Why I love Mrs Estee Lauder

Mrs Estee Lauder, as gals in the biz call her, is just a hero. Full stop. End of story.

Except it isn’t the end of the story: Mrs E died in 2004 but her name is still synonymous with one of the biggest and most respected beauty empires.

But what is key isn’t so much the financial success of her company or the number of people who know her name, although those are both impressive stats. What is most impressive about Estee is her attitude.

I hate a lot of inspo quotes, and I hate all the ‘Maggie Thatcher only got 3 hours of sleep’ buzz phrases because they are always so unattainable and patronising. But Mrs Lauder always just cuts to the chase.

A painting I did of Mrs Estee Lauder for my makeup table

“I never dreamed of success, I worked for it” is so close to being twee – but it isn’t. When coupled with the biography of the beauty pioneer, you can understand that she really worked hard… for fun. When Estee Lauder the cosmetics company became a household name, Estee Lauder the woman realised there was no real competition in the market – so she set up her own rival brand, Clinique. Imagine being so good you have to play yourself at your own game?

There are countless examples of her upping the game. She asked her marketing team how many hours the best long-wear foundation on the market claimed to provide – 8 hours. She told her scientists to “double it” and thus doublewear was born; the UK’s No.1 best selling premium foundation, still, 23 years later.

All these anecdotes come from nearer the end of her career, when she had access to power and influence. What is really jaw dropping is how she behaved to get there.

Youth Dew is renowned as a game changing scent, and for so many reasons. Firstly, technically, it smelled different to anything that had gone before. But it was also socio-politically ground-breaking. Knowing it was taboo for women to buy their own perfumes (they had to wait for their husband to buy it for a special occasion) Estee decided to relabel. She marketed Youth Dew as a bath oil, but directed women to dab a little, neat, on to their wrists. This removed the stigma from buying perfume and made it available to more women as and when they wanted it. Secondly, as a bath oil, Estee was able to reduce the sale price, further democratising the product. Estee believed every woman deserved to feel beautiful, it was the ethos of her company, and opening up perfume to every woman to buy for herself was one of many steps.

The story is that Mrs Lauder went to a high end department store to pitch her best selling Youth Dew perfume/ bath oil. Accounts differ as to whether it was in Paris or New York, but regardless: they weren’t buying it. It is assumed the store manager was snobbish about her product – she was a 2nd generation immigrant in New York, not an upper class French or Italian couturier. But Lauder knew her product was good and needed to be on shelves. Whether it was deliberate or an accident, a bottle of the now iconic scent smashed on the floor. Shoppers came flocking, asking where they could buy this new heavenly fragrance. The store manager changed their mind. The scent went on to be a best seller.

When I say I like her attitude, I don’t mean the sort of toxic positivity that annoys me in the usual insta inspo quotes but her quick thinking, her cunning, her on the spot inventiveness. Her risk taking. How it didn’t matter what everyone else said was ‘the done thing’ or ‘acceptable’ – she did everything her own way.

I don’t know how often I’ve been knocked back because I talk too loud or too much, or I’m clumsy and messy and I’m ‘unprofessional’. But I can see that in Mrs Estee Lauder, I know that people pulled the same lines on her but she didn’t listen, and she did what she wanted.

And what she wanted, was to be the best at her own game.

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