Cosmetics legend Lauder dies

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Beauty marketing innovator Estee Lauder, the pioneer of cosmetics sampling and gifts-with-purchase, died April 24 at her Manhattan home. She was 97.

Ms. Lauder, born in Queens, New York, started the now $5.12 billion global cosmetics company that bears her name making skin lotions on her kitchen stove in the '30s. She applied her lotions to women's hands while they sat under the dryer at a New York hair salon.

"She believed in the power of touch, that massaging cream into a woman's hand made women feel they were being paid attention to and therefore had an obligation to buy a product," said Linda Wells, editor in chief of Conde Nast Publications' Allure.

While a prescient marketing idea that has become a staple of successful cosmetics marketing, the sampling was also an early sign of Ms. Lauder's notorious forwardness. She was adamant that it was possible for every woman to be beautiful if she worked hard at it (which included using the right products, of course). Ms. Lauder had no compunction about applying her cosmetics to those she believed needed them.

"`You need a little glow,'" Ms. Wells recalls Ms. Lauder saying as she put rouge on her cheeks at a press event for Estee Lauder Cos. "She would become very annoyed by people who didn't try hard enough and she would never pass up an opportunity to promote a product."

men can be beautiful, too

Even men were not exempt from her solicitous beauty advice. Having pioneered the men's cosmetics category with the launch of Aramis in 1967, Ms. Lauder was once shown giving a bottle of the cologne to [New York City's] Cardinal Cooke.

Traveling the world to sell her products, which over the years grew to include not only skin-care but makeup, fragrance and hair-care products under the Estee Lauder, Clinique and Aramis brands, among others, Ms. Lauder refused to take no for an answer. When Galeries Lafayette in Paris declined to carry the company's Youth Dew fragrance in the 1950s, Ms. Lauder is said to have dropped a bottle on the floor so the smell would permeate and prompt requests by customers, which it did. The perfume, now coming up on its 50th anniversary, helped launch the company as a major marketer.

The persevering Ms. Lauder constantly coached her sales force to follow her lead, advising one-to-one marketing tactics with the catchphrase, "Telephone, telegraph, tell a woman," and throughout her career advocated passionately for free gifts at cosmetic counters and fashion shows.

In addition to the sampling and gifts-with-purchase tactics she pioneered, Ms. Lauder also was the first to develop the department-store exclusivity that is the hallmark of prestige brands today. It was out of necessity that Ms. Lauder created the limited distribution channel for the original Estee Lauder line as she could not afford to distribute to drugstores as well.

Although she effectively handed over the business side of the beauty behemoth she founded with her husband Joseph Lauder to her son Leonard in the mid `70s, the elegant Ms. Lauder remained the face of the company until her retirement in 1995. She appeared always dressed to the nines in matching dress, shoes and a signature pillbox hat.

"[Estee Lauder] made an extraordinary contribution to women all over the world as an entrepreneur and leadership icon, breaking new ground everywhere, whether in product development or by having the courage to go to Russia," said Rochelle Udell, exec VP-chief creative officer at cosmetic competitor Revlon.

Ms. Lauder is survived by her sons, Leonard Lauder, chairman of Estee Lauder Cos., and Ronald Lauder, chairman of Clinique Laboratories, in addition to grandchildren Aerin, Gary, Jane and William, currently chief operating officer of Estee Lauder Cos. who will take over as CEO July 1.

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