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Estée Lauder's Real Beauty

April 27, 2004



Cosmetics queen Estée Lauder, who died Saturday, should be remembered for her determination to help women (and men) look their best, a strong capacity for hard work, and creative marketing.

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A daughter of Hungarian immigrants to New York, Lauder became one of America's most wealthy by being a leading pioneer since the 1930s in creating and selling creams, powders, ointments, and perfumes.

Her personal fortune reached some $233 million, while her $10 billion company saw sales in more than 130 countries. In 1998, she was the only woman listed among Time magazine's most influential geniuses of 20th-century business. She could claim presidents and royals as friends, including Richard Nixon (who offered to make her ambassador to Luxembourg - she turned him down), the Duchess of Windsor, Nancy Reagan, and Princess Grace.

Her generosity included gifts to the City of New York for children's playgrounds, and an Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lauder was as inventive with her products as she was with marketing them. Her idea to offer a "gift" with a cosmetics purchase was once considered absurd, but today has become a standard in the industry.

Lauder once said "the pursuit of beauty is honorable." But unfortunately, today's growing obsession with physical beauty - as seen in wildly popular TV shows such as "The Swan" and "Extreme Makeover" and their emphasis on plastic surgery - mostly leaves out Lauder's vision of cosmetics as an art form.

The cosmetics industry has created an illusion of beauty that's only skin deep. How odd, then, that Lauder is being remembered for her best qualities, as an astute businesswoman who gave generously.

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