She was just a Corona girl working in her family’s hardware store with a chemist for an uncle before she was EstÈe Lauder. But she became the co-founder of a company worth $8 billion selling products all over the world.
Born Josephine Esther Mentzer and changing her first name to EstÈe, adapted from her nickname, Esty, the young woman was in high school when she started to sell beauty products in salons. She would demonstrate them on women while they were using hair dryers — a concept of touching and showing the customer the products that is still used by the company to this day.
In 1946, she and her husband, Joseph Lauder, started their company with four products — a crËme pack, cleansing oil, super-rich all-purpose crËme and skin lotion — that they created on a stove and hand-delivered to their customers. A year later, Saks Fifth Avenue gave them their first big order — $800 worth of products — and two days later, they were sold out.
EstÈe Lauder went to Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and never went on to college, but she was a natural saleswoman. She touched the customers (“It’s that rare touch, that person-to-person contact, that leaves the deepest impression,” she said), explained the products to them, gave them samples with each purchase — another tradition the company keeps to this day — and instructed beauty advisors at all her stores on just how to make sales and display the merchandise.
Lauder had an eye and a nose for beauty products. She chose the pale turquoise color used for some of the company items because the color went with all bathroom dÈcor. Her successful fragrance, Youth Dew, started as a bath oil in 1953 because women at that time often didn’t buy perfume for themselves, so the bath oil worked as one instead.
Aramis, Clinique, Prescriptives, Lab Series Skincare for Men and Origins were five brands created for her company, and decades later, it acquired other major names such as MAC and La Mer. Hers was the first cosmetics company to develop an anti-aging product that works overnight. And in 1992, her daughter-in-law, Evelyn Lauder, who was a senior corporate vice president with the firm until her death in 2011, created the pink ribbon for breast cancer, along with Self magazine Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Penney.
Lauder died at the age of 97 in 2004, more than 20 years after her husband. When they started the company, she and her husband were the only employees, but it has since grown here and overseas, the latter starting in 1960 with its first store in London. Since then EstÈe Lauder has opened stores in more than 150 countries. It is a public company now, but is still run by Lauders, a dream its namesake wished for that came true.
“Living the American Dream has been intense, difficult work, but I couldn’t have hoped for a more satisfying life,” Lauder wrote in her autobiography. “I believe that potential is unlimited — success depends on daring to act on dreams.”