'My little one wouldn't go to sleep last night. He had a nightmare. ... He was excited about his loose tooth. I was just like, 'I have to get up and fly to Toronto the next day! Please, can we go to sleep?' "
Aerin Lauder, the chic 37-year-old heiress to the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire, is trying to make me see that, despite the private jets and other coveted trappings of her moneyed existence, she's a real working mom at heart, just as torn and angst-ridden as the rest of us.
We, who wearily slog through those disparate trenches of career and motherhood in pursuit of having it all, can certainly relate - though Lauder's inherent glam quotient would be pretty impossible for most of us to match.
On a recent Toronto visit for a personal appearance at Holt Renfrew, Lauder was feted at the palatial Rosedale digs of one her best friends, socialite Sarah Hendreke. I had the privilege of sitting across the table from Lauder and Hendreke, lapping up bits about their rarefied lives, replete with little luxuries such as personal decorators and summers in the Hamptons.
But Lauder, who resides in a swish Park Avenue apartment with her financier husband, Eric Zinterhofer, and their two young sons and has worked for her family's company for 15 years, has bigger fish to fry than merely juggling the never-ending demands of work and kids: She's compelled to personify the aspirational lifestyle that her family brand promotes. And now, in addition to being the senior vice-president and creative director for the multibillion-dollar family business, Lauder is also the poster girl for the company's ultra-luxe Private Collection fragrance line, Tuberose Gardenia.
The alluring scent is based on her grandmother Estée's favourite flowers. "She used to always have tuberoses in her homes ... always in her front hallway," Lauder remembers.
This new fragrance is especially close to her heart: It's one she has been developing for years, and, in the tradition of her grandmother, she initially created it as a personal scent, exclusively for herself and a few close friends. But Lauder felt it was her duty to put it out for all the women who crave a tiny piece of the big luxury dream.
"I keep my private life very separate," she says. "But there is this wonderful part of me that is passionate about the business - passionate about my job - and it seemed like the perfect timing for me to do this right now for the brand."
Of course, a successful fragrance relies on more than mere smell: Packaging is of paramount importance and helps give a scent its identity. For Tuberose Gardenia, Lauder went the distance: The design of the bottle's cap was inspired by a Josef Hoffmann brooch in the Neue Galerie, the New York-based, Austrian/German art museum that Lauder's father, Ronald, founded in 2001. This nod to art - especially the art her family loves - is yet another way that Lauder has personalized this fragrance, giving it "a sense of soul."
"When I was about 2, I couldn't sleep one night, and my father took me out of the crib and carried me down the hallway of our home, and explained all the paintings to me on the wall. That's probably one of the earliest memories I have," she says.
One of my favourite memories is of meeting Estée Lauder herself in 1985, as she launched a scent called Beautiful. "Beee-ooo-teee-ful!" the feisty little woman drawled excitedly, taking delight not only in her new fragrance, but in the noble service she firmly believed she was providing for womankind. Estée was one of the most impassioned saleswomen I had ever met. Evidently, when it comes to the role of cosmetics in the lives of modern women, she taught her granddaughter well.
"It's all about immediate gratification," explains Lauder, who sees the company's products as "attainable luxury.
"I think there's something about a fragrance, or a lipstick, that really makes you feel good: When you put perfume on, and you like the way it smells, it makes you smile. Or when you put a little bit of colour on your cheeks or on your lips, you look better. I think Estée really believed in that. She always said that any woman could be beautiful - if she took the time."