When Aerin Lauder was 5, she would peek inside her grandmother's vanity. This was no ordinary vanity, mind you. It was the dressing table belonging to legendary cosmetics queen Estee Lauder. "There was one drawer filled with only lipsticks. Another had only blushes. It was just full of stuff," Aerin, 33, says, opening her eyes wide. "I guess I grew up with a warped perception of a makeup table."
Today, Estee's granddaughter helps shape what's on the makeup tables of millions of women around the world. As vice president of global advertising for Estee Lauder, Aerin bears responsibility for how her grandmother's namesake brand is perceived. "I'm not under any pressure, am I?" she says with a laugh in the company's corporate headquarters, 40 floors above Manhattan's Central Park. "I don't close the door at the end of the day. I'm always thinking about my work."
The Lauder family has come a long way since Aerin's grandmother began peddling a skin-care cream 57 years ago. The $5 billion Estee Lauder Cos. now sells 19 cosmetics brands--Prescriptives, Clinique, Origins, Aveda and MAC among them. But it's still a family affair. The Lauders hold 91% of the voting shares--and numerous key positions. Estee's son and Aerin's uncle, Leonard, is chairman; his son William, 43, is chief operating officer. Aerin's sister Jane, 30, is developing Beauty Bank, a new brand that will be sold exclusively at Kohl's department stores. Most industry observers expect William to take over the corporate helm, but Aerin, with her impeccable style, social presence and marketing know-how, is already the family's most public persona, as her grandmother once was. "Aerin's a terrific ambassador who focuses on brand image," says Wendy Nicholson, a financial analyst for Smith Barney.
The cosmetics business, of course, is all about image--as Aerin knows better than anyone. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications, this mother of two small boys hopes to attract younger customers with an edgier ad campaign while remaining true to the company's roots. Her latest projects: overseeing the launch of the fragrance Beyond Paradise (the ad features a tune by Madonna) and bringing models Carolyn Murphy and Ethiopian-born Liya Kebede into the Estee fold. "Aerin is the perfect bridge between tradition and modernity," says Estee Lauder's president, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne. --By Dody Tsiantar/New York