Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Aerin Lauder


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Granddaughter of the late cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, Aerin Lauder is forging her own identity with a lifestyle brand called "Aerin" and her first book, "Beauty at Home." She launched a home accessories and furniture line in 2012 and continues in her role as creative director at Estee Lauder. She and her sister Jane have become billionaires thanks to the performance of Estee Lauder's stock. That has not stopped her from putting in long days as a businesswoman and mother. She is married with two boys.

You were set for life as creative director of Estee Lauder. What motivated you to start your own brand?

I did it because I loved the idea and thought there was a real opportunity within the marketplace for this lifestyle brand. We have been very excited about the success it has achieved already. I think there is a real consumer out there who likes to shop across category.

It's called a luxury lifestyle brand. What is your definition of luxury?

Luxury is anything that feels special. I mean, it can be a moment, it can be a walk on the beach, it could be a kiss from your child or it could be a beautiful picture frame, a special fragrance. I think luxury doesn't necessarily have to mean expensive.

So when people see the word "luxury," they don't have to walk away thinking they can't afford it?



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No, not at all and what is so exciting about the brand is that within the world of home, for example, our objects range from $75 to $2,000. I think that is what gives it the concept of attainable luxury. You can get a beautiful, beautiful wine stopper wrapped exquisitely that is the ultimate Christmas gift or hostess gift and it is at the $75 price point.

In the book you mention that your grandmother liked embellishing things, especially when she was decorating a room. But you, not so much.

It's funny that you say that. I mean, there are certain places where I definitely love to embellish. For example, my dressing room. My vanity, which is actually in the book, has bowls of jewelry and objects and picture frames and flowers.

There are certain parts of the home that I think embellishment feels cozy and inviting. Then there are other environments, for example, the living room, where I don't have a ton of items on the table. As I said in the book, my mantel is completely clean. I think it depends on the room and the mood you are in. Sometimes, as the seasons change, so does the aesthetic for your home. In the summertime, maybe you want big bowls of shells and stones and wild flowers on the table. As it gets cooler, you might just want a few books and that is it. That is what is so exciting about design and decorative accessories. They are so easy to change, whether it's pillows or objects or books.

You have several homes, including a condo in Manhattan and a home in the Hamptons which you can decorate distinctly. You can change up one home for each season.

Long Island is a perfect example of where I do change according to season. In the summertime, the coffee table is covered with books about shells and beaches and gardens. I love that book, "Hampton Gardens." That is on my coffee table in the summer. As the season changes, I might do more ... darker covered books. I change the plants in the room, too. In the summer, ferns are all over the room, and in the wintertime I might do branches and berries.

Would it be fair to say you are a detail-oriented person, and how do you manage that with all you are doing?

Very! [laughing] I think it is just a passion I have for the different categories. You know, Estee had this wonderful quote, that if it's her name on it, it has to be the best it can possibly be. I feel the same way -- everything you see is a reflection of me. Whether it's the light fixture, the chair, the fragrance bottle, it has to be perfect. I'm quite busy, but I love what I do and I think that is what makes it fulfilling.

We know what your grandmother's influence on you was and your dad's but what about your mom?

My mom has always been kind of my backbone. She keeps me strong. She is a mother, a friend. She is really everything to me. She made a home a home -- she really did. She taught me how to do that. She is always calm. She is always kind and she is always strong. She really taught me right from wrong, and she still does to this day. Not a day goes by when she doesn't call to ask, "Did you write a thank-you note?" "Did you do this or that?" You know what I mean? She is just an amazing, amazing friend and teacher.

Tell me about your love of gold. It seems to be your signature color.

I have always loved gold and I think a lot of it started as a young girl loving gold jewelry, gold accents, gold interiors. You know, Estee had this incredible gold wallpaper -- antiqued gold wallpaper -- in her house in New York.

I have always thought gold was magical. When I started creating the brand and the objects within the brand, I was drawn to different tones of gold. Some are matte, some are textured -- our compacts have a linen texture to them -- and some of our home objects are [gold]-leafed. So it's the idea of mixing gold that makes it feel so fresh and new.

Is there the danger of overdoing it?

I think it definitely can be and I think that is why you have to mix it with other elements and other colors.

Do you believe in a well-organized life?

I do. For me it is key. It is not a necessity for everyone but for me structure and organization keep me calm.

So is your house always as photo-ready as it looks in the book?

It's quite organized. You know, I think it is very important for children and for people to live in order, like in an organized way. You get your homework done better. You sleep better. I think there is something very important about living in an organized environment.

How did living overseas as a young girl while your father was ambassador to Austria influence you?

I think just being exposed to so many new places, cultures, design. I think just by traveling and living in Vienna, it opened up my eyes to completely different worlds.

How about your boys. Do you travel with them?

We travel a lot with them. Every June -- it's something I used to do with my parents every June -- we explore a new country or go someplace amazing in the United States that we hadn't been. We went up to Newport one summer and I think it is really important for children to see new things.

Your family is also famous for philanthropy. How did your parents instill that in you and keep you from feeling spoiled or privileged?

They instilled in us a good work ethic and the importance of working hard and giving back through a hospital or a museum or an organization. I partnered with First Book. It's an amazing organization that gives books to children in need. Reading is such an important part of a child's development. That is something we feel is a wonderful partnership with the Aerin brand. It's always about giving back whether it is to your city or your school or to a hospital. It is important.

The work ethic is really important as well.

It is, and Estee went to work every day until she was 85 because she loved what she did and was stimulated by it and proud of it. That is something that was instilled in all of her grandchildren and children. My uncle just turned 80 and he is still walking to work every day. The same goes for my father. There is something very important about that.

Do you remember the first time you realized your grandmother was famous?

You know, I have to say it was probably when I got the lip gloss, the Estee Lauder opal lip gloss. I don't know how old I was, but they were sent home and I brought them to school and everyone was ooooing and aahing over them. It made me realize what she had accomplished. Knowing her as a grandmother and not a businesswoman, I saw her strength and passion but seeing the love of the product made me realize how incredible she was as a businesswoman.


Patricia Sheridan: psheridan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2613.

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