In the age of Instagram, where beauty is more democratic than ever, it’s easy to forget the amount of hustle required to forge a fan base in the pre-digital era. Our founder, Estée Lauder, didn’t have a legion of followers at her fingertips when she was starting out—she just had a pure belief in the power of a good beauty routine, and the confidence that the products she had whipped up really worked.
But it also took more than a few jars of creme to convince everyone around her of her worth as a brand founder and executive. When she started her eponymous brand in 1946, Estée would approach women under the hairdryer in salons to offer a quick beauty treatment. Soon, word of mouth spread, and she began to develop a loyal following who would call department stores to ask for her products—which led to her first official counter at Saks. “I resolved to break the rules that sheltered this traditional and exclusive store from experimental merchandisers,” she wrote.
Inspired by this rule-breaking mentality, we partnered with Refinery29 on a season of its UnStyled podcast, where editor-in-chief Christene Barberich chats with entrepreneurial women from a variety of industries about all the ways in which they’ve had to rewrite the rules to get to where they are. One of these women happens to be our own Global Brand Ambassador, Karlie Kloss, and she and Estée have a lot more in common than you might think. Here are five ways Estée rewrote the rules to become an industry powerhouse—listen to the full podcast below to learn how Karlie is doing the same.
What others call tough, I call persistent.
- 1. She gave her products away for free. Today, a gift with purchase is not only standard, it’s expected. But Estée invented the concept, back when she had just a few products to her name and would apply them on women in salons. “In those days, I would even give a gift without purchase,” Estée wrote. “The idea was to convince a woman to try a product.”
- 2. She rebelled against traditional marketing tactics. Estée made a splash—literally!—when she “accidentally” spilled some of her famous Youth-Dew Bath Oil on the floor of a French department store. Soon enough, customers were coming over to inquire what the scent was, and they had to have it.
- 3. She saw the word “No” as an invitation to try harder. When Estée’s mind was set on going international, nothing could stop her from launching in Harrod’s—except the cosmetics buyer’s repeated rejections. But Estée wouldn’t go down without a fight. She befriended every beauty editor in London and sampled them with her products. Magazine articles followed; then customers asking for Estée Lauder in the store. Harrod’s had no choice but to relent.
- 4. She wasn’t afraid to act tough. No one explains this better than Estée herself in her memoir: “Toughness, let me tell you, is not dependent on being crude or cruel. You can be feminine and tough. What others call tough, I call persistent. Too often women are taught as little girls that sweetness is more valuable than persistence or stubbornness. Persistence and being tough make for success.”
- 5. She made friends with the competition. “In business, as in human relations, it’s that rare touch, that person-to-person contact, that leaves the deepest impression,” Estée wrote. And for her, that included everyone from her own employees to her biggest competitors. “Being pleasant even when you don’t feel like it is best for business in the long run,” she said.
Listen below to hear Karlie and Christene’s full discussion on UnStyled, and all the ways in which Estée inspires Karlie today.