1908, Queens, NY
2004, New York, NY
In London, where Lauder offered a gift-with-purchase at Fortnum and Mason, store clerks found that one of the redeemed cards had been addressed to HM Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace.
Photos: (left) Estée Lauder, Inc.; (right) WGBH
The ninth child of an immigrant household created a family cosmetics dynasty by giving her products away.
A Family Business
Estée Lauder was born Josephine Ester Mentzer to Hungarian Jewish immigrants in Queens, New York in 1908. The family lived over their hardware store, and prospered -- but the young woman known as "Estelle" had dreams of great wealth. Blessed with beautiful skin, she soon married and launched her business. She took a chemist uncle's skin cream formulas and began peddling products directly to women in Manhattan beauty salons.
Her business was steady on a small scale for years, but Estelle -- now Estée -- yearned for more. She produced her own makeup line and, in 1948, persuaded Saks Fifth Avenue executives to carry her cosmetics. To meet the new demand, Lauder risked six months' rent in office space, then joined her husband and older son in mixing formulas, sterilizing and filling jars. Now available as a prestige product in high-end stores, Lauder's empire grew quickly.
Lauder pioneered two marketing techniques that are common today: the free gift and the gift-with-purchase. In the postwar consumer boom, women loved being able to sample products before buying them.
Reinvestment and Expansion
Lauder put her profits back into the business, launching a fragrance for women, "Youth Dew," in 1953. She cleverly convinced women they could buy perfume for themselves, not just hope for it as a gift. Business grew tenfold, and Lauder expanded overseas by 1960. Lauder's two sons entered the family business and gradually took responsibility for it. By 2004, the year of Estée's death, the company had become a department-store giant. It had launched successful new cosmetic brands including Clinique, Prescriptives, Stila, M.A.C., and Aramis, and was the largest privately held cosmetics company in the world.