Fashion & Beauty

Super Women: Aerin Lauder and Her Expanding World

November 17, 2014

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THE SCENE AT THE TYSONS CORNER Nordstrom on the third Saturday of November is one of controlled chaos. All across the main floor there are line-ups of tall stools, each occupied by a woman (and one young man that I notice) getting makeovers and skincare tips. It’s the store’s Fall 2014 Beauty Trend event, and it’s clearly a success.

“It’s been like this since 7:30 this morning,” a smiling Nordstrom person says, surveying the scene around her, which is mostly a sea of faces.

Behind a crisp white table in one set-aside area sits Aerin Lauder–granddaughter of Estee Lauder, the name on Aerin Beauty makeup and fragrance, and head of her own lifestyle company–serene and smiling as she autographs her book, “Beauty at Home,” for the dozens of women lined up for a glimpse.

We get more than a glimpse. “You look like a kid,” I tell her as we step into a quiet(er) corner of the signing area. “I’m 44,” she says simply, looking down at me (she’s pretty tall). We’re practically nose-to-nose, but that’s because the noise level is daunting.

I know her age, I’ve read her bio, but I am still amazed. The few lines around her eyes only reinforce how young the rest of her is.

Makeup? “I like to look comfortable, with a natural palette.”

That natural palette is one of the things Lauder is, by her very presence, hawking here today. Aerin Beauty features a “Weekday” palette of eyeshadow, blush and lipstick and a “Weekend” palette, the latter “something a little lighter,” she says.

We remember what makeup artist Carl Ray, the man behind Michelle Obama’s flawless look, has said–that you can emphasize the eye or the lip, but not both.

Lauder agrees that this is the modern face. “If you have a dramatic smoky eye, you should have a neutral lip. If you want a bolder lip, then you should have a simple lined eye.

“If you have both,” she says firmly, “you’re wearing too much makeup.”

Lauder’s Aerin fragrances and her Aerin makeup fly under the Estee Lauder banner. The home and design stuff is a separate company, Aerin Lauder LLC.

The lifestyle-brand field is a crowded one, I venture.

“Well, they’re all different,” she proposes. California interior designer “Kelly Wearstler has her look”–vivid and contemporary–“and others have theirs. We felt there was room for a lifestyle brand based on story-telling and heritage.”

By heritage Lauder means her family’s story, how her grandmother, Estee Lauder (yes, there was an Estee Lauder), sold her uncle John’s rich face cream from woman to woman, beauty parlor to beauty parlor around New York City, until launching the Estee Lauder company in 1946 and building an empire that now boasts a market cap of $27 billion. You’ve heard of Clinique? That’s an Estee Lauder company. Smashbox cosmetics? Yup, that too, by acquisition. Tory Burch fragrance and beauty. M-A-C as well; oh yes, La Mer and Jo Malone London. And Bobbi Brown. More than 25 brands, sold worldwide.

Heritage and story-telling enter into the marketing of the furniture sold under the Aerin label. “We have a ‘Joseph’ chair,” she explains. “It’s named after my grandfather, who was always sitting in a club chair. So that kind of heritage.” Her website calls Joseph “one dangerously welcoming chair.” Hear, hear (it starts at $4,400, depending on fabric).

Lauder has a message for modern families straining for design perfection: “Modern life is all about a comfortable sofa, effortless entertaining, mixing plates [at the dinner table–no problem there!].” Her light fixtures? They’re more fantasy-like, at a good price point (some of the glittery ceiling fixtures are in the $1,000 range).

What was it like growing up in a beauty juggernaut? Was it beauty all the time?

Lauder smiles. “It was beauty all the time. As little girls we [with her sister, Jane] watched our mother and grandmother put on makeup. We learned the importance of a skincare ritual.

“My grandmother always used to say, You have only one face, so take care of it. And it’s true: Your makeup won’t look good if the skin underneath it doesn’t look good.”

Lauder has said that one of her favorite shopping streets is Madison Avenue in New York, where she lives. “I love going into all the little shops,” she says. Washington doesn’t have so much of that, I venture.

“No!” she protests. “I used to love to go to stores in Adams Morgan and Georgetown, places like Commander Salamander,” the late home of wild, youthful clothing.

“My father [Ronald Lauder] was deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. So I lived in Washington for two years, 1984 to 1986. I went to Holton-Arms,” the girls prep school in Bethesda, she explains. Aha, that explains forays to Adams Morgan and Georgetown.

A final question: I confess I’ve been puzzled by some of her Instagram photos. “Why do you keep photographing your feet?”

Lauder laughs. “I don’t do it a lot  . . . a couple of times . . . well, maybe five,” she considers. “It’s fun. Shoes, bags are the fun part.”

Especially if they’re yours: Yes, there are Aerin shoes and Aerin costume jewelry and Aerin casual handbags and Aerin sunglasses.

Our universe may or may not be shrinking, but the World of Aerin is definitely in expansion mode.

–Nancy McKeon

2 thoughts on “Super Women: Aerin Lauder and Her Expanding World

  1. Mesmerized by her perfect hands. My guess is she doesn’t plant tulips with her fingers.

  2. Nancy says:

    Nice interview. What a powerhouse!

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