Beauty empress: up close with Aerin Lauder
Direct from NYC
Picture perfect isn't the most common way you'd describe a business mogul, yet it's the first one that comes to mind when I leave Aerin Lauder's Midtown office. Granddaughter of Estée Lauder, whom Aerin only refers to by name (never as Grandma), Aerin is as picture perfect as her office, products and eponymous brand. Lauder holds the position of a style and image director for Estée Lauder Inc. and created her lifestyle empire based around no-fuss beauty essentials that every modern woman needs. Her imagined customer? A woman who would much rather focus on her career, family, and the million other things that command her attention, rather than finding the perfect vase or blush.
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"I think it's a simpler way to shop," she says of AERIN, an expertly curated collection of products designed to beautify a woman's life. "Women like the idea of an edit. We all agree that we need more time. Women are busier than ever, they are juggling careers, homes, families. They feel like they do it all, they should do it all, but how do you balance it? Shopping a lifestyle brand makes life easier for them."
The idea came after Lauder, armed with years of experience steering Estée Lauder brands and being surrounded by the latest beauty innovations, still longed for some warmth and a personal touch. "I thought there was a real void in the marketplace for this type of modern, feminine lifestyle brand. AERIN is all about storytelling; it's authentic. You know, I'm 45 years old, I have two teenage boys - I definitely live the brand." She asked herself, what products she couldn't live without, and ended up with a foundation, bronzer, lip conditioner and her bestselling Rose Hand and Body Cream.
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With Lauder, authenticity is not just a word. When you smell, apply, wear or touch any of the AERIN products, you get a part of her. The swirled brown marbles and lush green ceramics of her fall collection draw inspiration from Vienna where she lived for almost two years. Same with the two new limited edition lipsticks for the Neue Galerie, which echo the shades in Klimt's masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, nicknamed Woman in Gold. Another place of reference is the South of France, where Aerin used to spend time as a little girl. The vision of straw chairs on porches inspired a medley of gardenia and orange blossoms in her Gardenia Rattan fragrance.
After four decades in the industry, she knows her stuff. Behind that svelte frame and ash-blond hair is a woman functioning on a monumental scale, even when she talks about lipstick. She sure knows the formula for success. "A great product and quality are very important. Estée always used to say that if it's got her name on it, it had to be the best. Now it's my name on these fragrances, lights and accessories, so they have to be the best." And not just quality. "Consumers now are savvier than ever. They want products to work, they want skincare to live up to the claims; they are very aware of anti-ageing and skin conditions. I think people are just much more knowledgeable about what they are looking for," she adds.
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What they are looking for, turns out to be stories, abundant in the world of AERIN the brand. Ikat Jasmine, for instance, is about Aerin's go-to uniform - a pair of jeans and a white shirt. "It's the idea of the timeless, effortless style," she explains. "The idea of white jasmine and orange blossom makes it a very easy fragrance to wear, but elegant at the same time." Lilac Path was born when Lauder was spellbound by a blossoming lilac bush on her South Hampton property and landed right on trend with her fragrance idea.
Aerin says she is a tough boss ("I have a very good memory, so I find all these little details"), but a team player. And she has high standards to live up to. "One experience I always wish I had was to be able to work with Estée," she says. Indeed, the $10 billion company with 25 brands under its umbrella started with just one inspired and very hardworking woman.
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"Estée always brought work home with her; she loved it so much. As long as I can remember there were always fragrance samples on her desks, magazines with little tabs. It was her life," recalls Aerin, who was born when the beauty tycoon was already in her 60's. "You know, she was a genius marketer. She was known to do makeovers on people when they were under a hair dryer, trapped. She was very warm, and she would come in and show them the product, put a body lotion on their hands so they would smell it. Estée invented gift with purchase and the idea of sampling. Everyone wants a little gift, no matter who you are. She was very clever."
What was grandma's biggest lesson? "Estée taught me the importance of style, elegance, consistency. When you look at pictures of her from events or different times in her life, she always had a very consistent sense of style." As for Aerin's own fashion sense, it's quite simple. She loves a simple jacket, shirt and pants combo and focuses on great accessories-"it's immediate gratification, so I dress quite simple, but my accessories speak."
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As we sit in an airy office filled with light, pastel artworks, fluffy chairs, scraps of rich fabrics and dainty tubes, Aerin is at home. She lives in a beautiful world perfected by generations of amazing women, where everything makes perfect sense. There is simplicity to it all, too.
So what's next for the AERIN empire? "We are exploring designer collaborations. We're coming out with a new collaboration with a handbag designer this Christmas. I can't say more right now, but you will see. I am a strong believer in taking two unexpected but like-minded brands and collaborating. I think it's fun." Frankly, if Aerin's flawless strategy calls for fun, then we're all for it, too.
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