Vogue’s Sarah Brown

It’s a pleasurable experience for all five of the senses when Vogue’s Beauty Director Sarah Brown comes on your website. The beauty guru is a legend in her own right, still at the helm of the beauty department at one of the world’s most iconic fashion magazines. It’s also not every day you get Brown’s take on everything from content, to beauty products, to changes in the publishing world. With the weather getting better, and April just around the corner, it was hard to resist sitting down with the expert on all things glamor…


From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

I would start the day with a glass of fresh-squeezed watermelon juice (something I picked up in India last year which has obsessed me ever since), and a big bowl of pomegranate seeds. For lunch, we’d be outside, in the late spring, by the sea (France/Italy/Spain/Montenegro), under an umbrella of course, and we’d be drinking rosé and eating some sort of delicious salad—arugula, poached pears, a little bit of goat’s cheese, a crumble of crispy bacon, and a drizzle of balsamic and honey. For dinner, we’d be back in the U.S. (the Concorde would have been brought back into service, for this one day) at our best friend’s in Southampton, and my master-of-the-grill fiancé, David, would fire a bunch of hanger steaks to perfection (don’t judge until you have tried, sliced very thin). I’d make our favorite chimichurri—zingy, delicious—to accompany them, and char a few ears of sweet farm-stand corn and thick-sliced Vidalia onions on the grill.  For dessert: a thousand-calorie slice of Lady M’s mille crêpe au marron, a tumble of just-picked raspberries, and a scoop of rosewater ice cream.

How do you practice beauty from the inside out?

The best way to practice beauty from the inside out is to smile and treat people warmly—they will in turn feel good and smile back, and that is the true definition of beauty, no?

Regarding diet, I have been trying to eat especially healthy lately—my new leaf—so I have turned into one of those people who makes almond milk at home (thank you Tammy Fender, Vitamix), and is constantly whipping up chia pudding (matcha; blueberry and cardamom—if you can put it in a bowl, stir it, and walk away, that’s my kind of cooking). I take the chia puddings to the office in tiny Tupperware containers and eat with berries when I get restless at 11 AM, 3 PM—it’s to distract me from the vending machine (my bad habit).

If I’m being honest, exercise has become a bit of a distant memory (the only thing I have been lifting lately is a fork), but here’s what I love: tennis (outdoors by the East River and at Midtown Tennis), Pilates (privates with Jeffrey Morris at Equinox), Ballet Beautiful, and my lengthening, strengthening dance-based workout with Allison Kimmel, my longtime trainer (a pint-sized beauty and a professional dancer herself) at Equinox. I have vowed to get into boxing (…arms…), so wish me luck!

What is your personal definition of good content? 

Something I want to rip out, print out, forward, or retweet.

How has beauty content changed since you first started? 

Well, there is so much more of it, and coming from every direction, in every medium, and at the speed of light. Relatability has become key; authenticity is critical. What it means to be an authority, an expert, a professional, has changed—in some ways good, and in others, I think, not as good. The positive aspect is that the conversation has become huge, and it has shown us all not only how much people want to learn about beauty, but also how much they want to share, and in the best moments, support one another.

Would you rather read beauty content online or in print? Or both? Why? 

Both, of course! And it’s not just reading—so much of the beauty content I now consume is by watching. The marvelous thing that’s going on right now is that we are all pioneers; we are all forging ahead together, figuring out what works, where, and what doesn’t. I love the ephemerality, the immediacy, and oftentimes, the whimsy, of what Vogue.com is able to do, and the captivating, stop-everything-and-look-at-this magic, power, and weight of what we can create in the magazine. That is still what makes me dream. For me, there is a time to scroll, to swipe, to Pin, and to curl up and just turn the pages.

A beauty mainstay that hasn’t changed since your teen years…

I do my own nails. I learned from my mother, who always has a shiny, chip-free manicure and pedicure. I’m good at it (detail-oriented, flexible), plus I can’t stand the thought of scheduling another appointment. For me, luxury is time, so I do my fingers and toes myself and let them dry while I’m watching TV or reading. Actually, my nails are drying right now.

A beauty habit you plan to change in the next ten years…

Well, that depends on what new technology brings us. If someone could please invent effective laser hair removal for pale blondes, that would be great.

What are your morning and nightly beauty routines?

The products I use change all the time as I try new things and return to old favorites.

At this very moment: In the morning, Louise Galvin Shampoo and Conditioner for Fine Hair or Verb Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner (I alternate). VMV Hypoallergenics Essence Skin-Saving Superwash (body). Nude Perfect Cleanse Omega Cleansing Jelly (face), with a Clarisonic skin brush. A dab of Warren-Tricomi Curl Amplifier in damp hair.

I prefer body oils to body cream, and only use them on mornings when I feel like I have “the time” (so, barely ever). But, on those mornings, I do myself a favor and luxuriate in Aurelia’s organic Dry Body Oil (neroli, lavender, rose and mandarin), VMV’s Know-It-Oil (their coconut oil, which looks like Crisco but melts right into the skin), or Clarins’ herbaceous Tonic Treatment Oil (which I also pour in the bath and highly recommend post-shower on just-shaved legs).

Daily skin care depends on what my face looks like. If all systems are go (no breakouts, no horrible flaky patches), it’s a layering game with various of the following (every day is different): Prevage Anti-Aging + Intensive Repair Daily Serum (great antioxidant shield), Nude ProGenius Milk, Susan Ciminelli Hydrating Formula Oil (this stuff is amazing, I just rediscovered it after practically a decade); Clinique Moisture Surge Intense (springy gel consistency. I have four jars at home, so I will never accidentally run out); La Mer The Concentrate (on the advice of Lisa Airan. She also recommended the Rolls Royce of humidifiers, which I promptly purchased: the sleek white Air-O-Swiss U650).

I am the pickiest about foundation, and I have searched long and hard for the best ones for me (meaning: perfect shade match; just enough coverage; behaves like skin care, and leaves a dewy, no-makeup glow). Among my favorites: By Terry Sheer Expert and Cover Expert (different coverage, depending on the day), Tom Ford Traceless, and  Edward Bess Ultra Dewy Complexion Perfector. I touch up with MAC’s Pro Conceal and Correct Palette, which requires a brush.

I’ve been using Stila’s Kitten eye shadow since Sofia Coppola told me about it during an interview way back in 1996 (Sofia is obsessed with beauty, FYI). Every time I see Jeanine Lobell [founder of Stila] I want to hug her and thank her again for inventing the best eye shadow—shade and formula—of all time. It blends perfectly with everything and looks like candlelight. But, Kitten is super-shimmery and ultra-pigmented, so it needs an eye primer in order to stay on, crease-free, throughout the day. Which is where Urban Decay’s Eyeshadow Primer Potion comes in. I’ve tried all the lid primers—I find this to be the best. I use Tom Ford’s brow pencil and I am always trying new mascaras. In the current rotation: Charlotte Tilbury Full Fat Lashes, BeneFit Roller Lash, and Maybelline Lash Sensational. I am pro-colored-eyeliner—for day, for night—and I rely on a fistful of blendable jewel-tone crayons from Tarte, Urban Decay, and Charlotte Tilbury. A dab of Tarte’s cherry-colored Cheek Stain, and I am out the door. This above scenario takes about seven minutes; I’ve timed it.

(Lipstick and gloss I’ve got stashed in all of my pockets and purses. Favorites: Chanel, Nars, Dior, Clé de Peau, Lancôme, Make Up For Ever.)

At night: Klorane’s Floral Gel or Talika’s Lash Conditioning Cleanser to take off my eye makeup, followed by Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish. Sometimes a mask. Sometimes a toner. Sometimes some retinol. Usually an oil (Nude/Susan Ciminelli/Tammy Fender).

I brush my teeth with a (pink) Sonicare.

If you were stuck on a desert island forever and allowed one product, what would that product be?

On a desert island: Sunscreen. And every other week a new delivery would be airdropped, probably by drone.

Advice to women getting up, looking in the mirror and applying makeup…

Avoid a magnifying mirror at all costs. What’s the point of focusing on every pore, errant hair, splotch, and other perceived “problem”? Instead, focus on the features you love most about yourself, play them up, and smile at yourself when you’re finished. Also: Invest in decent lighting. I put my makeup on beneath a skylight in my bedroom each morning (I’m lucky), but under the fluorescent overhead light in my bathroom I look like The Walking Dead. So after my shower, I avoid!

Best and worst things to eat and drink for good skin…

Best: Water, avocado, coconut, olive oil.

Worst: Sugar. Which is too bad, because I love it.

How should we transition our routines from winter to spring when it’s much warmer out? 

Depending on your skin, a lighter-weight moisturizing regimen makes sense—serums and lotions instead of intensive creams (or just less layering of products). I switch to foundation with less coverage, more breathability, and a good SPF level—YSL BB Cream, By Terry Sheer Expert, bareMinerals Complexion Rescue. In the winter, I use only milky/creamy/oil-based non-foaming cleansers for face and for body (Avene, VMV, and Aveda have great options—they make a huge difference in terms of skin-scaliness); when it gets sticky out, I switch back to gels. When I start going outdoors without a coat and gloves, I make sure I am wearing sunscreen on my hands, neck, chest, arms…

Ingredients in food you can apply to your skin and for what purpose…

Sugar and salt, in various scrubs. Papaya enzymes are terrific exfoliators—but that seems like a lot of work, and a lot of mess (I’ll leave it to Kate Somerville, whose papaya-heavy Exfolikate I cannot live without—it’s like getting a peel in the shower.) People have said Champagne is great as a rinse for the hair, but that just seems so eighties. Olive and coconut oils for face, hair, body (and teeth whitening, some say of coconut).

What would you do for your skin 72 hours before being on live TV? 

I would get a mild chemical peel and probably sit for a 45-second round of Gentle Waves, skip alcohol and anything sugary, fried, overly salty or caffeinated, fill up the humidifier and go to sleep early. I would also make sure I had an excellent makeup artist booked (paging Irina Krupnik).

In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s the new potato right now in beauty?

Coconut is the new argan. Lashes are the new mascara. Korea is the new Japan.

*Sarah Brown, photographed at Café Clover in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.