Cosmetics pioneer Estée Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Corona, Queens, New York, on July 1, 1908. She preferred to be called by her nickname, Estée. She came from a family of Jewish immigrants. Her father was from Holice (now Slovakia). He migrated to the USA in the 1890’s, working first as a custom-tailor. He eventually opened a hardware store beneath their family home in Corona, Queens.
Estée’s mother, Rose Schnotz, a Hungarian beauty from Sátoraljaújhely, was the daughter of a French Catholic and a Hungarian Jew, which accounted for Estée’s ecumenical approach to religion; thus she supported both the Catholic Sisters and Temple Emanu-El. When her grandmother died from a spider bite, her grandfather remarried, and to escape her stepmother, Rose married Abraham Rosenthal at 15 and had five children.
She came to the United States in 1898 to join her husband, of whom nothing more is known. In 1905, she married Max Mentzer, with whom she had four children, Estée being the youngest. Rose was still a gorgeous woman, conscious about her looks, never went outside without her black parasol, opened to protect her skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Because she was ten years older than her husband, she was determined to remain youthful and lovely, and she felt it was a responsibility to look as beautiful as she could.
Seeing that her mother took care of her skin, Estée showed her interest in beauty at an early age. She loved to brush her mother’s long hair, apply creams to her face and hands, and wanted to be just like her mother when she grew up. A petite blonde with lovely skin, she was determined to look good and wanted to be fully American. As Estée grew older, she was embarrassed about her parents’ way of life, their foreign accent and their immigrant status. She dreamed of being a successful actress.
While attending Newton High School in Elmhurst, Queens, Estée also helped in her father’s shop. Here she learned the basics of retailing, the importance of perfectionism, but also about the outward appearance of merchandise, as well as the promotion of quality products. Her father gift-wrapped hammers and nails to give to his customers at Christmas time, and she would later use the same tactics to draw more customers.
Her uncle, John Schotz, a chemist, arrived in the United States before the outbreak of WWI, and stayed with the Mentzer family. He was a skin specialist, and set up a laboratory in an empty stable behind their house. Named New Way Laboratories, it manufactured creams, lotions, rouge and perfumes, using natural ingredients. Always interested in beauty, Estée watched her uncle at work and started helping him in his business, learning how to wash her face, or have facial massage. Through him she learned how to make her own beauty creams. Slowly she started selling the products to her classmates at Newton High School, initially calling them ”jars of hope”. With time, she gave the products names like Super Rich All-purpose Cream, Six-in-one Cold Cream, and Dr. Schotz’s Viennese Cream. She was only a teenager when she started selling her products at local hair salons and even gave out free samples. She worked nights in her kitchen to improve the products, stirring over pots and pans using natural ingredients. During the day she visited clients, selling products, giving free makeup demonstrations.
Knowing social contacts are essential for growth of her business, she started reinventing herself. By fabricating her past as belonging to a European noble family, she raised herself to the level of her clients.
In 1930, she married Joseph M. Lauter (later Lauder), a businessman in the garment industry. Their first child, Leonard, was born in 1933. Lauder continued developing her beauty business. She extended her market, visiting guests at hotels throughout the New York Metropolitan area. As a result, her marriage suffered and ended in divorce in 1939. She moved to Miami Beach, Florida, with her son Leonard and sold her products to wealthy vacationers. When Leonard came down with mumps in 1942, ex-husband Joseph came to see him and the couple reunited and remarried the same year. In 1944, a second son, Ronald, was born.
This time Joseph joined Estée in her business. She was in charge of development and marketing, while Joseph looked after manufacturing and finance. In 1944, their first store opened in New York. They changed their name from Lauter to Lauder when in 1946 they established their company and named it Estée Lauder, Inc. Their products would be sold through outlets and big department stores only.
She and her husband were the entire company. Their initial four products were “Cleansing Oil”, “Skin Lotion”, “Super Rich All Purpose Cream”, and “Cream Pack”. They were their company’s only employees, manufacturing by night in the kitchen of a Manhattan restaurant they converted into a factory with storage space, and selling by day. Mrs. Lauder began to travel, selling her products. The following year, Lauder landed her first department store order for cosmetics. Saks Fifth Avenue ordered $800 worth of her products, which sold out in two days.
Lauder originated the practice of giving a gift with a purchase as a marketing strategy. By the early 1950’s, Estée Lauder cosmetics were being sold at Nieman-Marcus, Bonwit Teller, I. Magnin, Marshall Field’s. Their advertising budget was small, so Mrs. Lauder had the novel idea of distributing free samples to shoppers. Those who predicted the company’s doom were proven wrong.
Mrs. Lauder started traveling all over the USA, opening outlets at big department stores. She trained personally picked sales persons, staying to train them. Instead of giving away samples, she conceived the idea of a gift with every purchase. She also started offering free samples through direct mail and distributing them at charity functions and fashion shows.
In 1953, she launched her Youth Dew product. This bath oil also doubled as a perfume and earned huge profits. When the managers at Galleries Lafayette in Paris refused to stock her products, Mrs. Lauder spilled her Youth Dew "accidentally" on the floor. As the fragrance wafted through, customers asked where they could get the product. The managers gave in and placed the order.
The thriving business continued with its expansion to overseas markets. Their first international outlet was opened at Harrods, London, in 1960, and an office in Hong Kong in 1961.
Popular fragrances were introduced, such as Azurée, Aliage, Private Collection, White Linen, Cinnabar, and Beautiful. In 1964, Aramis developed into a separate line for men and now includes 20 different products.
In 1968, their third brand, Clinique, a line of fragrance-free, allergy tested cosmetics was created under the supervision of Estée’s daughter-in-law, Evelyn Lauder.
An elaborate coding system was designed to protect themselves from spying in the development of new products. Test fragrances would have numbers and letters, the ingredients never specified on vials. If it was stolen it was of no use to the thief. When a new fragrance was ready for production, the perfumery was not given the whole formula and when the great vats of perfume were ready to be bottled to be shipped to stores, one member of the Lauder family would go to the factory and supply the missing secret ingredient known only to the family, without which the fragrance would not be complete.
Sophisticated spying was awesome, in particular Mr. Revson tried in many ways to market the company’s ideas, and used specific instruments to analyze the colors, fragrances, and containers of his competitors’ products. With the launching of perfume Estée, which she originally designed just for herself, he came out with Charlie. When they used a single model, he did the same. When Gift With Purchase hit the market, Revlon also offered Gift With Purchase. Following Clinique, Revson’s Etherea followed. Aramis, Lauder's first skin care product for men, Revson followed with Braggi, using the same packaging style.
Because of her intense drive, ambition, good taste and her love of beautiful things – she became one of the richest self-made women in the world. She ran in elite social circles, had warm relations with Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, actress Grace Kelly (Princess Grace of Monaco), attending parties thrown by the likes of Nancy Reagan.
In 1973, Lauder resigned her post as president of the company, but stayed on as chairman of the board. Nevertheless she continued to be productive, creating two more brands under her supervision. In 1979, she introduced the Prescriptives line of cosmetics, and in 1990, the Origins line of makeup, the first wellness brand in US department stores.
Her oldest son, Leonard, took over running the family business. Estée lost her beloved husband in 1983. In his honor she established the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Estée products were sold in 70 countries. Privately held for decades, Lauder’s company went public in 1995. At the time, the business was valued at $2 billion. At this writing, products are sold in over 120 countries, the company is valued at 17.9 billion (number 6 among the wealthiest companies in th US), and revenues are billions of dollars per year.
In her later life, Lauder devoted her time to her philanthropic efforts. She died in New York City in 2004. Her son Leonard is the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, and son Ronald (who had been Ambassador to Austria) is the chairman of Clinique Laboratories, LLC, and grandson William Lauder is the executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies. There are 6 family members who own 87% of the company.
Awards and Achievements:
In 1967, she was included in the list of the 100 Best American Entrepreneurs and in 1970 in the list of ”Ten Outstanding Women in Business in the US”.
In 1968, the “Albert Einstein College of Medicine Spirit of Achievement Award”.
On 16 January, 1978, she was the first woman to receive the Insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (France).
In 1988, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement US Business Hall of Fame.
In 2004, shortly before her death, Estée Lauder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sources: ESTÉE, A Success Story, by Estée Lauder
Website: The Famous People.com
Eva Wajda is a member of Magyar News Online Editorial Board.