It’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.
“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.”
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.”