NY1's Budd Mishkin continues his series, "One On 1," with a profile of cosmetics executive Evelyn Lauder.
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Her official title is senior corporate vice president, but at the Estee Lauder Companies, Evelyn Lauder has a nickname — “The Nose.”
It may not be the chicest nickname, but it applies.
Who knows how many arms Evelyn Lauder has smelled in more than 40 years at Estee Lauder?
“The sense of smell is one of the most primal of the senses in human beings," she says. “We do have the ability to learn, to develop our sense of smell, I believe, but we don't."
The list of products under the Estee Lauder name reads like a “who's who” of makeup and fragrances - Clinique, Origins, MðAðC, to name but a few. So how did Evelyn Lauder, a daughter of Austrian and Polish immigrants, and a one-time New York City schoolteacher, become a tastemaker for women and men all over the world?
It started shortly after she was married to Estee Lauder's son Leonard, and the company was considering its first men’s fragrance, Aramis.
“There was something in it that I found tremendously attractive to me on Leonard,” says Lauder. “It was the aramis root, and there wasn't enough of it. So my mother-in-law was really sweet and she said, ÎGo down to the lab. You smell it until you get it to where you want it to be.’ And that was my first experience with fragrance development."
Lauder's finely honed sense of smell is primarily used to determine what smells nice, and what all of us are going to want to buy. But occasionally, like one night at the Whitney Museum, it's a safety feature.
"I said, ÎThere's something that's burning.’ They found a menu leaning on a candle that hadn't yet caught fire, but it was smoldering, and it was about 75 feet away from me. No one else smelled it, but I did,” she says.
The name Estee Lauder is synonymous worldwide with beauty. But over the last decade, the name Evelyn Lauder has become synonymous with the fight against something that is hardly beautiful - breast cancer. She's raised so much money that there is a breast center in her name at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
Lauder’s breast cancer research foundation has used the pink ribbon, bathing buildings around the world in pink, and this year's "Give the Pink Slip to Breast Cancer" campaign to raise awareness and money for research. Lauder says that when the foundation started in 1993, there were many groups doing work on mammography and early detection, but no one was focused on research.
"What good is it if you have the discovery that you have a breast cancer if you don't have the latest in making advances and improvements on a year-by-year basis?” she says.
Lauder got involved after seeing a documentary in the late 1980’s on breast cancer survivors. Her memory is that at the time, such public discussion of the subject was rare.
“When we started it was taboo to discuss it,” she says. “If a woman had it she didn't tell anybody except her close friends."
That taboo is gone. Lauder has gotten A-list names like Sean Combs and Elizabeth Hurley involved in the fight, all in the hopes of making breast cancer a thing of the past.
“I want to go out of business in breast cancer,” she says. “I want to read my books on the beach, I want to go to the movies more often, I want to stay in the cosmetic business and get out of the breast cancer business."
Long before Evelyn Lauder was a force in international cosmetics and the battle against breast cancer, she was Evelyn Hausner, a little girl growing up in Vienna.
But in March 1938, the Anschluss, Hitler's annexation of Austria, forced the Lauder’s to leave, first to Belgium, then to London. Her dad was a Polish citizen, which was no problem by the British government's standards. But not so her mom, an Austrian citizen.
"She was sent to the Isle of Mann, which is where they interred all these Austrian and German civilians to keep them from possibly making any contact with any spy network," she says.
So while her dad made plans for the family to leave for America, he temporarily put Evelyn in a nursery away from home.
"While I was clutching my father's leg, I knew I was a girl, I knew that I was going to grow into a woman, it just flashed into my mind that I was going to become a mother, and I promised myself at that age that I would never do that to my child,” she says.
The Hausner’s finally settled in New York. Her mother's side of the family made it out of Austria safely, but much of her father's family perished in Poland.
Lauder eventually went to Hunter College High School and then Hunter College, where she met her future husband. She became part of a family and a company that would have great wealth and international influence.
And yet, she says, “My own life experience taught me early, really as a 3 and a 4-year-old, that money comes and money goes, and what you have is your education, your character, and your morals,” she says.
Lauder taught in the New York City school system, but the schedule conflicted with her husband's travels for the company, so she gave up teaching for the business of cosmetics.
“I decided that I wouldn't want to have any other gorgeous women around him while he was traveling, and that for me, as much as I really loved being with children, I was more interested in maintaining my marriage at that point than following that other path," she says.
In hindsight, it looks like a no-brainer, giving up teaching for the high profile international travel world of cosmetics. But when Evelyn Lauder joined, the company wasn't exactly the international mega-company it would become.
"When I first met her no one had ever heard of the name Estee Lauder," she says. “We had five products in the line, we only had two or three colors in our lipsticks. It was a baby company."
It wouldn't stay a baby company for long - more like a multi-billion dollar company.
Evelyn Lauder raised two sons in that environment. How does one keep kids' feet on the ground when the family business has succeeded beyond all expectations?
“You give them the same allowances as everybody else, and you don't fly first class. That's what we did,” she says. “They didn't know they had any advantages over everybody else. They were normal. They took the bus to school, they did not go in limousines.”
But invariably, any talk about the company comes back to its founder. Estee Lauder died last year at the age of 97. To the public, she was one of the most successful businesswomen in the country. To Evelyn Lauder, she was first and foremost a mother-in-law.
"She used to call me up and say, ÎIs Leonard good to you?’ and I loved her for that,” she says. “And we used to walk down the street together and we’d share a bag of chestnuts, because she and I both loved chestnuts and we really loved each other.”
- Budd Mishkin
|ONE ON 1 EXTRA|
Take a behind-the-scenes look at this week's "One On 1" profile with Budd Mishkin's full, uncut interview in Real Video: