Estée Lauder, the founder of the $8 billion company that bears her name, started her business with four skin care products and a simple premise: that every woman can be beautiful. Armed with that philosophy, plus drive, creativity and passion, she literally changed the face of the cosmetics industry.
Born Josephine Esther Mentzer, Estée Lauder was raised in Queens, N.Y., by her Hungarian mother, Rose, and Czech father, Max. The name Estée was a variation of her nickname, Esty. Her interest in beauty was sparked in high school when her Hungarian uncle came to live with her family and created velvety skin creams, first in the kitchen, then in a laboratory in a stable out back. Estée got her start selling skin care and makeup in beauty salons, demonstrating her products on women while they were sitting under hair dryers. In 1946 she and her husband, Joseph Lauder, officially launched the Company and a year later got their first major order — $800 worth of products from Saks Fifth Avenue.
Estée didn’t go to college but had innate instincts for what women wanted and was the consummate saleswoman and marketer. She believed to make a sale, you had to touch the consumer, show her the results on her face and explain the products. That was the start of the Company’s personal High-Touch service. She also inaugurated the Gift with Purchase promotion
early on by giving away samples of her products with a purchase. Estée Lauder attended the opening of virtually every new store and stayed for a week to instruct her beauty advisors on sales techniques and merchandise display. Always stylish and well dressed, she crossed the country to meet with store buyers and beauty editors and talk to consumers. She was a one-person research department.
One of her most famous quotes is “Telephone, Telegraph, Tell-a Woman,” believing that if a woman liked her products they would spread the word. Once the Estée Lauder brand began to advertise, she insisted that the print images be both aspirational and approachable and selected one model to represent the face of the brand at any given time. She picked the pale turquoise color for the brand’s jars, believing it conveyed a sense of luxury and matched all bathroom decors.
Estée Lauder was a skin care pioneer, but also had a wonderful fragrance “nose.” One of her earliest successes was Youth Dew, a bath oil, created in 1953. She oversaw the creation of five additional brands – Aramis, Clinique, Prescriptives, Lab Series Skincare for Men and Origins – and always insisted that the Company’s products be made from the highest-quality ingredients.
A visionary businesswoman, Estée Lauder was honored with many awards during her career, but receiving the French Legion of Honor was one of the high points in her life. She supported numerous charitable causes, including civic and cultural programs. They included the restoration of the palace at Versailles and the building of several playgrounds in New York City’s Central Park.
The only thing more important to Estée than her Company was her family, and she was thrilled that her children and grandchildren joined the family business. Estée retired in 1995 and passed away in April, 2004.
The core values that Estée Lauder established – creativity, entrepreneurship, integrity – remain at the heart of The Estée Lauder Companies, now the global leader in prestige beauty, where High-Touch is the cornerstone of its service.