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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19 Responses to “An Interview with Edward Bess”

  • Brooke says:

    Wow, what a fantastic interview and amazing story! Although they’re so highly spoken of, I’ve never tried any Edward Bess products due to lack of accessibility. Now I really want to get my hands on some of his work! Thanks, Karla!

  • KarlaSugar says:

    While EB cosmetics are not as widely available as I would like, the situation is steadily improving. He’s on Sephora.com (free shipping at $50), NeimanMarcus.com (free shipping at any price), and he’s even been on QVC a couple of times. I think it’s just a matter of time before we all have a local counter.

  • lazeny says:

    What a wonderful interview! He’s so inspiring and hardworking, dedicated and beautiful. It’s only a matter of time before the brand expands and expands internationally, Edward Bess products are top notch, I only have his lipsticks, and I can’t wait to try the rest of his makeup.

    I live in Asia and I wish it’s easier to get a hold of his products here. I normally ask my Husband to get them for me when he travels to the US.

  • Jane Woodruff says:

    I’m so glad to see this interview! I had the privelage of having Edward himself do my makeup at the Houston Galleria Neiman Marcus a few years ago {unfortunately his products were there for only a few months:(}. This young man literally changed my life. I am not keen to folks coming at me & applying make-up, perfume, whatever in the mall. On this day, however, I had gone to Neiman’s to investigate his foundation which I had just read about on the internet somewhere (maybe here???). A VERY young man (Edward himself) spoke to me & politely asked to assist me & before I knew it he was doing my entire face & I WAS ASKING HIM FOR ADVICE!!! I was completey enraptured by him. He is talented & gifted. I have never, ever approved of anybody else doing my make-up yet I emerged looking like me – but prettier & fresher, with less make-up than I was used to wearing. I felt great! The very next day I went back & made additional purchases, and also the next week. I’ve been a “Bestie” ever since. I love the clean simplicity of his products & was pleased to see the lipsticks go back to the previous metal cases. Now…can I have my original bronzer back PLEEEEZ??? I wish him every succes in the world, I think he deserves it:)

  • Christina says:

    I loved reading this interview! I met him a few years back when he was doing my makeup for a different brand name. He told me of launching his own brand and it is in the works. His hair is so thick, so lush and healthy. I told him that my then boyfriend, now husband, would have been jealous lol
    He is so young and you can easily talk to him about anything.
    He made me feel better and changed my whole outlook on beauty. I can’t wait for his line to be available in Canada so I can show my support.

  • amanda says:

    Id Love For Him To Do My Makeup One Day.

  • Alison says:

    He’s wonderful, isn’t he? His clear passion for what he does is so much a part of his appeal, and his eyeshadow trios are ah-may-zing. The taupe one, Soft Smoke, is my personal favourite eyeshadow anything, ever.

  • Shannon says:

    Great interview! It was interesting learning a bit more about the talented Mr. Bess! :)

  • Sarah says:

    What a fascinating fellow with a sense of perspective and reality, and I hadn’t heard or read about him until your article tonight. Going to check Sephora now, and see if he still appears on QVC from time to time!

  • Alejandra says:

    Excellent interview! Very interesting information that helped me learn more about Edward. Thanks for sharing!

  • Megan says:

    WTH does he use on his hair? I’d kill to have hair that shiny and luscious.

  • Preeti Kaur says:

    Wow! What an interview. If I can get past his gorgeous looks and hair, he has a beautiful heart too.

    personalfashionhub.com

  • Chic Lapin says:

    OMG that man does have beautiful hair.

  • karimma says:

    he’s very very good looking! I never try his product but by reading this interview I want to try one of his lipstick

  • Tyler says:

    He must have a special talent giving out color advice so young. It is nice to read about how people started their career in beauty, and how the products get into shops.

  • Luka says:

    Karla, what happened to you?

  • Kathy says:

    Hey Karla, I’ve been checking your site every few months to see if there were any new posts but alas, it’s been almost a year and you seem to have disappeared! I hope everything’s alright with you. I’m sure you are very busy with your life outside of the blog, but I just wanted to ask you to please do an update on how you are doing. Thanks :)

  • Sivan Maya says:

    Edward Bess is born artist with makeup brush in Hand.

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