Leslie Blodgett’s Second Act

By Diana Kapp

Beauty trailblazer Leslie Blodgett’s best life advice? “Avoid being boring at all costs.” (Spencer Brown)

Leslie Blodgett has never sold anything the conventional way. She routinely cleared $1.4 million an hour selling her bareMinerals foundation makeup in the wee hours on QVC, against all advice. As CEO of Bare Escentuals, she’d jump into the splits to open company meetings. She rented Lady Gaga’s tour bus and crossed the country visiting her adoring customers. She once ran a newspaper ad inviting consumers to pop by her office for coffee anytime, and she wasn’t kidding.

Now this gal who can’t remember ever buying an advice book — who thinks very little of advice books, really — has written one. Her sales pitch: “Who reads advice books? It’s a horrible category!” she rants, then explodes with laughter. “I think if you want pretty frickin’ unbelievable advice, if you want pretty outstanding advice, then I’m not your person.” Guttural laughter again. “My advice is not bad. And some of it’s great. So when you average it out, it’s pretty good.” Blodgett, in a shimmery rainbow-striped sweater as whimsical as her Tiburon living room, is definitely not taking herself too seriously — and that’s very much the point.

She is also following rule No. 7 — “Lower Your Bar” — in Pretty Good Advice: For People Who Dream Big and Work Harder, out this month via Abrams Books. “I like my bars low, where I can see them and clear them,” she touts.

Refusing convention is ultimately the through line of Blodgett’s 215-page ramble, which is filled with humor, insight and usefulness. I use ramble with respect, because she advocates the concept: “Ramble, Sometimes.” That’s advice offering No. 5: “Don’t feel bad about it [rambling]. It doesn’t have to stop your journey; it can just be part of it — left turns included.”

With a collage of anecdotes, fumbles and musings, Blodgett takes us down her unlikely path, from upselling apple pie at McDonald’s to dancing at State University of New York (but then quitting and taking up waitressing at Ponderosa). Her initial attempts at breaking into beauty were busts, even just getting behind the Bloomingdale’s cosmetics counter. It took her effectively blockading the hiring office door to score her first makeup gig: selling Mei Fa Hairstyx on commission only. The Fashion Institute of Technology initially rejected her application before accepting Blodgett as a student. Her big break — running Bare Escentuals — only came because the business was faltering. But then, off she went and launched a mineral makeup revolution with bareMinerals. She built a cult brand in her own image, a company that Shiseido, in 2010, excitedly shelled out $1.8 billion to acquire. Blodgett’s time-tested, jujitsu move: Temper expectations, then shock and awe.

With her new book, Blodgett is launching her second act. After 22 years heading bareMinerals, and even being crowned the next Estée Lauder by the New York Times, she stepped down and out of the limelight in 2016. “I became the introvert that I’ve been my whole life, that I’d had to force myself out of to be out in the world,” she reflects. Throwing on a backpack, she became a full-time Stanford student through a program designed to help successful professionals reinvent. “I wore my skullcap, jeans and hiking boots to blend in,” she says. “I had my own apartment. Can you believe it’s the first time I ever lived alone?” She left her husband, son and grandson back in Marin County during the week to take memoir and creative nonfiction writing classes, art history and genetics.

Solitude created space for her to mine so many formative experiences to use as fodder for her book’s critical nuggets. On early mornings and evenings, she jotted vignettes in her accessible, chatty style, illuminating the “teeny tiny magic moments” that both ground and propel her. We learn the value of a pen pal, that blush is a must and how to disarm by tacking on y’all to the end of a sentence.

Blodgett built a cosmetics empire by screwing the rules. Instead of projecting a haughty image, like most beauty brands, both the entrepreneur and bareMinerals ooze relatability, love, deep human connection and a little magic. She called employees to the lobby for 2 p.m. dance breaks. She replied to fan mail with handwritten notes, solicited customer feedback on which products to create, and offered a job, on the spot, to a helpful Starbucks barista. She dispensed with her collection of 8,000 lucky pennies by packing each one into a lipgloss kit dubbed “Change Is Good.”(Suggestion No. 59: “Write Taglines for Fun.” No wonder she’s got 97 cleverly titled insights.)

At age 57, Blodgett is most concerned with supporting others, having fun, being happy and making others happy. She advises Sara Blakely of Spanx, sits on accessories brand Stella and Dot’s board, and just traveled to Africa with Christy Turlington as part of her work with the Every Mother Counts campaign. She also backs women-led upstarts like Skin Te, Aday and Kinship. She’s concerned with retaining wonder, appreciating nature (like that ancient tree in her front yard), and reveling in our insignificance, how we’re all just “a tiny part of infinity.” She says: “I don’t need to reach for the stars today. I just need to plug in the coffeemaker to feel like I made it.”

Who wouldn’t want a crib sheet for adopting her outlook?

Blodgett says she chooses to be lucky. That’s Pretty Good Advice concept No. 16. She believes this so deeply that, sometimes, she whispers in people’s ears, “I’m really lucky, so consider rubbing my elbow.” She once said that to Richard Branson at a resort bar. He responded: “Well, I’m really lucky.”

After reading her irreverent self-help manual, Blodgett’s fans might find themselves giving out free compliments, giving away favorite dresses to friends, counting bunnies, spacing out more, reading horoscopes, forming a bridge club or taking up a yarn sport. Their relationship with their mother could improve. Will it change lives? Absolutely not. “You have to change your own life,” Blodgett quips. “And I am here to support you.”

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