Who better to open up their make-up bag for our annual Wardrobe ICONS beauty issue than Aerin Lauder, granddaughter of the iconic beauty entrepreneur Estée Lauder and founder of lifestyle brand AERIN?
When your mentor and grandmother is the legendary Estée Lauder, there’s only one thing you can do – join the family business. That’s exactly what Aerin Lauder did, working for over 20 years in almost every department before launching her own successful beauty and lifestyle brand, AERIN, in 2012. Drawing on her beauty heritage, Aerin has developed must-have make-up and fragrances in the prettiest of hand-illustrated packaging. But it’s her passion for art, travel, fashion and design that has seen her expand the lifestyle brand to include everything from dinner plates and candlesticks, to table linen, trays and cushions, taking inspiration from her own life and beautiful holiday homes. We sat down with the dynamic entrepreneur to discuss how she built her own start-up, what excites her about bringing the beauty of her world into ours, and why every woman should own at least five perfumes.
You’ve worked your whole life for your family’s company, in so many different roles. What made you decide to launch your own brand?
I’ve been in the company for about 25 years and I worked in advertising, marketing, merchandising… The only area I didn’t work in is finance and there’s a reason for that! I was forever doing interviews on what was in my make-up bag and the items I couldn’t live without, so I saw an opportunity to create a beauty lifestyle brand. There was a real void in the marketplace for something feminine, with heritage and a modern twist.
When I think of AERIN, it’s always as a lifestyle brand. But you started with beauty?
Definitely. Beauty is completely my heritage and in my blood. My earliest memories as a little girl were with my grandmother, trying on her fragrances. But interestingly it wasn’t fragrance in the beginning. It was beauty essentials. The items I couldn’t live without: lip conditioner, body cream, bronzer – and we did these beautiful palettes for weekdays and weekends.
So when did you decide you were ready to launch fragrance?
Two months later! Some people said we should just do one, but I thought we should do five. We now have about 20 fragrances. I love the idea that there’s a choice. As Estée said, “You wouldn’t wear the same dress for dinner as you would for playing tennis. So why would you wear the same fragrance?”
You reference your grandmother a lot. Has she always been a huge influence on you?
Absolutely! She always said, “For everything you do, do it well and do it with passion!” And I think that’s something I say every day when I get up and I look at my calendar and wonder what we are working on. She taught me the importance of loving what you do and working hard. It’s something I try to instil in my children, who are now teenagers, encouraging them to work their hardest.
Why do you think women were not just interested in your beauty background but also your style and home?
When you look back at my press, it was always my home in Aspen or Long Island. I was constantly being interviewed and photographed, because I love entertaining. ELLE Decor, Vogue Living and Architectural Digest were my bibles. And although people are interested in my beauty heritage, my passion is the world of home. I recently collaborated with [American homeware brand] Williams Sonoma on a range of plates, hurricane lamps, Christmas ornaments and embroidered stockings, and it was the most successful collaboration I’ve ever done. I have a feminine approach to life, and my style is very true to who I am.
Would you consider doing a pop-up store?
Yes, without a doubt! Last week we were talking with Estée Lauder about a pop-up idea, so it’s definitely in our strategy. But it’s hard to find the right space; most places want you to sign a three-year lease. It’s a dream, but it’s sometimes hard to make a dream a reality.
Do you have any plans to open any more stores?
We are always looking and I think that Aspen would be a wonderful next step for us. My family have been going there for years. Many of our candles and fragrances, such as Amber Musk, are inspired by Aspen.
How do you choose what your next scent is going to be?
It can depend on a trend or what we feel is missing in the portfolio. Fragrances have a lot of stories behind them. We just came out with one inspired by the South of France, and another about Greece and the Aegean Sea.
If you had to choose a favourite scent, what would it be?
I wear Rose De Grasse every day, I absolutely adore it. It has the most amazing scent of mature roses.
Do you have a favourite Estée Lauder product?
I love Advanced Night Repair, I’ve been using it since I was at college, morning and night. It’s an antioxidant, and it’s really light. Recently, with all my travel and busy schedule, my make-up artist said I should put it over my make-up to give a dewy finish. So I’ve been doing that. It’s also great for sunburn!
What is your trick to mastering corporate dressing?
I’m always the most dressed up in the office, because I’m so used to being in a corporate environment. I never wore jeans, even on casual Fridays. They didn’t have jeans at Estée Lauder. Everyone I worked with always had a suit, both men and women. Working in a smaller team now I wear more flats; I love to work to walk and be on the go. When I first started working I was forever in high heels. Now I have a more casual approach to work dressing.
What’s your favourite travel outfit?
I’ve just done the most travel I’ve ever done in my whole life! I always wear a very comfortable pair of jeans and a blazer. A cosy scarf is key and I always pack my Advanced Night Repair Mask; I do it the night I get there and then I keep reapplying the mask, as it’s a great way to rehydrate your skin, recharge yourself and unwind.
Do you have a style crush?
I think Lauren Santo Domingo has incredible style, and I recently re-connected through Instagram with Caroline Sieber, a high-school friend from Vienna. I lived there for a year when my father was US Ambassador to Austria. I love her fashion and her home style.
How do you see the brand growing?
We’re going to continue to develop our website, fragrance and beauty, and work on interesting partnerships. Opening up one or two more stores in vacation destinations would be exciting. But growing the brand organically and having people love what they experience is the most important thing.
Just like your grandmother, you are the figurehead of your own brand. How does this inform what you do?
My grandmother taught us that if she put her name on the package then it had to be the best. And it’s my name on the lighting, the home, the fragrance, the accessories, the store fronts. So everything we do has to be the best it can possibly be.
As a little girl I always loved my pencil holder. I would take a beach shell and put it on my desk; I was forever decorating my living space
How easy was it to make the switch from large corporation to start-up?
I owe a lot to my experience at Estée Lauder. I was trained and surrounded by the best; my uncle, cousin, father and sister were all incredible role models and mentors to me. But I loved the challenge of starting up my own brand. I could use the infrastructure from Estée Lauder for beauty, but when it came to developing the store concept, lighting and homeware, it was all done completely separately. An important thing for me was finding a small but great team. It’s been a really challenging six years, but an amazing ride.
Did having the Lauder name put a weight of expectation on you and your new venture?
It definitely put the pressure on. We were a start-up but everyone we met, whether it was [department stores] Bergdorfs, Neimans or Nordstrom, they associated me with Estée Lauder. It meant we couldn’t act like a start-up. We had to go into these meetings full steam ahead.
Your lifestyle and love of art, fashion, travel and design informs so many of your products; why do you think women respond so well to them?
The consumer is more savvy than ever; she knows when something is authentic. We embody effortless beauty and effortless style; we have all these different elements that make your life more beautiful. From the vase or lamp you have next to your bed, to a picture frame and make-up bag. Everything can be beautiful if you take the time, that’s something my grandmother always said.
Your first store was in Southampton on Long Island. Did you always have this idea of a small boutique store?
It wasn’t on my radar when we launched the brand. But we started seeing how people wanted to experience something special and I loved the idea of creating a concept store, of it being a vacation destination. Because when you are on holiday you have free time, you can discover the store. The brand is very much about travel and storytelling, and what better place to do it than in a location where I spent my summers, holidays and family time?
How many stores do you have now?
We have three. The one in Southampton is a tiny little jewel box with vintage finds; there is one in East Hampton that opened this summer; and Palm Beach is more tropical, with straw hats and beach cover-ups. And then in New York City we have a beautiful showroom that we rotate for trunk shows and events.
My grandmother taught us that if she put her name on the package then it had to be the best. So everything we do has to be the best it can possibly be
Like everyone else, we do need to ask: what’s in your make-up bag?
I have an AERIN Rose Lip Conditioner in every handbag! It was one of the first products we launched and is still one of our bestsellers. I always wear Ultra Radiance Foundation – it stays on all day. Foundation always makes you look more finished and flawless. Then my Bronze Goddess Bronzer, my Double Wear Stay-in-Place Estée Lauder eyeliner in Coffee, and Estée Lauder Sumptuous Mascara. Those are my five must-have make-up products. Oh, and my AERIN Rose Hand & Body Cream!
Since launching with beauty, you’ve expanded the AERIN range to also encompass homeware and fashion. How have you navigated so many different products into one brand?
It’s funny, because a passion can become a business. As a little girl I always loved my pencil holder. I would take a beach shell and put it on my desk; I was forever decorating my living space. Next we’re launching a scent inspired by the Aegean Sea – it’s all blues and whites and straw. So we go into that mood and style for all the other categories, from beautiful jewellery boxes, trays and carafes to the colour of the caps of the fragrance. It all becomes this cohesive world.
How do your collaborations come about?
I think collaborations are a really exciting way to create a buzz and awareness. And I love that they have an element of surprise. They have to be organic and they have to be like-minded. We’ve done an amazing collaboration with Williams Sonoma and recently with the childrenswear brand Janie and Jack, and a beautiful lipstick collaboration with the Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz. And we’re going to be doing something with Frame Denim in the next few months, which I’m very excited about. I think they do great cuts, styles and colour too. These brands are all complete opposites of each other, but at the same time they have the same sense of quality.
Do you think working in a smaller company allows the freedom to work in these newer, unorthodox ways?
I worked in a large corporation for many years, and I love the structure and organisation of a big company, but I also absolutely love the freedom and the ability to act this way in a smaller company. In a corporation the process takes much longer. In a small team you have the ability to conceptualise something and bring it to market faster, which is great fun.
With so many gorgeous products, are you tempted to makeover any of your homes?
It’s so hard! I’m forever wanting to bring in a new light or vase or a something that I’m working on, a rejected sample like a shagreen tray that we ended up not producing. So I’m always changing things around. That’s what’s so much fun about a home, you don’t need to redo a whole room, you can very easily update it for the holidays with more gold vases, with red flowers or updating your sofa with different cushions.
What are your everyday items that you never tire of?
Definitely a great pair of black pants. A black turtleneck; it’s great for evening, work, or travelling, under a blazer. You can accessorise it with jewellery or scarves. A blazer is key. You can dress it up at night and wear it over your shoulder, or dress it down with some jeans. And a gold accessory can change a look from day to night.
Are there any designers that you always go to?
I’m very, very loyal. I love Stella McCartney for blazers. She cuts a blazer perfectly and understands how women want to look. Michael Kors for cashmere – he is truly the American luxury designer. I love Erdem and Giambattista Valli for a floral shirt. There are two things I collect – floral shirts and heart jewellery. Whenever I see a floral shirt I just think it’s so great. They look so feminine and timeless.
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