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How Bobbi Brown put a new face on the makeup industry

Bobbi Brown: A woman of color 05:56

(CBS News) Is the purpose of make-up to completely make-over the woman applying it, or simply make her look her best? One businesswoman has made a fortune by highlighting the second approach, while also earning the admiration of our Nancy Giles:

Whether it's backstage at a fashion show or in front of a bathroom mirror, makeup is an essential part of many women's daily routine.

And few people have changed the face of a generation of women as much as Bobbi Brown.

Why are women so important in the beauty industry? "Who else is going to buy make-up?" she said. "Men aren't going to buy makeup.

"My aesthetic and my style of beauty is to look like yourself or better," Brown told Giles. "That style evolved very, very organically."

Brown is the creative force behind a cosmetics empire. She not only founded a company that's worth a reported $1 billion; she is also a bestselling author of beauty and lifestyle books, and has done makeup for everyone from Jill Biden to Brooke Shields to -- get this -- ALL of the Rolling Stones.

And I've seen her at work -- on ME. I've been intrigued by Bobbi Brown Cosmetics since Bobbi herself gave me a makeover on live TV some years ago.

Even then, her approach was revolutionary: makeup that looked natural and was simple to use, for ALL shades of women.

Nancy Giles with Bobbi Brown, founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. CBS News

Those same ideas have continued to be an important part of Bobbi Brown's philosophy.

"We all want to look good; we want to look pretty," Brown told Giles. "And there are some days we do and some days we don't. So when I do someone's makeup, it's important to find not only colors that work for them, and textures, but makeup that works for their style."

It's a formula Brown has been working on for quite a long time.

"I remember being a very young girl, watching my mom put her makeup on to go out, you know, to the grocery store probably, and then do her make-up on Saturday night," Brown said. "My mother was very glamorous -- she still is! I used to sit there and watch her and be in amazement."

As a child, she began experimenting with her mother's makeup stash, on whoever (or whatever) was available.

"I made up my dolls, I made up my dog, I think I made up my young siblings, anyone that I could," Brown said.

What did she put on her dog? "I put a little blush on. No mascara. Probably a little bit of eyebrows up here."

Bobbi's fascination became an obsession, leaving her with little time for anything else, including her school work. By the time she was in high school, she thought about dropping out.

"I said, 'I don't even know what I want to do with my life,' " she recalled telling her mother, who responded, "Pretend today's your birthday, you could do anything you want. What would you want to do?"

"And I remember saying I'd love to go to Marshall Fields, the big department store in Chicago, and play with makeup. My mother said, 'Why don't you study makeup?' "

So she went to Boston's Emerson College, creating her own major in theatrical makeup.

After graduation, she moved to New York City and worked freelance. Her big break came when she was hired to do supermodel Naomi Campbell's makeup for the cover of Vogue. But she didn't like what she was seeing:

It was white faces, sculpted cheek bones, red lips," she said. "And I could not do makeup like that. I didn't think it made people look pretty. I wanted to make a lipstick that looks like lips."

And how did she create that? "Well, I would take a taupe pencil, a cream blush and a little bit of lip gloss or Vaseline, and I'd make it myself. At the time, most lipstick on the market smelled bad. I wanted a lipstick that was not matte and not greasy, stayed on, but looked like the color I wanted my lips to be. And I thought, 'Wow, people are going to want this.' "

In 1991, Brown changed the look of the cosmetics industry when she debuted a collection of 10 lipsticks for women of all complexions at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.

She hoped to sell 100 in a month. She sold 100 the first day.

With zero advertising, word of mouth made Bobbi Brown a phenomenon, catching the eye and ear of an industry giant.

"I have no spies; I'm just me," said Leonard Lauder, then the head of Estee Lauder. "And I would walk through different stores [to see] what's selling. And people talk about Bobbi Brown. Bobbi Brown: What a great name. And that's when I said, 'I'm going to meet Bobbi.' "

Lauder set up a meeting.

"Here was a man that said, 'You've done so well, you're beating us in a lot of the stores. I would like to buy you,' " Brown recalled. "And we were not for sale."

Lauder said, "I said to Bobbi, 'Hey, look, women around the world want what you have. Everyone was selling heavy makeup, over-makeup-ed, glamour, glamour, glamour. Bobbi was, 'Be as good as you can be, but look yourself.' And that's what Bobbi had."

Only four years after Brown created her first lipsticks, Estee Lauder bought the company for a reported $74.5 million.

Today, Bobbi Brown retains creative control of her brand, which has stores in some 60 different countries.

"Did you ever think that that little hobby, that little fun thing, could turn into this incredible empire?" asked Giles

"No. Never in a million years. Never."

And at age 56, this working mother of three believes still holds true to the fundamental beliefs that made her a success: "All women are beautiful. And really what beauty is to me is not looking like a supermodel, is not looking like a Barbie doll. It's about [being] comfortable in your own skin, and knowing how to use makeup to make you look better, to enhance who you are."

She certainly did it for me. And I'm no Barbie doll.

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