(1908 - 2004)
Estée Lauder's name connotes beauty and healthy skin
through her profitable cosmetics lines: Estée Lauder, Clinique, Aramis,
Lauder for Men, and Prescriptives. An astute businesswoman, she made a
fortune manufacturing, marketing, and distributing cosmetics to women
around the world.
Estée Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in
Queens, New York, to Max and Rose (Schotz Rosenthal) Mentzer, a Hungarian
immigrant with a French Catholic mother and Jewish father. Rose, who lived
until age eighty-eight, warned Estée about the harmful effects of the sun;
she always wore gloves and carried a parasol to guard against its rays.
Estée remembered this lesson but also remembered how embarrassed she was
by her mother's parasol, her thick accent, and both her parents' immigrant
behavior. Estée wanted to be one hundred percent American. She was the
youngest of the Mentzer children, who grew up Jewish in a mostly Italian
neighborhood. Two children had died by the time Estée was born. Her
sister, Grace, whom the family called Renee, was two years older than
Her father was a custom tailor, but found that he could
provide a better living for his family by running a hardware store. Her
father's hardware store provided Estée with merchandising experience. It
was her uncle John Shotz, however, who influenced her future business.
Shotz was a chemist who created face creams in a makeshift laboratory, set
up behind her family's house. He discouraged Estée from using detergent
soaps on her face and showed her how to make the cream that, years later,
she would improve upon and market under her own name. She launched her
cosmetics business during the Depression in New York and later in Miami
Estée Lauder remembered an influential experience that
had occurred years earlier at a Florence Morris salon in New York City
where she sold her products. Lauder recalls in her autobiography (1985) how
she admired the blouse of an elegant customer in the salon and asked where
she had bought it. The woman scoffed, "What difference could it
possibly make? ... You could never afford it." The young Estée walked
away humiliated, but vowed that no one would ever say something like that
to her again. Some day she would have so much money that she could buy
anything she wanted.
Estée was about nineteen when she met Joseph Lauter,
son of Lillian and William Lauter, immigrants from Galicia. They married on
January 15, 1930, and their son Leonard Allen was born on March 19, 1933.
In about 1937, Estée Lauder began to use the Lauder spelling of her name
for her products. Years later in her autobiography she lamented that she
neglected her husband and family by paying too much attention to building
her business. In 1985 she said, "I did not know how to be Mrs. Joseph
Lauder and Estée Lauder at the same time."
She divorced her husband in 1939 and married him again
in 1942. This time their marriage cemented a lifelong bond and launched a
business partnership as well. Joseph quit his business to join hers in
order to run the factory and deal with production and the finances, while
Estée took charge of the sales staff and marketing. Even their son Leonard
ran errands for the business. The couple had a second child, Ronald, born
in February 1944.
Estée Lauder was an exceptionally talented and
successful promoter. She was a pioneer in giveaway promotions, always
including a lipstick in the gift package. Women tried her products, liked
them, and told other women about them. Much of her initial success came
from this word-of-mouth advertising. She called her strategy
"Tell-a-Woman" marketing. Eventually, she invested in larger
marketing concepts, using beautiful models to sell her products. Estée
Lauder chose carefully the models for advertising her products, selecting
the Estée Lauder kind of woman," rather than a movie star. The
photographer Victor Skrebneski published a book of his photographs of women
who modeled for Estée Lauder products.
Estée Lauder believed in selling her cosmetics
at the best department stores, ignoring the advice of her accountant
and lawyer, who urged her to get out of this particular business. She
started at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, an upscale store where
women could charge their purchases. After succeeding at Saks Fifth Avenue,
she expanded to Neiman Marcus in Dallas, and then several department
stores around the country. Estée Lauder opened each store herself
and trained the saleswomen who were demonstrating her products.
In 1953, she launched another phase of her business
with Youth Dew, a bath oil with a scent that could be used as perfume.
In fact, Lauder said that this product influenced the popularity of
perfume at this time. Later she brought out many other popular scents
such as Azurée, Aliage, Private Collection, White Linen, Cinnabar,
and Beautiful. Lauder, always vigilant about competitors, trusted only
family members with formulas for the various fragrances.
Estée Lauder decided to venture into the male
cosmetic market in 1964, using her son and other men in her company
to test her products. In 1965, she came out with Aramis and an entire
line for men's skin, which she relaunched in 1967. Another of her creative
ideas was the fragrance-free Clinique line, which was launched after
extensive medical testing.
It took some time, but she was able to create a successful
European market after correcting her original mistake of bypassing the
buyer at Harrods in London. Finally Englishwomen's demand for Lauder's
cosmetics and the enormously successful Youth Dew body oil cracked the
British market. Establishing counter space in good stores in France
was even more difficult. She persevered and, by 1985, half of Estée
Lauder and related product sales took place in seventy-five foreign
At one time, both Leonard and Ronald Lauder, Wharton
graduates, contributed to the business, along with their wives, Evelyn and
Jo Carole. Leonard Lauder took over as president of Estée Lauder, Inc., in
1973. Ronald Lauder worked as chairman of Lauder International, but later
left to use his training in government work.
Lauder has accumulated enormous wealth through her
business acumen. She follows her own admonition: "Measure your success
in dollars, not degrees."
In addition to numerous awards in the cosmetics and
fashion industries, Estée Lauder has received the French government's
Insignia of Chevalier of the of Legion of Honor in 1978, the gold Medal
award by the city of Paris in 1979, the Crystal Apple from the Association
for a Better New York in 1977, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Spirit of Achievement Award in 1968. In 1970, she was recognized by 575
business and financial editors as one of Ten Outstanding Women in Business.
In 1984, she and seven others were chosen as Outstanding Mother of the
Year. Lauder also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
A philanthropist, she has contributed to National Cancer Care
and to the Manhattan League. The Lauder family is also known for charity
work in Jewish and other causes.
Lauder died April 24, 2004, of cardiopulmonary arrest
at her home in New York.
Sources: Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore eds. Jewish
Women in America. NY: Routledge, 1997. Reprinted with permission
of the American Jewish Historical Society
Allen, Margaret. Selling Dreams: Inside the Beauty
Business (1981); Israel, Lee. Estée Lauder: Beyond the Magic.
(1985); Kennedy, Trevor. "Estée Lauder." In Top Guns
(1988); Lauder, Estée. ESTÉE: A Success Story (1985); Skrebneski,
Victor. Five Beautiful Women (1987); Slater, Elinor, and Robert
Slater. "Estée Lauder" In Great Jewish Women (1994).