Bobbi Brown's latest book is a celebration of individuality, launched with a whirl in New York.
There's a vortex in the room, ringed with cameras. It swirls through the crowd, pausing here, skirting there. At its centre, a diminutive brunette can be glimpsed gesticulating.
The "pops" of colour that company founder Bobbi Brown favours in the cosmetics she creates are noticeably absent in the clothes she and this downtown Manhattan crowd wear. They are dressed largely in nude or black, with Brown in her uniform of a shirt and trousers, this evening a combination of navy silk above slim black tuxedo-style pants. Her towering pumps barely lift this pocket rocket into view, but her imprint is everywhere from the healthy snacks circulating the room around displays of her seventh book Pretty Powerful: Beauty Stories To Inspire Confidence to morning television where she appears on the Today show to spread the word alongside one of the book's subjects, Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of singer Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley.
"I used to watch her crawl on the floor while I did her mother's makeup," Brown says at the launch.
Joel, a petite 26-year-old who takes after her father, is carving out her own songwriting career. She plays keyboards and sings a couple of heartfelt songs in a deep voice before exhorting the crowd to buy and learn from the book. "Makeup should be a love song to yourself."
It's the sort of self-empowerment message Brown has been crystallising for several decades, with the proselytising at its height in Pretty Powerful, for which she has gathered a stellar, though very American, cast of celebrities, athletes, success stories and the odd everyday woman to talk about what makes them look and feel good.
"All women are pretty without makeup and can be pretty powerful with even just a touch of makeup," maintains Brown. Looking good takes work, but feeling good "requires an upbeat attitude, confidence and wicked sense of humour". These qualities are in evidence as Brown works the room, chatting easily to the book's "incredible women", invited media and old and new friends.
I look on as tray after tray of barely touched canapes are carried back to the kitchen by waiters in black jeans, white T-shirts and Chuck Taylor's. People don't eat a lot, I say to a model/wait specimen. "No," he laughs.
Apparently the most popular item is the minuscule squares of watermelon, presumably because of their low calorie count rather than the 25-year-old balsamic dressing they are anointed with. Crab cakes are shunned - by all but me - but rare beef and tuna tartare find restrained favour.
Waiting for the speeches, I ask for a G&T and get a V&T. Several PR girls swing by to see if the foreign wallflower is okay, but I'm happy propped in a corner, noting the New York style of schmoozing. In truth it's not a lot different to an Auckland launch, just a bigger venue, better shoes and an open bar. There is the charity angle, with the fundraising launch held at Soho concept store Treasure & Bond, which sells bits and bobs - from handmade jewellery to peanut butter dog biscuits - and gives its after-expenses profits to a worthy cause. There are cellphones snapping behind the professional cameras. There is the inevitable celebrity daughter. In Alexa Ray Joel's case at least she sings nicely for her supper, though she does let slip that "I'm no huge fan of makeup".
Tonight she looks subtly Bobbi-ed as she sings a self-penned number, I'm not Invisible. Thanks to years of classical training, her hands - adorned with black nail polish and a giant cocktail ring - roam easily across the acoustic piano.
Brown gives her a hug and they pose for the inevitable social page snaps, rounding out the event for most guests barely an hour after it began. With a supportive posse in tow, Brown lingers, bubbles in hand. It is her night, after all.
From actress Blythe Danner, the elegant mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, to presidential daughter and fundraising philanthropist Lauren Bush, Oscar winner Gabourey Sidibe, designer Rachel Roy and a slew of sportswomen, Bobbi Brown has drawn personal pep talks for her new book Pretty Powerful: Beauty Stories To Inspire Confidence.
It's a self-help manual with celebrity cheerleaders. The notable women and many more lower-profile, but in their own way equally eye-catching, women of all ages and ethnicities have allowed themselves to be used as makeover subjects. They share their stories while Brown illustrates her application techniques and advice. Each woman is categorised into a style to reflect her personality and looks: natural, radiant, strong, classic, authentic or bold. The idea being the reader relates to a style and adapts the lessons for her own look.
Singer Estelle is in the "Pretty Bold" chapter which Brown describes as women "who pull off things that would make the rest of us look totally absurd". Comedian Sandra Bernhard (whose extract we feature) is "Pretty Authentic", a group Brown says she is lucky that most of her closest friends belong in.
"Pretty Powerful" is an easy read but, to my mind Brown's more straightforward makeup manuals are a more practical repeat reference. It's hard though not to admire her sense of mission, expressed in this book. "My hope is to help women everywhere understand that being who you are is the secret to lasting beauty."
"Power is having a clear point of view about what's important in your life." - Comedian Sandra Bernhard
"Day to day, I think the greatest happiness is having a family. Having a daughter, my partner, my dog - just getting up in the morning and having these really special elements around me is wonderful and emotional.
"The best beauty advice I ever received was 'don't overdo it'. Don't take it too over-the-top. My greatest indulgence is getting up in the middle of the night and eating things that I shouldn't eat.
"Power is when you really tap into who you are and have complete and total confidence in yourself. Power is having a clear point of view about what's important in your life and your take on the world. Being a part of the world. Being compassionate. Being supportive of people's rights and freedoms. Being somebody who is willing to speak out when things are not right.
"I think that is the power we all possess and, as women, I think we have a bigger responsibility to help other people."
BOBBI BROWN'S BEAUTY TIPS
For day - Getting the glow
Start with completely clean skin, then layer on moisturisers that are right for your skin type until you can actually see the hydration and glow. You want your face to be not only hydrated but also smooth and almost creamy. For a dewier look, pat a bit of face oil on to cheeks.
After adding corrector and concealer where needed, even out your skin with a colour-correct foundation (or a rich, tinted moisturiser for natural coverage). The trick is having your skin look plump and moisturised but not greasy. Blend away any extra shine with a sponge or your fingers.
To bring colour, warmth and sheen to your face, apply a creamy blush or pot rouge. Shimmer powder looks gorgeous when dusted on cheekbones. Just make sure it doesn't mix with moisturiser, or it can crease.
Eyeliner and mascara are a simple way to bring definition to your eyes. Adding sheer gloss to your lids makes them shine. Light-reflective shimmer shadows are a beautiful way to add sparkle.
Add creamy lipstick in a shade that's pretty and not too strong. There is a rose hue for everyone. If you have colour in your lips naturally, just apply gloss.
Pretty Radiant hair should be a beautiful shape to frame your face and keep the spotlight on your smile. Work with your natural texture, using products that keep it healthy and shiny. Highlights in varying shades add light and luminosity to your face.
For evening - Turn up the colour
You still want to have glowing skin for night, but you'll want a little more coverage. If you use a tinted moisturising balm during the day, at night try switching to a light to medium-coverage foundation for a more polished finish.
To add radiance to your face, try a pop of something brighter or bolder. Stick with the same formulas you use for day but amp up the colour. A brighter pink for fair skin, or cranberry or plum for darker skin, gives you an extra glow.
For women with darker skin, go with gold and burnished colours and a thicker line of black liner. For women with fairer skin, experiment with a smokier eye than usual, adding a bit more depth with a skin-tone shimmer on the lower lid and a darker shade in the crease. Bump up the mascara with an extra coat or two.
Add a little more power to your lips with a formula one shade stronger for night. For a modern, luminous lip, try a red gloss.
A subtle yet still feminine change for night works best for Pretty Radiant women. Try finger waves for soft cascading curls, get an elegant blowout, or put your hair up in a beautiful upsweep.
* From Bobbi Brown Pretty Powerful. By Bobbi Brown & Sara Bliss (Bookreps.co.nz, Chronicle Books $49.99.).