a stippling brush, then apply. I sometimes also add a drop of MAC Care Blends oil for a dewier look.

Because they are a "pro" product, Paint Sticks are only available on MACcosmetics.com or in a MAC "Pro" store.

You can find free-standing MAC stores all over the place, but there are only a handful of Pro locations in the United States: San Francisco, Los Angeles, South Coast Plaza/Costa Mesa/California, Las Vegas, Nashville, Orlando, Miami Beach, Chicago, New York, and Dallas NorthPark. Anyone can shop in a Pro store (and, to the casual observer, they look exactly like regular freestanding stores). Click here for Pro store addresses and phone numbers, or to see if there's a Pro store in your city.
MAC, Paint Sticks, swatches, Deep Brown, Burgundy, Rich Purple, Marine Ultra, Landscape Green, True Chartreuse, Primary Yellow, Genuine Orange, Basic Red, Process Magenta, Pure White, Pure Black



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