The Estee Lauder
In 1946, Estee Lauder founded a cosmetics company that has since become one of the most successful and imitated ventures in this highly competitive field. Her line of fragrances, skin care products, makeup, and men's toiletries is an international concern that in 1997 employed almost 15,000 people and grossed $3.4 billion. Many of the company's top executives are second and third generation family members, also an exceptional feat in the industry. "By a combination of good luck and good judgment, Estee Lauder has become that rarest of species: a beauty business with a powerful personal image that is strong enough to outlive its founder in a way that Elizabeth Arden or Helena Rubinstein could not," wrote fashion expert Suzy Menkes in her International Herald Tribune column in 1996.
While Lauder has always refused to reveal her actual age, her unauthorized biographer, Lee Israel, pegs her date of birth as July 1, 1908. The last child in a family that included one full sister and five half-brothers and half-sisters, she was originally named Josephine Esther Mentzer but went by her middle name, which she altered to Estelle as a teenager. Her parents were Jewish Hungarian immigrants who had settled on Hillside Avenue in Corona, a somewhat rural but unfashionable part of Queens that served as a garbage and ash dump for other New York City boroughs during the early years of the twentieth century.
Lauder's father was a tailor by profession, but in Corona he opened a grain and feed store above which he and his family lived. Esther was a good student who attended P.S. 14 and Newtown High School in Queens. Among her early role models were her sister-in-law, Fanny Leppel Rosenthal, who ran a successful department store in the neighborhood, and an uncle, Dr. John Schotz, a chemist who had his own small laboratory and made face creams such as "Dr. Schotz's Viennese Cream." Lauder not only watched him concoct his products, she also used them herself; even as a teenager she was known for her beautiful complexion.
According to some accounts, Esther quit school around the age of sixteen and headed to Wisconsin to live for a while with her aunt; she may also have worked briefly in a beauty salon in Milwaukee. Before long, however, she was back in New York, where she married Joseph Lauter (who later changed the spelling of his surname) on January 15, 1930. Their first child, Leonard, was born in 1933.
An ambitious young woman, Lauder dreamed of a career in the cosmetics industry. Meanwhile, her husband failed at a series of business ventures of his own, and in 1939 the couple divorced. They remarried in 1942, however, and in 1944 they had a second son, Ronald. Around 1946 they founded the company that bears the Estee Lauder name. While Estee looked after product development, sales, and marketing, Joseph spent much of his career overseeing their manufacturing facility in Melville, Long Island. Both of their sons eventually went to work for the family firm, and later their daughters-inlaw and grandchildren also became involved.
By the late 1960s the Lauders were living in a Manhattan mansion, with homes in the south of France and Palm Beach, Florida, as well. Estee led an active life and was a well-known figure on the international social circuit. Aside from attending and giving lavish parties, she reportedly liked to watch the evening newscasts as well as the sitcom All in the Family. She doted on her grandchildren and her husband, who died in 1983 at the age of 80. Ever since breaking her hip in 1994, the cosmetics tycoon has very rarely been seen in public.
Lauder's motto has always been, "Not by dreaming or hoping for it, but by working for it." As early as her teenage years, she was intensely interested in skin care. She swore by the use of her uncle's products, which she herself had learned to make at home on her kitchen stove. Lauder began her career selling them to beauty salons, where she also gave facials and built up a loyal customer base by passing out free samples of the Schotz Creme Pack and All-Purpose Creme. During her estrangement from her husband, she split her time between Miami and New York City, working the beauty salon circuit in both cities. She also had a stand inside the Roney Plaza Hotel in Miami and sold her wares at Jewish resorts on Long Island and in the Catskills.
Lauder was a tenacious salesperson who was known to approach strangers and bestow skin-care advice and a free sample. After her remarriage, she began working behind department store cosmetic counters. Her goal was to obtain her own space at Saks Fifth Avenue, the premier retailer in the United States.
Despite advice from her accountant that launching a cosmetics company was foolhardy, Lauder officially formed Estee Lauder, Inc., around 1946 or 1947. Her instincts and experience told her that there was a great demand for beauty products, especially well-made and well-packaged ones. She also knew firsthand that women were not at all hesitant to spend money on themselves.
Lauder fulfilled at least one dream early in her venture when Saks Fifth Avenue became the first retailer to place a big order. Securing their business in turn helped her obtain counter space in other prestigious department stores around the country. But the tremendous growth of Estee Lauder, Inc., during its first few years of operation kept its founder extremely busy. She traveled incessantly, personally launching her line in an ever-expanding number of cities and training her sales staff.
The Estee Lauder line was profitable almost from the start, partly as a result of its founder's penchant for building loyalty through free samples and her equally innovative "gift with purchase" idea. Advertising campaigns lured women to cosmetics counters by offering an attractive makeup bag or tote filled with a pair of lipsticks, a comb, miniature moisturizers, or other combinations of items, all free with the purchase of any Estee Lauder product over a certain amount. This promotional strategy proved to be so lucrative that many other companies with expensive cosmetics lines were soon imitating it.
In 1953, Estee Lauder achieved dramatic success with the debut of its first fragrance product, Youth-Dew. Initially available only as a bath oil, it was a megaseller from the start. "Youth-Dew was like the Giorgio of today," a former Estee Lauder employee told Israel in Behind the Magic. "It just had that cachet. Middle America went bananas for it." The company distributed free samples and conducted an aggressive promotional campaign; Estee herself wore it and sprayed it around department stores. Priced at $8.50 a bottle, Youth-Dew boosted Estee Lauder sales at certain stores from $300 a week to figures in the thousands. It eventually became an entire fragrance line that was still bringing in $30 million a year by the mid-1980s, some three decades after its launch.
Lauder's other ventures were equally successful. A savvy interpreter of the beauty business, she continually introduced new products to fit with the times. In the early 1960s, for instance, she adopted a quasi-scientific approach to skin care in response to similar marketing strategies of various European cosmetics companies. Her first such product, Re-Nutriv, sold for $115 a pound and was a huge seller despite its high price.
The year 1968 marked the introduction of the Clinique skin-care and makeup line, which was aimed squarely at a younger generation of women. Its marketing strategy was to promote the fragrance-free formulas as part of a fresh, health-conscious lifestyle. There was no mention of the line's connection with the Estee Lauder company (in fact, only cosmetics industry insiders were aware of it), and at Clinique counters the saleswomen wore lab coats. By the late 1990s, Clinique products were available in 81 countries, and sales of the line's lipsticks alone numbered more than $17 million.
In 1979, Estee Lauder launched the Prescriptives makeup line. The 1980s saw the emergence of skin-care products that promised to reverse the signs of aging, including the company's Night Repair, which first appeared in 1983 and has proven to be a big success in its segment of the market. In 1990, Estee Lauder introduced yet another new makeup line, the botanicals-based Origins.
Through the years, the Estee Lauder company has also attracted attention for its long-running advertising campaigns featuring well-known models. During the 1970s, Karen Graham was the first to be signed to an exclusive contract. She was succeeded by Willow Bay, Paulina Porizkova, and, in 1995, Elizabeth Hurley.
Estee Lauder retired from the day-to-day running of her company in 1972, at which time she handed over the reins to her son Leonard. Before Estee Lauder, Inc., opted to go public in 1995 by selling stock, it was the largest cosmetics company in private hands in the world. Under Leonard Lauder's leadership, it has continued to grow and prosper, and now a third generation of the family is involved in the business. Aerin, Leonard's niece, assumed the role of director of creative product development after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. Her sister, Jane, focuses on sales and marketing strategies, including the "gift-with-purchase" promotions. Leonard's son William, meanwhile, heads the Origins division and is apparently being groomed to take over his father's job some day.
Social and Economic Impact
Estee Lauder is an undisputed giant in the fragrance and cosmetics industry. Her predecessors and erstwhile competitors long ago disappeared, victims of failure or mergers with other companies. Her innovative product ideas and business strategies helped turn the beauty business into an international industry with sales that are measured in the billions of dollars.
Chronology: Estee Lauder
1930: Married Joseph Lauter.
1946: Incorporated Estee Lauder, Inc.
1953: Launched Youth-Dew and saw revenues skyrocket.
1968: Introduced Clinique line.
1979: Introduced Prescriptives line.
1990: Introduced Origins line.
1992: Went into semi-retirement.
1995: Estee Lauder, Inc. became a publicly-held company.
In recognition of her business and social standing, Lauder was offered the post of ambassador to Luxembourg by President Richard M. Nixon, which she declined. But her son Ronald has been active in Republican politics; during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, he was appointed ambassador to Austria. He later made an unsuccessful run for mayor of New York City.
Lauder's tremendous personal wealth has enabled her to be generous with her donations to various projects and causes. In 1962, she established the Estee and Joseph Lauder Foundation, which has helped fund children's parks in New York City. She has also donated to both the Whitney Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. In 1978 she received France's Legion of Honor award for her efforts to raise funds to restore the Palace of Versailles outside Paris. At the University of Pennsylvania, where both Lauder sons received degrees from the esteemed Wharton School of Business, the Lauder family donated several million dollars toward the creation of a graduate program known as the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies. In addition, Leonard Lauder's wife, Evelyn, is active in the breast cancer awareness and research campaigns spearheaded by the beauty and fashion industry in the mid-1990s.
Sources of Information
Contact at: The Estee Lauder Companies, Inc.
767 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10153
Business Phone: (212)572-4200
Byers, Paula K. and Suzanne M. Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Current Biography Yearbook 1986. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1987.
Israel, Lee. Estee Lauder: Behind the Magic. New York: Macmillan, 1985.
"Leonard Lauder Adds $10 Million to International Management Program Founded by Lauder Family at Penn." Wharton Journal Online, 16 September 1996. Available from http://journal.wharton.upenn.edu/journal/v40n17/Lauder.html (1998).
"Life After Leonard." Fortune, 25 May 1998. Available from http://www.pathfinder.com/fortune/1998/980525/est1.html (1998).
Menkes, Suzy. "Soft Soap." International Herald Tribune, 9 January 1996. Available from http://www.iht.com/IHT/FASH/96/sz0109.html (1998).
Mooney, Louise, ed. Newsmakers: 1992 Cumulation. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer at home in Corona, Queens, New York City. The youngest child of Hungarian immigrants, Lauder had one full sister and five half brothers and a half sister from her mother’s previous marriage to Abraham Rosenthal. Lauder’s father, Max Mentzer, a tailor by trade, ran a hardware store in Queens, where the young Lauder received training in salesmanship and merchandising. Her mother, Rose (Schotz) Rosenthal Mentzer, a homemaker, was very concerned about her skin and wore gloves and carried a parasol for protection against the sun’s rays. Lauder was embarrassed by her mother’s parasol as well as by her parents’ foreign accents and European customs. She wrote in her autobiography, Estee: A Success Story (1985), “I wanted desperately to be 100 percent American.”
Lauder grew up Jewish in the mostly Italian neighborhood of Corona. In 1913, when her father registered her at the neighborhood school, the principal misspelled her family nickname Esty as Estee, a name that stuck. At the outbreak of World War I, Lauder’s uncle, John Schotz, a chemist who experimented with skin care treatments, arrived from Hungary to live with the family. Lauder watched with interest as he produced fragrant lotions from chemical mixtures in a makeshift laboratory set up in a stable behind the family’s house. She helped him sell his homemade products.
As a teenager attending Newton High School, Lauder experimented with her own mixes, bringing high-school friends home to try her newest concoctions. Years later she wrote, “I always felt most alive when I was dabbling in the practice cream.” When Lauder began promoting her products to beauty salons in New York City, Florence Morris, the owner of the House of Ash Blondes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was so impressed by the determination, ambition, and creative salesmanship of the five-foot, four-and-a-half-inch-tall blonde with lovely skin and immaculate grooming that she hired Lauder to operate the beauty counter in one of her new stores. Lauder soon began her own operations, expanding to resort areas outside New York City where she came into contact with wealthy clients. Lauder gained a following of loyal clients by handing out extras with each purchase. She had learned the trick from her father, who each Christmas gave wrapped gifts of hammers and nails to his customers. Lauder gave free demonstrations to women waiting under hair dryers in beauty salons. She even stopped women on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and asked them to try her products. A master of merchandising and promotion, Lauder once declared, “If you put the product into the customer’s hands, it will speak for itself if it’s something of quality.”
On 15 January 1930 Lauder married Joseph H. Lauter, a garment district businessman, whom she had been dating since 1927. Lauter, whose parents had emigrated from Austria, later changed his name back to the original Lauder. The Lauders’ first son, Leonard Allen, was born on 19 March 1933. Estee’s ambition and success soon caused severe stress in the marriage. As she wrote in her autobiography, “I did not know how to be Mrs. Joseph Lauder and Estee Lauder at the same time.” The couple divorced in 1939, and Lauder moved to Miami Beach, Florida, expanding her growing business there. She remarried Joseph on 7 December 1942, and the couple went into business together. Joseph dealt with the financial details, and Estee took charge of sales and marketing. The couple had a second son, Ronald Stephen, born 26 February 1944, and stayed together until Joseph’s death on 15 January 1983.
After incorporating her company, Estée Lauder, in 1946, Lauder applied her energy to selling her products to the best department stores. In 1948 Robert Fiske, a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue, the upscale store in New York City, purchased an order of her products. The Lauders spent hours in their laboratory, a converted restaurant, mixing up creams and lotions. Saks sold all Lauder’s items in two days. Following this success, Lauder expanded her products to Neiman Marcus in Dallas and then to other stores around the country. Her empire had been born. Lauder opened each store herself and trained the saleswomen who demonstrated her products. Lauder insisted the saleswomen maintain an impeccable appearance and appropriate demeanor so they would be walking advertisements for Estée Lauder products.
In 1953 Lauder introduced her first fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil with a scent that doubled as a perfume. Customers began using Youth Dew, which sold for $8.50 a bottle, lavishly in their baths. The new product raised the Estée Lauder sales volume from $400 a week to more than $5,000 a week by 1955. The increase in income allowed the Lauders to move into their first town house, on East Seventy-seventh Street in Manhattan. By 1958 sales had climbed to more than $800,000 a year, an amazing figure because the Lauders did not have a sales force at the time. Lauder relied on her own judgment and creative salesmanship and in so doing used marketing techniques soon to be copied by her rivals. Lauder created slogans for her products, calling her lotions and creams “jars of hope,” advising women to “start the New Year with a new face.” She never missed the opening of the store counters—spas she later called them—where her products were sold. She touched her customers and offered them free samples along with personal beauty advice.
Another marketing device Lauder created was the gift with every purchase. The Lauders had been advised by an advertising agency that their $50,000 budget was not enough to attract a sufficient audience, so they used the money to give away free samples through the mail and at charity events. Lauder used the same successful marketing strategies to expand her company’s operations abroad. In 1960 the company opened its first international account at Harrods in London. It followed with Galeries Lafayette in Paris and other major department stores around the world.
In 1962 Lauder introduced still another marketing technique to package her products, the Estée Lauder woman. Unlike her competitors, who chose models packaged as sex objects, Lauder chose to personify her products in the vision of one woman, the same model in every advertisement. The Lauder woman was classic, sweet, and independent, a sophisticated yet very accessible woman. Karen Graham, the Lauder model for many years, was succeeded by Elizabeth Hurley, Carolyn Murphy, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Over the years Lauder added several new brands to the company’s offerings: Aramis (1964), a line of fragrances and grooming products for men; Clinique (1968), the first allergy-tested, fragrance-free cosmetic brand; Prescriptives (1979), a collection of highly individualized products; Origins Natural Resources (1990), a line of skin care products; and Sensory Therapy products (1990), which combined age-old natural remedies and advanced science. Youth Dew was followed by some of the best-known brands of fragrances, such as Aramis, Aliage, Private Collection, JHL, Beautiful, Pleasure, and Beyond Paradise.
In 1973 Lauder became chairman of the board of Estée Lauder, ceding the title of president to her son, Leonard, who opened individual retail outlets, expanded the company into Estée Lauder Companies, and took the company public in 1995, by which time it was worth more than $4 billion. Leonard later became chairman of the company, and his younger brother, Ronald, became chairman of the international division and of Clinique Laboratories.
Even though she had turned daily operations of the business over to her sons, allowing her more time to consolidate her position in society, Lauder kept her hands in the company’s affairs. She pitched the newest line of products, such as Lauder for Men. She also played an integral part in the various acquisitions undertaken by the company in the 1990s, such as MAC, Bobbi Brown, Aveda, Jo Malone, and Bumble and Bumble. Lauder also was active in acquiring for the company the exclusive licenses for distributing the fragrances of Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan New York.
Lauder’s public corporate life dwindled after she broke her hip in 1994, so she devoted her time to two other passions, entertaining friends and philanthropy. Lauder enjoyed an active social life, often pursuing friendships of the rich and famous. Among her friends were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nancy Reagan, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and the Begum Aga Khan. Lauder became celebrated herself for entertaining dinner guests in a grandiose manner. She enjoyed playing hostess to her wealthy friends every Saturday night at her town houses in Manhattan and London, her Villa Abri in the south of France, and her twenty-seven-room oceanfront home in Palm Beach, Florida. Lauder was the first hostess to receive permission to hold a private party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for her friend Florence J. Gould.
In 1962 the Lauders established the Estee and Joseph Lauder Foundation, a medical and educational philanthropy benefiting Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City and the University of Pennsylvania, which houses the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies, set up in 1983. Lauder received worldwide recognition during her lifetime. In 1978 she was made a member of the French Legion of Honor, and in 1979 she received the Gold Medal of the City of Paris, that city’s highest honor. President Richard M. Nixon offered Lauder the ambassadorship to Luxembourg, but she declined. In 1999 Lauder was the only woman on the Time list of the twenty most influential business geniuses of the twentieth century. In 2004 she was awarded posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Lauder died of cardiopulmonary arrest at her home in New York City. She is buried in the Lauder family plot at Beth-El Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey, the cemetery her family had once owned and at which her father had once worked.
Lauder’s autobiography, Estee: A Success Story (1985), often neglects facts in favor of an idealized portrait of the subject. Lee Israel, Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic (1985), is an unauthorized biography complete with dates and facts omitted in Lauder’s book. Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 26 Apr. 2004).
John J. Byrne
Estee Lauder (née Josephine Esther Menzer, bornabout 1908) was the founder of the international cosmetics empire that bears her name and the chief developer of its products.
Estee Lauder was hailed as the reigning queen of the cosmetics world well into the 1990s. Innovative and daring, with an extraordinary talent for marketing and promotion, Lauder founded the company that bears her name in 1946 and built it in close cooperation with her husband, Joseph Lauder, and sons, Leonard and Ronald. It remained the last privately held cosmetics company in the United States and was run by her oldest son, Leonard.
Although she carefully guarded the secret of her age ("It's the best kept secret since the D-Day invasion," she wrote in her autobiography, Estee, a Success Story), it is widely accepted that she was born on July 1, 1908. She was the youngest child of her French Catholic/Hungarian Jewish mother and her Czechoslovakian father. Born Josephine Esther Menzer, she grew up in Corono in the Queens Borough of New York City. Her father, Max Menzer, was a Czechoslovakian horseman—an elegant, dapper monarchist who came to the United States at the turn of the century with no money and few marketable skills. He supported his family as a custom tailor and later opened a hardware store that gave Estee her first experience as a saleswoman, arranging merchandise and window displays. She credited her uncle John Schotz, a Hungarian chemist who concocted skin care creams in the Menzer household, with her first introduction to the world of cosmetics. "I watched as he created a secret formula, a magic cream potion, with which he filled vials, jars and flagons. … It was a precious velvety cream that magically made you scented. Maybe I'm glorifying my memories, but I believe I recognized in my Uncle John my own true path." For the next 20 years she worked to perfect her uncle's creams, stirring pots over the family stove and slathering her friends and neighbors with her concoctions.
In 1930 Lauder married Joseph Lauter (they changed the spelling to Lauder) and their son Leonard was born three years later. She also studied to be an actress after her marriage and birth of Ronald, but soon learned that her theatrical instincts were better applied to marketing than to performance. Even as a young mother she remained absorbed by her cosmetics business, selling her first products to the clients of The House of Ash Blondes Beauty Salon on Manhattan's Upper West Side. During the worst years of the Great Depression, Lauder marketed her products to ever growing numbers of women. Her innovative sales techniques, including free make-up demonstrations and sample give-aways, became trademarks of her growing enterprise, and she expanded her market to women at resort hotels throughout metropolitan New York.
In 1939 the Lauders were divorced and Estee moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where she sold her products to wealthy vacationers, encouraging them to spread the word of her cosmetics through her "Tell a Woman" campaign. The Lauders remarried in 1942 and a second son, Ronald, was born in 1944. Joseph Lauder took over the financial management of the business while Estee remained in charge of marketing.
A Turning Point
The company's first big order came from Saks Fifth Avenue in 1946, and the Lauders, who were then their company's only employees, cooked the creams—Super Rich All Purpose Cleansing Oil, Creme Pack, and Skin Lotion—on a restaurant stove and delivered them personally. The association with Saks marked a turning point in the company's history and helped the Lauders score entrees into other fashionable stores including Nieman Marcus, Marshall Field, and Bonwit Teller. The idea of selling her top of the line products exclusively through outlets at the best department stores became the strategy that industry specialists believe accounts for Estee Lauder's phenomenal marketing successes.
Convinced that her sales people were key to her sales strategy, Lauder traveled from New York to Texas and California, opening each Estee Lauder department store counter and carefully selecting and training the staff. "The saleswoman is my most important asset, the link to my customer." She insisted that there was no room in her organization for the "T. and T. salesgirl, always on the telephone or toilet." She pioneered the give-away promotion, "A free gift to every purchaser," and offered free samples through direct mail and at charity functions until sales mushroomed and competitors were left breathlessly following her example. She was also determined that the models for her products not be dehumanized and that the focus always be on the whole woman rather than her facial or body parts.
In 1953 Lauder introduced her first fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil with a sweet fragrance that doubled as a perfume. "We created a mini revolution. Instead of using their French perfumes by the drop behind each ear, women were using Youth Dew by the bottle in their bath water." In its first year Youth Dew did $50,000 in business; by 1984 the figure had jumped to $150 million. Lauder continued to broaden her line, introducing Beautiful and White Linen perfumes, Aramis for men, and the hypo-allergenic cosmetics known as Clinique.
Lauder kept the secrets of her ingredients within the family. While the products were made in Lauder factories, a final and secret ingredient was always added by a member of the Lauder family. This secrecy, she maintained, protected her from the snooping of industry spies hired by her competitors. It also added to the mystique associated with a family owned business. Unlike her competitors such as Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubenstein, and the Revlon line, she resisted selling out to a corporate conglomerate. Estee Lauder Co. went public and conducted an initial public offering November 17, 1995. Profit from operations for the quarter ending December 31 was $61.1 million compared with a net income of $51.3 million a year earlier.
Lauder entered the family business full time and was running the company in the early 1990s. Her younger son, Ronald, who oversaw the company's foreign operations, left the business in 1983 to serve in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense and as U.S. ambassador to Austria. In 1989 he made an unsuccessful bid for the mayor's office in New York City, spending nearly $12 million in the effort.
According to Forbes magazine, Lauder and both her sons are billionaires. After the death of her husband in 1984, Lauder withdrew from the day-to-day operations of the company to devote her time and energy to her philanthropic work and to a flamboyant social life. The Lauder Foundation makes substantial contributions to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital and to the Joseph T. Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Lauder was awarded the Crystal Apple Award from the Association for a Better New York, the Gold Medal of the City of Paris, and humanitarian service awards from the Girls Club and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
The best sources of additional information on Estee Lauder can be found in her autobiography, Estee, A Success Story (1986), and in Israel Lee, Estee Lauder. Beyond the Magic (1985). There have been articles about the woman and her company in several periodicals, including Who's Who in America, 1984-85, New York Times Sunday Magazine (December 8, 1985), New Yorker (September 15, 1986), Vogue (January 1986), Forbes (September 18, October 23, and November 13, 1989), and Business Week (September 4, 1989). □
Estee Lauder (c. 1910–) epitomizes the American success story. Born Josephine Esther Mentzer, the daughter of poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, she built a small line of homemade face creams into a billion-dollar cosmetics business through perseverance, ingenuity, and hard work.
Estee Lauder grew up in the Corona section of Queens, New York, the youngest child in a large family. Her mother's brother was a chemist who specialized in developing skin-care preparations. Lauder's lovely complexion was her uncle's best advertisement for his special face cream. After marrying Joseph Lauder in 1930, she worked on her own kitchen stove to refine and improve her uncle's face cream and other beauty products. Soon she began to sell her creams and lipsticks at upscale beauty salons in Manhattan and resort hotels in the New York area. A perfectionist, Estee Lauder insisted on producing only the highest quality cosmetics. Typical of her attention to detail was her decision to market her products in attractive packaging in a distinctive color she called Lauder blue.
Lauder possessed an intense, single-minded determination to make a success of her cosmetics business. Grace Mirabella, former editor of Vogue and founder of Mirabella magazine, writing in Time (December 7, 1998), said of the cosmetics tycoon, "She simply outworked everyone else in the cosmetics industry." Her ambition extended to her social life. Lauder cultivated affluent people in influential social positions who could help her in her business. She donated sample products as favors at charity balls and made sure that socialites had her lipsticks in their evening purses. Before long, the elegant Lauder was appearing regularly at fashionable dinner parties and charity benefits and her name had become associated with glamour and celebrity.
By 1946 Estee Lauder, Inc. was formed with Joseph Lauder handling the financial end of the business and Estee concentrating on product development and marketing. They were the firm's only employees and when the company acquired a coveted sales location at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in 1948, the couple had to work night and day to produce and package enough face care products to fill the allotted counter space.
The association with Saks opened the door for Estee Lauder products at other prestigious department stores across the country. Lauder traveled to each store and personally trained her handpicked saleswomen in customer service and personal grooming. She pioneered the concept of including free sample gifts with a cosmetics purchase, a practice ensuring the customer would be introduced to a whole range of products she might otherwise never have purchased.
It was the bath oil, "Youth Dew," that launched Estee Lauder, Inc. into the front ranks of the cosmetics industry. The sweet, persistent scent that doubled as a perfume was an affordable luxury for most women. Youth Dew enjoyed phenomenal success in the 1950s and 1960s and it put the company on the map for good. In the mid–1960s Estee Lauder introduced several new product lines, including Clinique, the first line of both hypoallergenic and fashionable cosmetics, and Aramis, a line of colognes for men. Her fragrances, particularly "White Linen," became perennial successes.
By 1998 the Estee Lauder, Cos., still a family-owned business run by the two Lauder sons since their mother's retirement in 1973, was selling cosmetics products in 118 countries and commanded 45 percent of the U.S. cosmetics market. The companies listed $3.6 billion in sales in 1997, and the Lauder family's shares in the business were reported to be worth more than six billion dollars.
Although officially retired for the last 25 years of the twentieth century, Estee Lauder's influence in the family business remained strong, particularly in planning promotional campaigns and creating new fragrances. With more time available, however, she was free to entertain on a grand scale at her townhouse in Manhattan, her villa in the south of France, her flat in London, England, and her oceanfront home in Palm Beach, Florida. After the death of Joseph Lauder in 1983, Estee Lauder carried on the philanthropic work the two had begun two decades earlier. The Lauder Foundation has made significant gifts to many causes including cancer research.
Bender, Marylin. At the Top. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.
Duffy, Martha. "Estee Lauder." Time, November 11, 1985.
Israel, Lee. Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1985.
Lauder, Estee. Estee: A Success Story. New York: Random House, 1985.
Mirabella, Grace. "Estee Lauder." Time, December 7, 1998.
she simply outworked everyone else in the cosmetics industry.
grace mirabella, time, december 7, 1998