Estee Lauder

Estee Lauder is one of the wealthiest self-made women in America. Examine the public and private life of the woman who built her cosmetics empire on the dream of every woman: to feel beautiful.


Josephine Esther Mentzer, daughter of immigrants, lived above her father's hardware store. She started her enterprise by selling skin creams concocted by her uncle, a chemist, in beauty shops, beach clubs and resorts.

She met Joseph Lauter when she was in her early 20s and they married on 15 January 1930. Their surname later changed to Lauder and Josephine dropped her first name when naming her cosmetics brand.

Their son Leonard was born on 19 March 1933 and the couple separated in 1939 when she moved to Florida. However, they remarried in 1942 and had a second son called Ronald. They stayed married until Joseph's death in 1982.

Lauder established the Estee Lauder company in 1935 and her first foray into commercial success occurred after Florence Morris, the owner of the House of Ash Blondes salon, asked Lauder how she got such perfect skin. She returned to the salon with her uncle's creams and showed customers how to use them. Lauder was then asked to sell them at the establishment.

In 1948, she persuaded the bosses of New York City department stores to give her counter space at Saks Fifth Avenue. Once in that space, she utilised a personal selling approach that proved as potent as the promise of her skin regimens and perfumes. Even after 40 years in business, Estee Lauder would attend every launch of a new cosmetics counter or shop.

She would give her famous friends and acquaintances small samples of her products for their handbags; she wanted her brand in the hands of people who were known for having "the best". One person that Lauder sent her products too was the actress and later Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly.


Estee Lauder loved to hold large dinner parties. She enjoyed "beautiful people", celebrities, the rich and famous, and could invite them to dine with her at a table that could seat 30 without extensions.

In 1953, Lauder introduced her first fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. Instead of using their French perfumes by the drop behind each ear, women were using Youth Dew by the bottle in their bath water.

In the first year, Youth Dew sold fifty thousand. By 1984, the figure had jumped to one hundred and fifty million.

She was the subject of a TV documentary in 1985 called 'Estee Lauder: The Sweet Smell of Success' in which she explained that she had never worked a day in her life without selling.

Lauder and both her sons are billionaires, with sales going up every year, as Estee Lauder products remain one of the most popular cosmetics lines. The brand is now recognised in over 120 countries.

She died of cardiopulmonary arrest on 26 April 2004. She was aged at least 95, though no-one could confirm her actual date of birth and her family believe that she may even have been two years older.