11, 2004 -
I got up especially early (for me) Monday morning to
go to a Memorial Service at the New York State Theatre
for the late cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder (A
Celebration of the Life of Estee Lauder), at
10 AM. I arrived two minutes after ten to find that
the theatre already filled with more than 2400 people
(SRO) and Governor Pataki at the
podium speaking about this remarkable woman who died
in her late nineties only two weeks ago.
I’d missed the musical prelude coming from the New York Pops orchestra
in the pit, conducted by its founder Skitch Henderson.
stage with Mr. Pataki were Mayor Bloomberg,
Leonard Lauder (the eldest of Mrs.
Lauder’s two sons), Marvin Traub,
former chairman of Bloomingdale’s, Carol
Phillips, a business associate of
Mrs. Lauder, who founded the Clinique line
for the Estee Lauder company, Barbara
Walters and Richard Parsons,
CEO of Time Warner, who once upon a time was
Mrs. Lauder’s lawyer.
Pataki and Bloomberg reverently
praised Estee Lauder’s
business genius and paid tribute to
her motherhood. Ms. Phillips fondly
recalled working with this very dynamic
woman who never took “no” for
an answer, paid endless attention to
detail in business as well as her employees
and her family and exercised marketing
genius at all times.
when Mrs. Lauder first
got her line of
she was unhappy
with the location
they had assigned
her and wanted
another, more visible
one just outside
parameters. His “impossible” eventually
all right,” and
that location remains
all these years
later that of Estee
Barbara Walters’ recalled
the Estee who
was maternal and as prone
to give advice as she was
to promote her creams and
lipsticks. They met for lunch
early in Walters’ career
when she was doing the “Today
Show,” and she arrived
still in on-camera makeup. “Never
divorce,” Mrs. Lauder
advised the young television
star, adding: “the
only thing that changes with
the man is the face.”
At that same meeting Estee advised: “Always use a little more blush.” Walters
admitted that she never took the divorce advice, but remembered the blush.
She closed with another piece of sage advice the cosmetics empress gave
her: “always wear white – it flatters your face.” Walters
was wearing white this morning.
Estee’s son Leonard spoke about his mother, referring
to her as Estee, as his mother, his friend, and his business
associate. He recalled age seven when he was first sent to sleep-away
camp. His mother had been instructed to send him on the train
with a boxed lunch. She used a box which had come from Bergdorf
Goodman holding new dress. A very wide box. She packed it so
full, that he mused this morning that she was either worried
about him not getting enough to eat or thinking that his counselors
might share in it, starting her son off on the right foot with
She was, he added, a brilliant mother-in-law. She told him at the time
that he was dating several girls including his now-wife Evelyn,
that her “favorite” was Evelyn. “Mothers-in-law,” he
also recalled her saying after he married Evelyn, “should keep
their mouths shut and their pocketbooks open.” Once Evelyn and
Leonard were married, Estee would then call Evelyn and ask how her son
was treating his new wife.
Richard Parsons described a very focused businesswoman who always achieved
what she set out to achieve and didn’t take “no” even
from her lawyer.
After their talks, Itzhak Perlman came out to play Liebesleid by Fritz
Kreisler and Melodie by Christoph Gluck.
The second set of participants followed: Mrs.
Lauder’s grandchildren, Jane, Aerin (daughters
of Ronald and Jo Carole) and Gary and William (sons
of Leonard and Evelyn), each spoke affectionately of “grandmother,” adding
another dimension to this woman’s life. She was close to
all of her grandchildren and always in communication with them.
Her two main concerns were their safety and health. “If
we always took grandmother’s advice,” Gary Lauder
reflected with amusement, “we’d be all bundled up
and weighing 300 pounds.” With her granddaughters, she
doted and encouraged the independence she lived by herself.
She was a woman who believed in what she was doing. Women, all women,
could look beautiful, she once told a Budapest journalist (when she was
opening the first Estee Lauder boutique in the Eastern bloc after the
fall of the Soviet Union). “A woman is most beautiful on her wedding
day when she has taken that time for herself.” Estee’s advice
to all women was to take that time for herself everyday.
Her son Ronald recalled that when she got her first boutique in Saks – a
great achievement– she was allotted a small space in the back of
the department. Disappointed but undaunted, she asked if it would be
all right if she sent out some cards announcing the opening to her friends.
Her request was approved.
So she sent out some cards – 156,000 of them. The opening day, Adam
Gimbel, then the chairman and owner of Saks arrived at the store
to find thousands of women waiting for it to open. Soon her learned they
all wanted to get to Estee Lauder’s space because she was “giving
away free samples.” There were so many customers, the management
decided she needed to be moved to a larger space temporarily. She suggested
a spot in the front of the store. Temporarily. Forty years later, Estee
Lauder Cosmetics still occupies that spot.
At the end of the service, the orchestra played a medley of songs that
she loved, accompanied by a montage of snapshots and portraits from infancy
to the end of her life. What they revealed illustrated the words of the
speakers – a very pretty woman of style, always determined, attentive,
ambitious, proud and regal. And always beautifully turned out, even in
the most casual circumstances.
As the photos ran through the life, from the youthful Estee, in the embrace
of her handsome young boyfriend (and then husband – Joseph
Lauder) to the young mother, to the cosmetic saleswoman/executive,
to tycoon and socialite to grande dame, one understood the amazing scope
and brilliance of this energetic woman born Josephine Esther Mentzner
in Queens, daughter of immigrants from Austro-Hungary, who had a rich,
full life, inspired by the same sentiment and opportunity that inspired
the career of Irving Berlin and his myriad American songs. This was Estee
Lauder, and her legacy, under the distinguished guardianship of her beloved
family, remains just that: a tribute to a remarkable (and beautiful)
modern American woman.