NEW YORK — Another chapter ended Tuesday in the ongoing brand-building saga at Estée Lauder Cos., when Jo Malone, one of the brightest stars of the indie scene, announced from London that she has decided to "step back" from the brand that she and her husband, Gary Willcox, sold to Lauder six years ago while continuing to build the business to what industry sources estimate at $75 million in retail sales.

"After much soul-searching, I believe that this is a good time to make this decision as the brand is in a secure position and I have many other dreams and passions I would like to fulfill," Malone said in a letter of resignation that was circulated Tuesday.

Even though Lauder had acquired the business, Malone had remained its creative director and driving force of product development and merchandising. Moreover, Willcox remained at the helm of the home turf U.K. business, as managing director. Global control of the brand remains in the hands of Maureen Case, who, in mid-December, was named president of Lauder's specialty brands, including La Mer and Bobbi Brown Essentials, as well as Malone. Lauder acquired the business in October 1999 for an estimated $10 million to $15 million. The company declined Tuesday to indicate the final buyout price.

"Every moment of building this special business — from the first day we opened our doors through today and all the wonderful moments in between — has been a magnificent journey," Malone's letter continued. "I want to thank everyone who has helped and encouraged us, and I remain particularly grateful to [Lauder chairman] Leonard and [senior corporate vice president] Evelyn Lauder for their mentorship and friendship."

Malone could not be reached for elaboration Tuesday, but Leonard Lauder, reached in New York, described the parting as "extremely amiable."

Considering that the 42-year-old Malone first started working in the industry in 1983, Lauder sympathized, "she really needs some breathing space and for that, I appreciate her decision." He made no further comment.

However, it's been known in past years that Malone has faced personal challenges, including publicly acknowledging a successful bout with breast cancer. Sources close to her say she has been in good health for the past two years.

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