Aerin Lauder’s earliest memories of her grandmother, Estée Lauder, are infused with the scent of her perfume, Beautiful. A blend of rose, lily, tuberose, and orange flower, it was part of Estée’s overall aura of beauty. Aerin wore it on her wedding day.
“I am fortunate to have learned so much from a lifetime in beauty; it’s not only my heritage but my passion,” Aerin says. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by it and completely enthralled by it. It’s part of me.”
Aerin is the style and image director at the eponymous cosmetics business her grandmother tenaciously built. Among the anecdotes from Estée’s early days as an entrepreneur is one of how she spilled her Youth Dew fragrance in an upscale Paris department store that had refused to stock her products. This attracted the attention of shoppers who commented on the lovely scent, and she thus won her product a coveted place at the store’s counters. “They later said I did it on purpose. I’ll never tell,” Estée once said.
Like her grandmother, Aerin has created her own eponymous beauty and lifestyle brand. Aerin has had style since she was a child; in an old picture of her with her grandmother, the young Aerin wears a smart double-breasted, knee-length overcoat and her favourite pair of red Mary Jane shoes. Nowadays, you’re likely to find her in footwear that’s similarly simple and elegant — her signature ballet flats are the perfect embodiment of her brand’s aesthetic, which she describes as feminine and effortless.
Keeping it simple
“In today’s world, women want to feel effortlessly beautiful and elegant while on the go,” Aerin says. That effortlessness comes through in simple, standout pieces of jewellery, for example. Estée liked to wear a single great jewel, with a “less is more” philosophy, Aerin says. One of Aerin’s simple yet eye-catching pieces is a gold-plated choker strung with a few large, wooden heart charms.
She loves to glam up neutrals — instead of beige or ivory, she uses gold or leopard print. She makes the simple things more refined.
Wherever Aerin goes, she looks for beauty. “From a young age, I have always been very sensitive to my environment and deeply attracted to images, colours, patterns, and textures.” Her Instagram is a window into the beauty she sees daily.
She shares a photo of a well-designed pizza box she appreciated at a restaurant. She shows off the whimsical designer stickers she put on her iPhone, cartoon cherries and hearts by Darcy Miller. A picture of her office shows a lavender-coloured Arctander armchair pulled up to a mirrored desktop on which rests a golden, heart-shaped paperweight and vase of fresh white anemone flowers.
One Instagram-user’s comment on the office picture reads, “Literally everything you do looks effortlessly glam” — just what she was going for.
Aerin sees Instagram as a new tool for her to build on Estée’s motto, “Telephone, telegraph, tell-a-woman.” Aerin says, “Making that human connection was one of her secrets. I definitely share that trait with her.” Instagram has helped her connect with women in entirely new ways, she says.
Estée, who died in 2004, was a powerful marketing force. Without a large advertising budget in the early days, she got creative. She was always out introducing her products to women face-to-face, giving beauty demonstrations in salons, in the homes of early clients, or on the street, stopping women on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
The American dream
Estée was unflappable and unstoppable, working her way up from scratch. Born to a Czechoslovakian father and Hungarian mother in Queens, New York, Estée grew up in an apartment above her father’s hardware store. She became enthralled with her chemist uncle’s skin cream concoctions, which started her on her path to success.
It’s a textbook case of the American dream — a family of immigrants struggles to make their way, and ends up creating a multi-billion-dollar beauty empire for its descendants. Estée wrote in her 1985 autobiography that “living the American dream has been intense, difficult work. … One does not move from rags — poof — to riches by dreaming.”
Before her business really gained traction in the early 1950s with Youth Dew’s success and a regular spot in Saks Fifth Avenue, she and her husband/business partner, Joseph Lauder, had a rough time. “I cried more than I ate,” she wrote. “There was constant work, constant attention to detail, lost hours of sleep, worries, and heartaches. Friends and family didn’t let a day go by without discouraging us.”
In the 1930s when Estée first started her business, Joseph wasn’t a part of it. When Estée was working on her own, her single-minded focus led her to neglect her marriage, she wrote. “I did not know how to be Mrs. Joseph Lauder and Estée Lauder at the same time.” She and Joseph divorced in 1939.
Four years later, however, they reunited to care for their only son, Leonard, who had the mumps. They remarried, and that’s when Joseph joined Estée in her business venture. Had they not reunited, Aerin would not be here today. Her father, Ronald Lauder, was born after they remarried.
Though Joseph handled much of the business side, Estée remained the mastermind behind the products and marketing. She’s a pioneer of the free-gift-with-purchase marketing technique. She was determined to only sell her products in high-end department stores. Both marketing techniques paid off.
Aerin says, “The biggest gift my family gave to me is teaching me the importance of passion and hard work. Growing up, there is nothing I loved more than hearing my uncle and father talk about the business and all of the incredible stories about Estée and Joe.”
Stopping to smell the roses
Aerin also learned about the importance of family. “Balancing everything is one of my biggest challenges — just like other working mothers.” She has two teenage sons with her husband, financier Eric Zinterhofer. “I do feel that you should always try to take time for yourself. If you are happy, everyone around you will be happy.”
Using many of her own Aerin products, she makes her Park Avenue home in New York a relaxing sanctuary. Her favourite getaway locations are Aspen, the Hamptons, and Palm Beach. Like Estée, who wrote that “being surrounded by color and fragrance is as important to me as eating,” Aerin absorbs the sensory impressions of her travel destinations, and they inspire her creations.
Her most recent such creation is the Aegean Blossom fragrance. “It captures the essence of the Mediterranean ocean and coastal life,” she says. She’s amazed at how sun, water, sky, and beach can be so ubiquitous in the world, yet have such a different flavour in each place.
“The vivid blue of the Aegean Sea is like no blue on earth — sun-drenched, sparkling, and caressed by the scent of orange flowers. … To sail its waters is to feel a release of pure joy and freedom.” The Aerin fragrance it inspired combines the citrusy freshness of verbena with Mediterranean florals.
As much as she plays around with different scents, she loves the classic rose just as Estée did, and it’s part of her brand’s DNA.
For Aerin, the true meaning of luxury is to live life immersed in this kind of beauty. “The luxury lover appreciates the ultimate in quality and sensorial richness, and she wants to experience this luxurious quality across multiple touch points — what she touches, what she sees, what she smells, and what she wears.”