Living up to an illustrious family name could be daunting. But if you're savvy, have your own point of view and have diligently paid your dues, it's just doing what comes naturally. Ask Aerin Lauder. At 44, the granddaughter of legendary cosmetics queen Estée Lauder has spent a quarter of a century working in the family business, rising through the ranks to become the creative director of the company. Now, Lauder is busy with her own brand, Aerin, a lifestyle range that goes beyond lipstick and fragrance (though there's plenty of that, too). From home furnishings and decorative accessories to sunglasses, jewellery and shoes, the eclectic collection adheres to her mantra of "effortless style" – something that seems to come naturally to the heiress.
It's a global strategy that's on Lauder's agenda these days, as she pushes her ever-expanding products line around the world. The mother of two boys divides her time between homes in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Aspen, where she scours antique and flea markets and masterminds the kinds of dreams she hopes women will buy into. I visited Lauder at her Madison Avenue office in New York, where she was eager to share her new fragrances and philosophy.
How long have you dreamed about having your own brand? Was this something that you'd fantasized about since you were little?
Not since I was little but probably for the past five, six years I've been thinking about a beauty lifestyle brand. When I was creative director of Estée Lauder, I was always asked the question: What's in your makeup bag? What are the items you can't live without? So I had this concept of doing a capsule beauty collection based on my makeup bag, really focusing on editing effortless style. And from there it just kind of went into this wonderful world. Because even though beauty is my heritage, home is really my passion.
What do you think makes a product desirable today?
When you feel that there's something unique about it. There are so many candles and fragrances and boxes and frames – how do you do it in a new way? How do you do it in a way that feels special and unique? It could be done through storytelling. I think our packaging makes the fragrances really special. They all look different.
Estée Lauder first collaborated with Tom Ford back in 2005. What did you learn from him as a designer?
To edit and focus. Whenever you look at something by him, you know it's Tom Ford, whether it's a shoe, a lipstick, a fragrance, an ad. I think that's something that both my uncle [former Estée Lauder CEO Leonard Lauder] and Tom have taught me: the importance of saying no. You don't really see pastels with Tom Ford. He knows what's on-brand for him and he knows what he likes. He's very focused and I think the same goes for us. This is a very modern, feminine brand. And if you look at all the elements, you know that it's on-brand. We love gold instead of silver: There are certain elements that are very much our brand core.
It's interesting to me how your own brand has blossomed when really you've grown up on the Estée Lauder brand. How did that affect your vision?
Estée taught me the importance of passion and hard work and dreams. But the Estée Lauder brand taught me how to launch a product, tell a story and create a concept. It's that idea that you smell a fragrance with your mind, not necessarily your nose. So how the bottle or package looks is part of the whole experience. Without a doubt, my experience at Estée Lauder has helped me create this brand.
You are the personification of your brand, without question. Is it daunting for you to live up to such a fantastic image?
I wouldn't describe it as daunting, but I do think it's a responsibility. The one thing I am is a friend. And I think that's the one reason the brand feels authentic. It really started with people calling and asking me where I got this paint colour or where I got my shoes or where I got my necklace. So I think that it's very personal.
Your grandmother Estée revolutionized the cosmetics industry by showing us that a lipstick could really transform you and give you a lift. What kind of a legacy would you like to leave?
Probably that everything can be beautiful, if you just take the time. Putting a beautiful fragrance bottle on your desk completely changes your mood in the environment. It's that idea of attention to detail that's so important.
This interview has been condensed and edited.