View Full Version : Estee Lauder Dies at Age 97

26-04-04, 00:04
(April 25) - Estée Lauder, the last independent titan of the cosmetics industry who convinced generations of women that her beauty creams were "jars of hope" in their quest for the eternal look of youth, died Saturday at her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her family said she was 97.

The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest, said her son Leonard A. Lauder.

The pursuit of beauty is honorable," Mrs. Lauder used to say. And she clearly believed that the business of beauty was just as honorable. No one but a believer could have given so much of herself in becoming an internationally respected strategist in the age-old struggle against the wrinkles, sags, bags and blemishes that women abhor and that men would apparently prefer not to see. Her weapons in that effort were creams, powders, ointments, potions and muds, many containing top-secret emollients. And if they didn't do the trick, she had an array of scents, equally secret in their constitution, that might befog man's vision of woman aging.

Her efforts resulted in the establishment of a privately held company estimated to be worth more than $2 billion when it went public in 1995. In 2003, it had 21,500 employees and sales of $5.12 billion. Its products are sold in more than 130 countries across five continents.

Estée Lauder Companies was not formally established until 1946 but its roots go back to the 1920's with facial creams concocted over a gas stove in a modest kitchen by her uncle, John Schotz, then nurtured financially and technically years later by Arnold L. van Ameringen, a Dutch-born industrialist. The company grew exponentially in the 1950's with the introduction of a bath oil called "Youth Dew," the creation of which is variously attributed to Mrs. Lauder and Mr. van Ameringen.

"I love my product," Mrs. Lauder once said. "I love to touch the creams, smell them, look at them, carry them with me. A person has to love her harvest if she's to expect others to love it."

Mrs. Lauder also loved to touch her customers. During the period when she was building her business, she invariably showed up at stores where her products were being introduced and with no provocation at all, whip out a jar and rub its contents on the wrist or face of a prospective customer so that her skin would acquire "a gentle glow." She also understood the rewards that come from generosity and she was known in the industry for the free samples she gave through department stores and at social events and fashion shows and particularly for the conception of "gift with purchase." She introduced these creative marketing measures when her company was in its infancy and she was advised by an agency that the $50,000 she had available for advertising was too small to have any effect.

Although she was protective toward those who trusted her to create efficacious products, she was predisposed to stark candor when she described her competitors, all of them ferocious and all of whom she outlived by many years. She referred to Charles Revson as "my arch and implacable enemy" (no one ever dared seat them next to each other at parties), and she said that Elizabeth Arden was "not a nice woman, not a generous woman." She said that Sam Rubin of Faberge was "patronizing even for those prefeminist days" and that although Helena Rubenstein may have looked like a tsarina, "the skin on her neck was less than perfect."

Perfection in that most powerful but fragile of objects, the face of woman, consumed Mrs. Lauder, and so did her desire to make a lot of money and leave the conditions of her childhood behind her. "Someday, I will have whatever I want," she is said to have predicted many years ago. By the late 1980's, with personal assets of $233 million and a listing in Forbes's gallery of the 400 richest Americans, it was clear that she had made her prediction come true.

Although the mythmaking that is so much of the magic of the beauty industry led many women to believe that Estée Lauder was born in Europe to an aristocratic family, she was a New Yorker and not an aristocrat at all. Josephine Esther Mentzer was born at home in Corona, Queens, on July 1, 1908. although her family believes it may have been two years earlier. She was the daughter of Max Mentzer, a hardwareman who was the proprietor of a hay and seed store, and Rose Schotz Rosenthal Mentzer a woman who was much interested in beauty regimens.

The Mentzers were hard-working immigrants and Esther, destined to become known to the world by the diminutive of Estée, recalled well the wrapping of gifts of hammers and nails at Christmastime, her father's gifts to his customers.

In her 1985 autobiography, "Estée, A Success Story," Mrs. Lauder recalled her mother as "a Hungarian beauty whose mother was a French Catholic and whose father was a Hungarian Jew." She also described her father as "an elegant, dapper monarchist in Europe, who, when transported to a new country, still carried a cane and gloves on Sundays."

In interviews conducted over the years with various journalists, Mrs. Lauder said much that indicated her beginnings were quite genteel and comfortable. But Lee Israel, whose unauthorized biography, "Estée Lauder, Beyond the Magic," was also published in 1985, maintained that the Lauder family's life in a friendly but working-class Italian neighborhood was much more modest than Mrs. Lauder would ever admit.

Whatever her circumstances, there was no quarrel about the suggestion that as a young girl, Estée, a petite blonde, was known for her lovely skin and her determination to always look good. This determination was heightened when, as a student at Newtown High School in Queens, she became interested in the work of her uncle, John Schotz.

He had come to the United States from his native Hungary in 1900 with considerable training in chemistry. People referred to him as "Dr. Schotz," although it is not clear that he had a doctorate. Whatever his background, he created a number of beauty products, including "Six-in-One Cold Cream," "Dr. Schotz Viennese Cream," and a number of fragrances. But the New Way Laboratory he created in 1924 was hardly limited to the needs of the beautiful people. It also produced a poultry-lice killer, a cure for mange, suppositories, a cream that was touted as promoting the building of muscles, a freckle remover and even embalming fluid. Years later, a chemist for Revlon said that although Dr. Schotz's beauty-care products were heavy and "very old fashioned," they were good for their time and efficacious, especially for dry skin. One of the Schotz products even contained a primitive form of sunscreen.

Estée studied his home-made products closely and, since Dr. Schotz was no businessman, helped him to sell them. Estée said little about her past and it is not clear that she even graduated from Newtown High. But in school or out, she remained fascinated with his beauty aids and was still promoting them in 1930 when she married Joseph Lauter, whom she had been dating for about three years. He was the son of William and Lillian Lauter, who had come to the United States from the part of Austria known as Galicia. Mr. Lauter had tried his hand without much success in both the silk and button business. The name was changed to "Lauder" later in the decade.

Their marriage foundered and they were divorced in 1939. Their separation would last until 1942, at which time Estée told her friends that Mr. Lauder was a very nice man and that, "I don't know why I broke off with him." They would remarry that December and remain together until his death in 1982.

She is survived by her sons, Leonard, the chairman of the company, and Ronald S., chairman of Clinique Laboratories; four grandchildren, including William, who will become chief executive of the Estée Lauder Companies on July 1; and six great-grandchildren.

During the period that Mrs. Lauder and her husband were apart, however, she met and became close to Arnold L. van Ameringen, who would become president and chairman of International Fragrances and Flavorings, a company that formulates fragrances for many well-known beauty houses and which has no connection with the Lauder empire. They became lifelong friends and Mr. van Ameringen provided both credit and, some said, product formula for the firm that would bear Mrs. Lauder's name. From the beginning, she was its chief executive officer and made its most important marketing and product development decisions. In 1944, the Lauders opened concessions in beauty salons in New York and sold products to out-of-town salons through jobbers. Leonard Lauder, who would become president of the company in the 1970's, recalled that "we had a Boston wholesaler, the Samuel Bernstein Hair Company, and Mr. Bernstein used to talk to me about his son Lenny." . Mrs. Lauder would go on the road, attempting to induce quality stores to feature her merchandise. "I have the secrets," she would tell prospective clients. "Start the New Year with a new face."

The concessions were closed in 1946 and gradually the company sold its products to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, and that helped to give her products the prestigious aura they needed for more aggressive marketing.

The introduction of "Youth Dew" and Mrs. Lauder's sales expertise combined to make the company go from a sales volume of no more than $400 a week to around $5,000 in the early 1950's. It still had no sales staff as such, but it was gaining an image of quality from the department stores in which it was displayed. By 1958, when Leonard joined the company, sales had soared to about $800,000 a year.

The company began to grow more rapidly. In 1965, she opened her first beauty "spa" in Bloomingdale's New York store. She planned her counters personally and determined that each "would be a tiny, shining spa — complete. I'd make sure the color I chose was the same wonderful in-betweeen-a-blue-and-a-green that whispered elegance, aristocracy, and also complimented bathroom wallpapers."

By this time, Estée Lauder was well on her way to becoming the reigning doyenne of beauty and her list of friends began to reflect her regal image. The Duchess of Windsor had long been a friend and now there were others. Princess Grace of Monaco sent her Christmas cards and visited her in New York and many socially prominent people invited her to their parties, among them the Begum Aga Khan, C.Z. Guest, Florence Gould, Nancy Reagan and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In January 1978, when she received France's Legion of Honor, it did not seem to bother the French that Estée Lauder's fragrances were outselling Chanel's by 3 to 1. Gerard Gaussen, the consul general of France, pinned the medal on her and said that she "represents what we French admire most about Americans — brains and heart."

Mrs. Lauder was a generous contributor to civic causes and charities. The Lauder Foundation was set up in the 1960's and it has, among other things, set up three playgrounds in Central Park. The Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

It was probably inevitable that such a woman would have her detractors, too. Some said she had never adequately compensated John Schotz, who died in the 1960's in modest circumstances, at a time when Estée Lauder Inc., was grossing around $14 million a year. Others, according to her biographer, Lee Israel, complained that she denied or played down her Jewishness (Ms. Israel said that Mrs. Lauder told one interviewer that she was half Italian and convent-bred), that she was a name-dropper, a social climber, and not entirely loyal. Ms. Israel quotes an ex-secretary to the Duchess of Windsor as complaining that after the Duke died and the Duchess became infirm, Mrs. Lauder "deserted" her.

Unperturbed by the nay-sayers, Mrs. Lauder lived life vigorously, taking from it what she wanted and rejecting things that would take her away from the people and places she knew. Thus, she rejected President Nixon's offer to make her ambassador to Luxembourg (she blamed her husband, who reportedly said, "I'm not going to carry her bags") but embraced the simple things of life.

In 1982, she demonstrated how her simple approach to life worked. When she felt that her ruby and diamond tiara clashed horribly with her turquoise dress, she immediately switched to a more suitable gold and diamond crown. "You know how it is," she told Charlotte Curtis of The New York Times. "You have to wear something."