As part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting various women whom we call Assertive Beauties, that helped to change the world.
Meet Estee Lauder, a woman who started her own beauty company in 1946. Her business, which includes such product lines as Estée Lauder, MAC Cosmetics and Clinique, continues to thrive to this day.
SynopsisBeautician and business executive Estée Lauder, born in Queens, New York, in 1908 (though there is some speculation that she was actually born two years earlier, in 1906), started a beauty company with a skin cream developed by her chemist uncle. After years of selling products on her own, she officially formed Estée Lauder Cosmetics Inc. in 1946. In 1953, her Youth Dew beauty oil took her company to a new level of success. Lauder was as innovative with her marketing strategies as her cosmetic products, eventually making her the richest self-made woman in the world.
Early LifeCosmetics pioneer Estée Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Queens, New York. Her birth date usually given as July 1, 1908, but there has been some speculation that she was actually born two years earlier in 1906. She came from a family of Jewish immigrants—her mother was Hungarian and her father was Czech.Lauder showed her interest in beauty at an early age. She loved to brush her mother’s long hair and apply creams to her face. Through her uncle, a chemist, Lauder later learned how to make her own beauty creams. She was only a teenager when she started selling her products at local hair salons. Lauder marketed her wares as “jars of hope” and even gave out free samples.
In 1930, she married Joseph H. Lauter (later Lauder), a businessman in the garment industry. The couple welcomed their first child, son Leonard, in 1933. Not letting motherhood slow her down, Lauder continued to develop her beauty business. She divorced her husband in 1939, but the pair remarried three years later. In 1944, Lauder gave birth to the couple’s second son, Ronald.
Among their philanthropic endeavours, the Lauders funded the construction of three adventure playgrounds in New York City’s Central Park. In 1978 Estée Lauder was honoured by the French government for her contributions to restoring the Palace of Versailles.
Estée Lauder Cosmetics Inc.After years of operating her cosmetics business, Lauder made it official in 1946 by forming the corporation that still bears her name today. She and her husband were the entire company at the time, and they offered only a handful of products. They were also making these items using the kitchen of a former restaurant. The following year, Lauder had a career breakthrough. She landed her first department store order for her cosmetics. Saks Fifth Avenue ordered $800 in her products, which sold out in two days. Lauder also originated the practice of giving a free gift with purchase marketing strategy around this time.In 1953, Lauder launched her Youth Dew product. This bath oil also doubled as a perfume and it quickly became a big hit with consumers. The business continued to thrive in the next decade with its expansion to overseas markets and the launches of the men’s product line Aramis and the Clinique brand.
Later CareerAs a result of her intense drive and ambition, Lauder became one of the richest self-made women in the world. She ran in elite social circles, attending parties thrown by the likes of Nancy Reagan. Lauder also enjoyed warm relations with such royal figures as Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, and actress Grace Kelly, also known as Princess Grace of Monaco.In 1973, Lauder reduced her role in the company’s day-to-day operations. She resigned her post as president, but stayed on as the company’s chairman of the board. Her oldest son Leonard took over running the family business. Lauder suffered a terrible loss in 1983 with the death of her beloved husband Joseph. In his honor, she established the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Lauder shared her journey to high status and wealth in her 1985 autobiography Estée: A Success Story. Privately held for decades, Lauder’s company went public in 1995. At the time, the business was valued at roughly $2 billion.
In her later life, Lauder devoted much of her time to her philanthropic efforts.She died in New York City on April 24, 2004. The company that she built still remains in the family. Her oldest son Leonard is the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies; her younger son Ronald is the chairman of Clinique Laboratories, LLC, and her grandson William Lauder is the executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies.