Evelyn Lauder: A Beauty Legend Remembered
The beauty industry lost one of its most radiant stars this past weekend. Evelyn Lauder, Estée Lauder’s daughter-in-law, Leonard Lauder’s wife of 52 years, and the company’s senior corporate vice president and head of fragrance development worldwide, lost her battle with non-genetic ovarian cancer at the age of 75. Evelyn (above) raised the bar with her way of utilizing one’s power and connections to the greatest good. A few years after she beat early-stage breast cancer, she founded the Breast Cancer Research Fund in 1993. Seemingly overnight, she became the poster lady for the ubiquitously recognized pink ribbon. She wrangled every company under the vast Lauder umbrella to create pink-designed products to benefit BCRF. Her concept of lighting famous buildings in this color during October (Breast Cancer Awareness month) grew every year until last year, when it ultimately landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records, with 38 global historic landmarks lit up in pinks (and, yes, Guinness had to create a new category for this). As pretty as the light bulbs looked, what mattered to her most were the cancer survivors. Knowing firsthand the difficult process (though never one to call attention to her own experience), she created the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering. It offered every service under one roof, but it also provided a calm and comfortable atmosphere. “You know how hospitals can be so bleak and cold?” she smirked at me with impatient disapproval. “I said, ‘This needs to be a pleasant environment where women can feel comfortable. Paint the walls a warm shade, and, instead of those bird posters, decorate it with nice photography.” Which was likely the impetus for her passion for photography, and its subsequent books, whose sales also went to BCRF (to date, BCRF has raised more than $350 million).
In 2002, for a piece on her second photo book, “Seasons Observed,” we photographed her near her home in Aspen. She led the way up Woody Creek in her chambray shirt, khaki pants, and hiking boots and found the perfect spot for our photographer. Her good nature mixed with motherly concern (she tried, in vain, to nudge the handsome California-based photographer toward me) made it a memorable trip and sealed our friendship. From then on, every time I saw her, she wanted an update on all aspects of my life and always came out with a memorable line. And don’t think we didn’t take advantage of that editorially. In 2008, we did a piece called “Waist Not, Want Not,” about women whose trim figures belied their gastronomic passions. She was prominent in the story, but my favorite quote was the one that didn’t make it in: “Whenever a waiter asks me if I’d like dessert, I tell him, ‘I can’t. I’m suffering from a condition called Fatonmythighs.’” If you say it fast—and without any breaks—it does sound downright medical.
The moment I’ll cherish the most, though, was when I happily informed Evelyn that her matchmaking services were no longer required. I introduced her to my husband, beaming with pride that I’d found such a great catch on line. She raised her eyebrows and inquired, “Did you meet on C-date?”
Like “fatonmythighs,” it took me a moment to realize that she was guessing what the non-Jewish version of J-Date would be. Sensing our puzzlement, she shifted gears, patted my husband on the arm and said, “You’re a very lucky man.”
As everyone who knew Evelyn Lauder is thinking today, we were the lucky ones.
Photo: CNP Montrose