Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Corona, Queens in 1906, the second child born to Rose Schotz Rosenthal and Max Mentzer. Her mother was French Catholic on her maternal side and Hungarian Jewish on her father’s side. Rose emigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1898 with her five children to join her then husband, Abraham Rosenthal. But, in 1905, she married Max Mentzer, a shopkeeper of Hungarian Jewish descent who had also immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. When their daughter was born, they wanted to name her Esty, after her mother’s favorite Hungarian aunt, but decided at the last minute to keep the name “Josephine”, which they had agreed upon. Immediately though, the baby’s nickname became “Estee”, and which is what she grew up responding to. Eventually, Estee grew into an adult and when she launched her perfume empire with her husband, she added accent marks to make her name sound French and began pronouncing it the way her father pronounced it in his Hungarian accent. Eventually she attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, New York. But much of her childhood was spent trying to make ends meet. Like most of her eight siblings, she helped out at the family’s hardware store, where she got her first taste of business, of entrepreneurship and what it takes to be a successful retailer. Her childhood dream was to become an actress with her “name in lights, flowers and handsome men.”
When Estée grew older she agreed to help her uncle, Dr. John Schotz (a chemist), with his business. His company, New Way Laboratories, sold beauty products such as creams, lotions, rouge, and fragrances. She became more interested in his business than her father’s. She was fascinated watching her uncle create his products. He also taught her how to wash her face and do facial massages. After graduating from Newtown High School, she focused on her uncle’s business. She named one of his blends Super Rich All-Purpose Cream and began selling his products to her friends. She sold creams like Six-In-One Cold Cream and Dr. Schotz’s Viennese Cream to beauty shops, beach clubs and resorts. One day, as she was getting her hair done at the House of Ash Blondes, Florence Morris, the salon owner, asked Lauder about her perfect skin. Soon, she returned to the beauty parlor to hand out four of her uncle’s creams and demonstrate their use. Morris was so impressed she asked Lauder to sell her products at her new salon.
In 1953, Lauder introduced her first fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil that doubled as a perfume. Instead of using French perfumes by the drop behind each ear, women began using Youth Dew by the bottle in their bath water. In the first year, it sold 50,000 bottles, and by 1984, the figure had jumped to 150 million. Lauder was a subject of a 1985 TV documentary, Estée Lauder: The Sweet Smell of Success. Explaining her success, she said, “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”
She met Joseph Lauter when she was in her early 20s. On January 15, 1930, they married. The surname was later changed from Lauter to Lauder. Their first child, Leonard, was born March 19, 1933. The couple separated in 1939 and she moved to Florida, but they remarried in 1942. Their second son, Ronald, was born in 1944. Estée and Joseph Lauder remained married until his death in 1982. Leonard became the chief executive of Estée Lauder and is currently chairman of the board. Ronald was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and was U.S. Ambassador to Austria in 1986–87. At age 97, Lauder died of cardiopulmonary arrest on April 24, 2004 at her home in Manhattan.
- July, 01, 1908
- Corona, Queens, New York
- April, 24, 2004
- Manhattan, New York City, New York
Cause of Death
- Cardiopulmonary Arrest
- Beth-El Cemetery
- Paramus, New Jersey