Birthday: July 1, 1908
Died At Age: 95
Sun Sign: Cancer
Born in: Corona, New York City, New York, United States
Famous as: Founder of the Estée Lauder Companies
Spouse/Ex-: Joseph Lauder (m. 1942–1982)
father: Max Mentzer
mother: Rose Schotz Rosenthal
children: Leonard A. Lauder, Ronald Lauder
Died on: April 24, 2004
place of death: New York City, New York, U.S.
City: New York City
U.S. State: New Yorkers
Founder/Co-Founder: Estée Lauder Companies
education: Newtown High School
Estee Lauder was an American businesswoman and founder of the Estée Lauder Companies, a pioneering cosmetics company. She was also one of the wealthiest self-made women entrepreneurs in America. Her company is based on a basic dream of every woman, to look and feel glamorous. She also held the special distinction of being the only woman on TIME magazine's 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century. Lauder was also the proud recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1988, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. Her founded Estée Lauder Companies is one of the leading cosmetic brands in the world today, selling over in 120 countries and generating revenues of billions of dollars per year. Estee Lauder, in her lifetime, had achieved a special place in the world of cosmetics and left a lasting legacy behind her.
Childhood & Early Years
Estée Lauder was born as Josephine Esther Mentzer in Corona, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City. Officially her birthday falls on July 1, 1908, but according to other accounts, she was born two years earlier on July1, 1906.
Estee’s father, Max Mentzer, was a Czechoslovakian from Holice (now in Slovakia). He migrated to USA in 1890s. Working first as a custom-tailor, he eventually opened a hardware store beneath their family home in Corona.
Estee’s mother, Rose nee Schotz nee Rosenthal, was a Hungarian from Sátoráljaújhely. She came to the USA in 1898 with her five children to join her then husband Abraham Rosenthal. Eventually in 1905, she married Max Mentzer, ten years her younger.
Apart from her five children from her previous marriage, she bore Max four more, Estee being the youngest of them. Although christened Josephine, she preferred to be called by her nickname Estee, to which she later added an accent, making it Estée.
In spite of having to manage such a large family, Rose was gorgeous woman, conscious about her looks and always used a parasol to protect her skin from ultra violet rays. As a child, Estee loved to brush her hair, wanting to grow up like her. She was also influenced greatly by her father.
Estee was also very embarrassed about her parents’ way of life that betrayed their migrant status. A petit blonde with a lovely skin and a determination to look good, she wanted to be fully American, more importantly, a successful actress, with her name and fame spread all over.
While attending Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Estee also served in her father’s shop. Here she learned the basics of retailing; not only about the importance of perfectionism, but also about the outward appearance of merchandise as well as promotion of quality products.
She particularly remembered how they gift-wrapped hammers and nails, which her father gifted to his customers during the Christmas time. Much, later she would use the same tactic to draw more customers.
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In 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Estee’s maternal uncle, John Schotz, came to live with them. A chemist by profession, he 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, Estee now began to spend lots of time, watching his uncle at work. By and by, she started helping him in his business, learning from him how to wash her face or have a facial massage.
Slowly, she started selling the products to her classmates at Newton High School, initially calling them ‘jars of hope’. To prove the effectiveness of her uncle’s products, she also started giving them beauty treatments.
With time, she started giving her uncle’s products specific names like Super Rich All-Purpose Cream, Six-In-One Cold Cream and Dr. Schotz's Viennese Cream etc. But she went into big time marketing only after she graduated from school.
One day, Estee Lauder went to have her hair done at a local salon. Impressed by her delicate skin, its owner, Florence Morris, asked the secret behind it. The next day, Estee walked in with four of her uncle’s products. Impressed, Morris asked her to sell the products at her salon.
While she was selling her products at the salon, she had a humiliating experience. One day, she asked a customer from where she had bought the blouse she was wearing, to which the customer replied, it should not matter to Estee for she would never be able to afford that.
Stung by the customer’s behaviour, Estee vowed that she would earn so much money that she would be able to buy whatever she wanted. She now doubled her effort, selling her products at salons and clubs. This continued despite her marriage to Joseph Lauter in 1930 and birth of their eldest child in 1933.
During this initial period, Estee spent the nights working 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 make-up demonstration. She also provided samples to her clients, sure that they would return for more.
Sometime now, knowing that social contacts are essential for growth of her business, she started reinventing herself. Going to the extent of fabricating her past, she raised herself to the level of her clients. For many years, people knew she belonged to a European noble family.
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Slowly she expanded her market, visiting guests at hotels throughout New York metropolitan area. Although her clientele began to grow, as she later realized, in establishing her career, she neglected her marriage, as a result of which it ended in a divorce in 1939.
Shortly after the divorce, she moved to Miami Beach, Florida, taking her son Leonard with her. Here, she set up her office at Roney Plaza, a hotel on Collins Avenue and began selling her products to wealthy holiday-makers. To spread the word, she also started novel campaign, ‘Tell a Woman’.
In 1942, her son, Leonard, came down with mumps and on getting the news, her ex-husband, Joseph, came to see Leonard. Slowly, the old flame ignited and they remarried in the same year. This time, Joseph left his job to join Estee in her business.
While she was in charge of development and marketing, Joseph started looking after manufacturing and finance. In 1944, they took their first big step and opened their first store in New York.
Soon after their first marriage, the couple had changed their last name from Lauter to Lauder. Therefore, when in 1946, they established their company they named it Estee Lauder Inc. It was decided that the products would be sold through outlets in big departmental stores only.
Initially they had only four products; ‘Cleansing Oil’, ‘Skin Lotion’, ‘Super Rich All Purpose Crème’, and ‘Creme Pack’. They were also its only employees; manufacturing by night in the kitchen of a Manhattan restaurant they had converted into their factory-cum-storage space and selling by day.
In 1947, the company received its first major order. Saks Fifth Avenue, a major luxury store located on Fifth Avenue in New York City, put an order worth of $800. The consignment sold out within two days, thus giving clear indication that Estee could compete with any other big brands.
Mrs. Lauder now began to travel around, pushing her products into big chains. By early 1950s, Estee Lauder cosmetics were being sold in prestigious stores like I. Magnin, Marshall Field's, Nieman-Marcus and Bonwit Teller. They only needed to advertise in a big way.
Unfortunately, their $5,000 advertising budget was too small for big agencies to take any interest in them. Mrs. Lauder now conceived the novel idea of distributing free samples among the shoppers. Unused to such schemes, the store managers predicted the company’s doom. But they were proved wrong.
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Mrs. Lauder now started travelling all over the USA, opening outlets at big departmental stores. Everywhere, she personally picked up the salespersons, staying back to train them. While she had earlier started distributing free samples, she now conceived the idea of giving away gifts with every purchase.
The company also started offering free samples through direct mail and distributing them at charity functions and fashion shows. By 1953, they were secured enough to diversify. In that very year, they introduced ‘Youth Dew’, a bath oil that revolutionized the perfume segment and earned huge profit.
With success of Youth Dew, the Lauders decided to venture abroad. In 1960, they opened their first international outlet at Harrods’, London and an office in Hong Kong in 1961. Concurrently, Mrs. Lauder started introducing other popular fragrances, such as Azurée, Aliage, Private Collection, White Linen, Cinnabar, and Beautiful.
In 1964, Estee Lauder made another revolution when she brought out a masculine fragrance called Aramis. Developed into a separate line for men, Aramis now includes 20 different products.
In 1968, the company created their third brand, ‘Clinique’, a line of fragrance-free, allergy-tested cosmetics. Made in Clinique Laboratories, it was created under the direct supervision of Estee’s daughter-in-law, Evelyn Lauder. Estee was very proud that all her family contributed to the growth of the company she struggled to erect.
In 1973, Estee Lauder resigned from her position as President of the Company in favor of her son Leonard, but remained the Chairman of the Board. By then, Estee products were being sold in 70 countries across the world.
Although Estee Lauder was no longer involved in the day-today running of the company, she continued to be productive, creating two more brands under her direct supervision. In 1979, she introduced the Prescriptives line of cosmetics and in 1990, the Origins, the first wellness brand in U.S. department stores.
Awards & Achievements
In 1967, she was included in the lists of ‘100 best American entrepreneurs’ and in 1970 in the list of ‘Ten Outstanding Women in Business in the United States’.
In 1968, she received the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Spirit of Achievement Award.
On 16 January 1978, she became the first woman to receive the Insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (France).
In 1988, she was inducted to the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame.
In 2004, shortly before her death, Estee Lauder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Personal Life & Legacy
On January 15, 1930, Estee married Joseph Lauter, a surname that was changed to Lauder shortly after the marriage. During this period, Estee was too preoccupied with establishing her business, as a result of which, their marriage ended in a divorce in 1939.
The couple remarried on December 7, 1942 and they remained together until Joseph’s death in 1982. They had two sons; Leonard born in 1933 and Ronald in 1944.
After the death of her husband, Estee Lauder spent more and more time in philanthropic works. Among others, she set up Joseph T. Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in memory of her husband. She also led a very flamboyant social life.
On April 24, 2004, Estee Lauder died from cardiopulmonary arrest at her home in Manhattan. She was survived by her two sons, daughters-in-law and several grandchildren.
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 began to ask from where they could get the product. Capitulated, the manager finally placed the order.