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Incredible Women in History: Estée Lauder
While many women are definitely familiar with some of the products that made her famous, it might come as a surprise to learn that there was a real (and always exquisitely made up) face behind the Estée Lauder cosmetic empire. Here’s the fascinating story of the brilliant and creative businesswoman behind one of the world’s most celebrated cosmetic and fragrance lines.
Credit: World Journal Tribune photo by Bill Sauro / Wikimedia Commons
The future Estée Lauder was born Josephine Esther Menzer in what is most widely believed to be 1906, though in her characteristically clever and charming way she was intentionally vague on confirming the year herself. Her parents, Max and Rose, were Czech and Hungarian, respectively, and raised her in Queens, New York.
Estée, as she would eventually become known the world over, was actually a variation of “Esty”, her nickname.
Tools of the Trade
When Estée was in high school, her family welcomed her Hungarian uncle, John Schotz to live with them. Schotz, a chemist by trade, taught Estée how to make a scented skin cream that he had developed using natural ingredients and which she perfected on her own over the next 20 years.
She called the beauty creams that she made “jars of hope” and started demonstrating their effects and making a few sales to local beauty salons. It was at this time that Estée also began giving away free samples of her products, and developing the personal sales techniques that have been copied by other cosmetic lines to this day.
The Steady Uphill Road to Success
Estée built her small cosmetic business on four basic skin care products which she developed with only the help of her husband, Joseph Lauder - until they received their first large order from Saks Fifth Avenue in 1946. Estée and her husband filled this order themselves. It was at this time that Estée came up with the business model of selling her cosmetics at high end department store counters exclusively. This decision, along with her at the time unheard of promotional marketing strategies of giving away free samples and gifts with purchases paid off tremendously, launching Estée Lauder cosmetics into a whole new level of success that has never waned.
“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.”
It is impossible to deny the amount of thought and effort that Estée put into her life’s work. She remained very actively involved in the hiring, marketing and development of Estee Lauder cosmetics, even overseeing the development of Prescriptives, Aramis, Lab Series, Clinique and Origins - five new brands under the umbrella of the Estée Lauder company. By the time she retired in 1995, sales of Estée Lauder products were bringing in almost $8 billion a year.
Estée penned an autobiography, ‘Estée, A Success Story’, in 1986 that details even more of her fascinating life if your interest has been piqued. Although Estée passed away in 2004 at the age of 97, her tenacity, confidence, ingenuity and generosity have made her a legendary icon and role model to brave, entrepreneurial women everywhere.