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Estée Lauder at 75: Aerin Lauder on Estée’s Lasting Influence

Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer reflects on her grandmother’s innate sense of style—and the continued influence she exerts today.

My first memory of Estée is the way she smelled. She was always trying out new fragrances she was working on, so she always smelled wonderful. So many recollections of my grandmother are tied to fragrance. The delicate stems of tuberose in her front hallway. Bunches of fresh-cut garden roses throughout her homes in the Hamptons and Palm Beach. A spritz of perfume in her dressing room as she did her makeup before a dinner party or an evening out in the city. Sometimes today, at the office or while walking down the street, I’ll catch the scent of Youth-Dew Eau de Parfum and it transports me directly to being with Estée, eating chocolates from a Godiva box, or watching movies at her Upper East Side townhouse on a Saturday night.

Over the years, my grandmother gave me so much wisdom, but one of the most important lessons was that anything can be beautiful if you take the time. A casual dinner on the porch, a weekday lunch in with your kids, a cup of coffee before everyone else is up in the morning. Details—a linen napkin, a teacup, a proper table setting—these are the things that Estée believed elevated simple, quiet moments to elegance.

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So much of my world is patterned after this sense of elegance that Estée infused into everything she touched. I spend much of my time in the Hamptons, in the house she once owned. Though I’ve modernized it here and there, she is still everywhere in the details—the blue-and-white porcelain displayed in the living room, her formal dining room furnished with a crystal-cut candelabra and Regency dining table, her bedroom outfitted with Pierre Frey’s Toile de Nantes ikat stripe. What was so incredible about her taste was its balance of trend and timelessness. It still holds up today.

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She was a pioneer of her time, but her legacy is still so relevant. She changed the way the world thinks about beauty, both aesthetically and philosophically. She showed us that beauty is a part of every woman’s DNA, and everyone can create beauty no matter the circumstance. Estée is the perfect example of someone who could invent beauty seemingly out of thin air. My dad tells wonderful stories of my grandmother stirring creams on the stovetop all night long, assisted by my grandfather, or packing sandwiches for my uncle to take to summer camp in a big purple Bergdorf Goodman box. She was both resourceful and experimental.

Before I ever knew that I would work in beauty, she began introducing me to it, letting me play dress up with her incredible accessories. There are wonderful photos of me as a baby in diapers wearing gold high heels, long opera gloves, and her gorgeous, bespoke hats! Growing up, I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

ALZ and Estee
Aerin Lauder with her grandmother, Estée. Courtesy Photo

In fact, Estée is the reason that after 25 years of working at my family’s company, I felt I had the direction and strength to start my own brand, Aerin. I saw an opportunity to combine home, lifestyle and beauty in a way that hadn’t been done before. A fresh take on modern femininity, my own brand is very much inspired by my grandmother’s sense of timeless style. This is especially true of my Aerin Beauty fragrances. Estée had a great saying: “You wouldn’t wear the same dress to have dinner in as you would to play tennis, so why would you wear the same fragrance?” When I created my collection of perfumes—from Mediterranean Honey to Lilac Path (the latter inspired by the memory of lilac bushes blooming in her garden)—it was with this concept of a wardrobe in mind. Each scent is a new escape, a new moment, a new opportunity to create beauty.

My grandmother always encouraged me and my sister Jane to do what would make us happy. We were never expected to grow up and take the path that she took. But I’ve always felt drawn to the model that Estée forged. For me, she was a confidante, a mentor and a true friend. For the world, she was an icon. She taught me that as a woman, you could be many things at once—a strong wife, a strong mother and a strong businesswoman. She taught me that there is power in femininity, and that I could embrace that feeling in any way I chose.