If I were a jealous person, it would be easy to dismiss Aerin Lauder – granddaughter of the iconic Estee, style and image director of the family company, and founder of her own successful global lifestyle business – as a genetically-blessed American princess. She has the looks and the pedigree that we read about in fairy tales. She has memories of sitting under her grandmother’s desk, in Estee’s famous blue-upholstered office at Estee Lauder HQ (which remains untouched to this day), and has learnt the art of diplomacy from within a family that holds multiple positions on coveted boards of galleries and galas.
Yet, Aerin is a thoroughly modern woman. If you were to think that the launch of her own label, AERIN, was her way of blossoming out from behind the shadow of the empire, you would be so mistaken. She’s a working mother to two now-grown up boys, is happily married to her businessman husband and has always contributed to the Estee Lauder company, and shone, in her own authentic way. While in her 30s, in the role of style and image director that she still holds, Aerin had the incredibly astute vision, foresight and incredibly good taste to recruit two star players into the stable – Michael Kors, which has gone on to become one of the most successful fragrance names in history, and the venerable Tom Ford, who having just left the role of creative director at Gucci was signed, first, by Lauder to do a capsule collection and then went on to create his own globe-leading Tom Ford Beauty luxury brand under the Estee Lauder umbrella. She knows about the juggle of family and career, and seems to be doing it with aplomb. Quite simply, the lady has style.
I was invited to interview Aerin while she was in Sydney to launch AERIN fragrances and interiors accessories in Australia. Of course I’d read the press kit and I’d been delivered the gorgeous line-up of seven fragrances and five hand creams, but I was already familiar with the AERIN brand because I subscribe to her website and her interiors accessories have been critically acclaimed by even the most snobbish of interiors experts. So to get a sense of the woman rather than the legend, I decided to arrive a couple of hours earlier than the luncheon. I wanted to watch her in action at David Jones on Elizabeth Street, as she signed books and debuted her collection at the counter.
The lady should run for office. She was smiling, warm, cuddling babies, and, wearing a Dolce and Gabbana wisteria print, was genuinely glowing despite jetlag. I witnessed a beautifully natural moment when an eight-year-old girl approached her with a book sign, professing to be a huge fan. The little girl’s name was Aerin – she’d been named after her. She and her mother had come to pay homage to their spiritual muse, and Aerin Lauder took little Aerin by the hand and personally escorted her to the luncheon for a tour of the exquisite florals on the tables and gifted her fragrance and a book. She didn’t have to, but Aerin Lauder seems to instinctively know how to make other people feel fabulous.
Read my interview with Aerin below…
Bahar Etminan: Welcome back. The last time you were in Australia was for your honeymoon
Aerin Lauder: It was on the bucket list. We went to Bali to Bora-Bora, Sydney and Hong Kong, and ended up in LA and London. So, we had a really wonderful two-and-a half weeks. It was amazing!
Bahar Etminan: It is very unusual for Americans to have that much time off work!
Aerin Lauder: My husband [Eric Zinterhofer] was about to go to business school, so, we had a little bit of a window between his job and when he started business school. So, we had two or three weeks to go to all of these beautiful places.
Bahar Etminan: Well welcome back. What’s on the bucket list for this trip?
Aerin Lauder: You know, it’s funny because we were only here overnight last time. We stayed at the Park Hyatt. We had a wonderful walk [around] the Opera House, went to dinner and then we left the next morning. This time it’s been great because obviously I’m launching a beauty line and meeting tonnes of different journalists and people. And at the same time, I [have] the chance to more explore the city in, I guess, a more female way (go shopping and go to some great stores) and that’s been really fun!
Bahar Etminan: Even beyond Aerin the brand, you have a persona that seems to truly connect with and inspire people. A little girl might be following you on Instagram, and her mother will know about you, too.
Aerin Lauder: I think what’s fascinating about the brand is that it’s ageless, in the sense that people say, “Who is your targeted consumer?” and [I answer that] it’s not necessarily an age group – it’s more of a state of mind. It’s modern and it’s feminine. That little girl, Annabel, with her J-crew T-shirt and her leggings, she could be wearing that in her 30s and it would still resonate… I think that’s what so much fun about the brand. You can see how these products appeal to anyone who likes something modern and feminine.
Bahar Etminan: There’s a timeless quality to the bottle design. They feel so exquisite and precious – a little bit art deco also contemporary.
Aerin Lauder: Oh, they’re imperfect perfect! You know, my Private Collection [for Estee Lauder] is very much similar to the bottles in my new Aerin fragrance range. There’s that beautiful Tuberose Gardenia fragrance in my Private Collection that was inspired by Hawaii. It’s the most delicious fragrance ever and the bottle’s cap was inspired by a Hoffmann brooch at the Neue Galerie [In New York]. For Aerin, I was inspired by watery pastels, driftwood and things that wash up on the beach, like beautiful like sea glass.
Bahar Etminan: I was looking at your interiors styling book <Beauty at Home> yesterday, which you kindly signed for me, and I love how you use wallpaper and print that is heavily embellished by flowers. Flowers are the theme of your whole brand, aren’t they?
Aerin Lauder: It’s fun for different seasons. You know, for example, you’re just going into fall [autumn] here, so maybe we can go into evening rose and musk. In high spring and summer it’s lilac.
Bahar Etminan: As part of the Lauder legacy, living in New York City and the Hamptons, you’re living the princess-heiress dream of most women, but on the thoroughly modern side, you’ve always worked, haven’t you?
Aerin Lauder: I have! You know, I love what I do. People say, “Love what you do and work hard, and you will find happiness.” And that’s true, because if you’re doing what you’re doing with love for the brand and product, it’s exciting and fun!
Bahar Etminan: Estée Lauder Companies is still essentially a family business and there seems to be an absolute place in this for every member of the family there. Though we don’t seem to hear gossip about in-fights and tension…
Aerin Lauder: Estee and my grandfather were very close and they wanted the family to be close too. So, we did things together. In the holidays, we were always having dinner. Even in Palm Beach, our [holiday] houses are right next to each other!
Bahar Etminan: I have dinner with my brother and his wife all the time, but I don’t know if I could work in the same company…
Aerin Lauder: Well, that’s why we got all these many, many brands. You know, the company is so big that my sister [Jane Lauder], who worked on Clinique is perfect for Clinique. My cousin [William P. Lauder] is amazing with people and, therefore , it works for him to be a chairman. Everyone kind-of falls into their [niche]. I’ve always loved flowers and super-feminine things. So, there is something for everyone.
Bahar Etminan: So in your role as style and creative director, how have you evolved the Estee Lauder legacy?
Aerin Lauder: Estee was always talking about the importance of the best team – the best photographers and stylists every season. When [I] first started, we signed Caroline Murphy and we had Stephen Meisel, and we used the same stylist and the same team for many, many seasons. So, we established the sense of a brand. It’s interesting because there’s so many more faces of Estee Lauder now, but they all have a consistency…
Bahar Etminan: I always feel like they’re different facets of you. When Carolyn Murphy signed, she kind of reminded me of a sporty Aerin Lauder.
Aerin Lauder: I wish I was. That’s like ‘Oh, my Gosh!’ When we pick a face to represent the brand, there’s a group of us that decide. My uncle [Leonard Lauder}, has huge input into this. So [each face] is a reflection of the brand and the family. It’s very important, because the two are so connected.
I’m still part of Estee Lauder. My offices for Aerin are right across the street. I’m very much involved with the big picture of the image of the brand. And I love what they’re doing and I think they’re doing a great job maintaining the heritage while creating new things…And the new Lip Envy lipstick is amazing! Muse [the fragrance} was such a hit – and you did feel the change, like a new breath of modernity, in the brand as well.
Bahar Etminan: You were born into this world, but there must be things that you’ve learned and mentors that you’ve looked to outside of the internal business. Where do you go to for the inspiration and mentorship that brings freshness?
Aerin Lauder: Well, I love magazines. I’m always ripping things out of magazines. I started the Aerin brand by ripping things out and put them into binders – Beauty, Home, Accessories. I love the Internet…Pinterest! And I have many different types of friends – a lot of them inspire me [to see] a style, a home, beauty, fragrance… Travel is fascinating because even when you can’t go to Capri and you’re just sitting on your desk, you can Google it and look at images and be inspired by the flowers and the sky and water…
Bahar Etminan: One of the things that I see in the fragrance collection and also in the interiors accessories that you’ve you’ve also just launched here is that you seem to create vignettes and tell stories. I can see how in a bathroom you’d in one place in the world, and in another part of the house you’d be in Capri, with white and shells…
Aerin Lauder: I’ve always loved to do that. You know, when you look at the fragrance collection, it’s inspired by the South of France – it’s the idea of gardenias and a sun tan, jean sorts and a white t-shirt… It feels like you’re in the Mediterranean. They have a destination and story.
Bahar Etminan: Fragrance and flowers are obviously such cues for your memory…
Aerin Lauder: One of my first memories is probably of tuberose. Estee always had tuberose in her front hallways – she always used to say that white flowers make such an inviting welcome. I love tuberose.
Bahar Etminan: You’ve a passion for making a house incredibly welcoming space, too. So what’s in vases at your home?
Aerin Lauder: I always change. I mean, I love tall branches and in the winter I do berries. This time of year [spring in the US] I do lilacs and in the summer I do hydrangea.
Bahar Etminan: Which flowers did you have on your wedding day?
Aerin Lauder: I wore gardenia in my hair and I carried lily of the valley. I love lily of the valley!
Bahar Etminan: Lily of the valley is a feature flower in the line up of fragrances… We’ve got the essential seven fragrances and five body lotions. I have to ask: what’s coming next?
Aerin Lauder: In the US and in the UK, we do lipsticks and glosses and palettes, but I don’t know if we’re doing that in Australia for a while. There’s Rose de Grasse [ a fragrance which will launch in future]. It’s really pretty!
Bahar: Do you have a favorite child amongst your fragrances?
Aerin Lauder: I have to say I love Ikat Jasmine… I love the way it wears on you and I just think it’s very beautiful.
AERIN fragrances are now available at selected David Jones and MYER counters nationally and online at esteelauder.com.au.
Rescu. also sent Cassandra Turner, our interiors expert, to meet Aerin at Becker Minty in Potts Point, Sydney, to check out the AERIN interiors collection. Here’s what she had to say…
“Aerin’s range is a really sophisticated and clever blend of tradition and modernity. The emphasis on combining unique textures with really simple forms allows for the beauty of time-honoured materials like gold, ceramic and shargreen (stingray leather) to look and feel very, very now. I could imagine Aerin growing up with pieces like this in her grandmother Estee’s home, and what I feel she has done really well is referenced the glamour of the past but given each piece the same modern edge that she herself has. The best thing about the AERIN range at Becker Minty is whilst it’s incredibly beautiful in its entirety, I can see the pieces individually complementing just about any style of interior. I definitely have my eye on more than one!”