Going the Distance
Estée Lauder began expanding internationally in 1960 and is now sold in over 150 countries across the globe.
"Only a Lauder knows"
To prevent spies from copying her fragrance formulas, Estée came up with an elaborate coding system for testing vials that was only known by “me, Joe and our sons.”
Perfume batches were produced only 95% complete, and then a member of the Lauder family would go in person to the factory before the fragrance was shipped out to retailers, “to supply the missing ‘secret 5%’–the ingredient without which the fragrance can never be complete,” Estée would explain. “The final ingredient is never known to our factories, essence suppliers, anyone,” she noted. “Only a Lauder knows.”
A Most Precious and Private Scent
In her office, Estée kept a rare collection of oils, extracts and essences from every corner of the world. She used these raw notes to mix up a signature bespoke blend that she would dab on often—especially when entertaining friends like Nancy Reagan, the Duchess of Windsor, and former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.
In 1973, Estée bottled the aroma and called it Private Collection. It was a scent she could recognize anywhere. When attending a masked ball with her close friend, Princess Grace of Monaco, she reportedly leaned over and said, “I know it’s you Grace. I could mistake a pair of royal eyes but never my own perfume.”
An extraordinary collection of scents created by the brand would follow, including Aliage, Estée, Cinnabar, White Linen, Beautiful, Pleasures, Beyond Paradise, Sensuous, Sensuous Nude, and, most recently, Modern Muse. For all of Estée’s successes as one of the century’s best noses, The American Society of Perfumers awarded her its first Living Legend award in 1994.
When it came to choosing the "face" of her brand, Estée made the bold decision to use just one model, Karen Graham. “We’d be taking a gamble. The public might tire of one face. I thought not,” she reasoned. She was right: Graham modeled for the company from 1970 to 1985 (briefly returning in 1998), helping introduce the brand to millions of women around the world.
When it came time to welcome a new generation of brand faces, Estée stuck to a specific guideline: "My women are elegant achievers…strong and smart." Models Willow Bay and Paulina Porizkova would follow, as well as actresses such as Elizabeth Hurley and Gwyneth Paltrow, and fashion runway stars Liya Kebede, Carolyn Murphy, Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, Hilary Rhoda, Constance Jablonski and Arizona Muse.
Early ads were shot exclusively by lensman Victor Skrebniski, who published the book "Five Beautiful Women" in homage to the Estée Lauder faces that had long served as his muses. In recent years, top photographers like Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Inez and Vinoodh, Mario Sorrenti and Craig McDean have worked on campaigns for the brand.
Where the Heart is
“My homes, in every sense of the word then, are settings of inspiration." Estée said. Which prompted her to keep homes in some of her favorite places, including Long Island, New York City, London, Palm Beach and Cap Ferrat.
Each residence had “a sense of airiness, lightness and brightness” and often sparked her “creative juices,” she’d say. The scented gardens around her French Riviera home in Cap Ferrat piqued her senses while working on the Beautiful fragrance, for example, and the palm-leaf shade of her London sitting room was top of mind when she dreamed up the green-based perfume, Aliage.
The Little Brown Bottle with Big Results
One of Estée's most enduring legacies came in the form of a "little brown bottle." In 1982, she launched Night Repair Cellular Recovery Complex, the first scientifically based serum to repair skin's appearance during the night. Now incorporating the latest innovations and with 25+ patents worldwide, Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II helps promote the natural synchronization of skin's nighttime repair process to help skin look younger.