Cosmetics Magnate Estee Lauder Dies at 97
A favorite selling tool was offering a gift with a purchase - a giveaway that began out of necessity. Lauder started off without enough of an advertising budget to attract an agency, so she used the money instead for free samples.
In 1930, Lauder married a garment center businessman named Joseph Lauter (later changed to Lauder), and they had their first son, Leonard, three years later.
In 1939 she got a divorce and moved to Florida. Years later, she explained why: "I was married very young. You think you missed something out of life. But I found out that I had the sweetest husband in the world."
She and Joseph remarried in 1942, had a second son, Ronald, and went into business together. Her persistence in selling paid off in 1948, when she persuaded a buyer at Saks to place a sizable order.
She and her husband filled the order themselves, cooking up the creams in their factory, a converted restaurant, and bottling them in attractive jars. In two days, Saks sold out and the company was on its way.
While her husband handled the business at home, she traveled to each new store that took her line and personally selected and trained the new saleswomen.
Packaging developed by Lauder in a delicate shade of greenish blue - chosen because it complemented virtually any bathroom decor - became a trademark.
Estee Lauder became a household name in 1953, when the company debuted Youth Dew, a bath oil and perfume. Over the years she added new lines and new products, fragrances such as White Linen and Cinnabar, the Aramis line of men's toiletries and the Clinique line of fragrance-free, allergy-tested products.
She dueled with archrival Charles Revson, who built the Revlon empire. "She was the one competitor he set out to beat but couldn't," wrote Revson biographer Andrew Tobias.
After being vague about her background for years, Lauder rushed her autobiography, "Estee: A Success Story," into print in 1985. Typically, she was out to beat the competition: in this case Lee Israel's unauthorized biography, "Estee Lauder: Beyond the Magic."
As her privately held company grew, Lauder and her husband involved their sons in the decision making. Leonard Lauder took over as chief executive officer in 1982, the year before Joseph Lauder died, and nearly quadrupled annual sales by 1995. Ronald Lauder left the business for several years in the '80s, serving posts in the Reagan administration and making a failed bid for mayor of New York. He then returned to the company.
Estee Lauder's public life had dwindled after she broke her hip in 1994.
The following year, the company, long tightly held by family members, announced plans to raise $335 million in an initial public stock offering.
This year Forbes magazine estimated the net worth of her sons at $5.1 billion total, ranking them both among the top 300 richest people in the world.
"Beauty is an attitude," Estee Lauder once said. "There are no ugly women - only women who don't care or who don't believe they're attractive."
Associated Press writer Samantha Critchell contributed to this story.
© 2004 The Associated Press