The woman born Josephine Esther Mentzer didn't put too much thought into acquiring the more glamorous name with which she became famous. Estee was her nickname as a girl; she married into Lauder. But she struggled mightily to travel from her parents' apartment above the family hardware store in Queens, N.Y, to preside over a global cosmetics company. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, she was enthralled by beauty and glamour, and her talent lay in convincing other women she could help them attain those qualities. In the 1930s, with a face cream her uncle, a chemist, brewed in his kitchen, ESTEE LAUDER traveled tirelessly to local beauty salons, demonstrating the product on women marooned under hair dryers. In 1948, after dogging the store's president, she was granted counter space at Saks Fifth Avenue. When, in the beginning, her advertising budget was meager, she hatched what is today a promotional mainstay in the industry, the "gift with purchase." In 1953 she introduced the scented bath oil Youth Dew, luring new customers who previously considered fragrance an indulgence for the rich. As the company launched such brands as Clinique and Prescriptives, Lauder maintained strict control over the techniques of her vast sales force. When she died at her home in New York City last week at 97, the company, now run by her son Leonard, was worth $10 billion.
--By Michele Orecklin