In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.
Born Josephine Esther Mentzer on July 1, 1908 in Corona, Estée Lauder was a businesswoman known for her eponymous brand of cosmetics. From a modest beginning in which an uncle made cosmetic products in an abandoned stable behind their house, Lauder diligently built her brand into a global beauty empire. When her company went public in 1995, it was worth some $2 billion.
The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, young Josephine was nicknamed Estee after a beloved relative in the old country. As a child, she learned the value of hard work and creative marketing by working in the family hardware store, alongside most of her eight siblings. She later recalled her father gift-wrapping hammers and nails for customers during Christmas when she introduced the practice of giving free gifts to beauty product customers who made purchases. While she attended Newtown High School, she began helping her uncle, a chemist, create and sell his line of creams, lotions, rouge, and fragrances, and became fascinated with making women beautiful. After graduation, she decided to enter the cosmetics business.
As a young woman, the future beauty magnate sold her uncle’s concoctions to friends and at beauty salons and resorts. Following her marriage to Joseph Lauter, who later changed the spelling of his name to Lauder, the young mother was asked by a salon owner in Manhattan how she kept her skin so beautiful. Not one to miss an opportunity, Estée Lauder soon returned to the beauty parlor with samples of her homemade creams to demonstrate to customers. Impressed by her line of products, the owner hired the Corona native to sell her cosmetics at her store. Estée Lauder was on her way.
Although Lauder divorced her husband in 1939 and moved to Miami, the couple remarried in 1942. The Lauders then both devoted themselves full time to growing the family cosmetics business. In 1947, she received her first department store order from Saks Fifth Avenue, which sold out in two days. In 1953, she introduced her first fragrance called Youth-Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. Rather than applying drops behind the ear like a perfume, women used the product by the bottle in their bath water. By 1984, the company sold 150 million bottles of Youth-Dew a year, and women continue to use both the spray and bath oil today. Throughout her career, the Queens native was as innovative with her marketing campaigns as her products, a skill which made her the wealthiest self-made woman in the world at the height of her career.
In the 1960s, Estée Lauder expanded overseas, opening an outlet in Harrods department store in London in 1961, and added the Aramis men’s fragrance line as well as the Clinique cosmetics line. In 1973, the beauty queen from Queens handed the reins of her family business to her oldest son, Leonard. In recognition of a career spent bringing beauty to women the world over, Estée Lauder received the Knight class of the Legion of Honour from the consul general of France, she was the only woman on Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century, and also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly before her death in 2004.
In the 1985 TV documentary “Estée Lauder: The Sweet Smell of Success,” the cosmetics entrepreneur shared the secret of her success. “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at (718) 278-0700 or visit www.astor