Pink was Evelyn Lauder’s color.
In her long career as an executive at cosmetics giant Estee Lauder Cos., the company founded by her mother-in-law, Lauder worked with many shades of red, peach, bronze and even blues, but pink was the one hue that changed her life.
In 1992, Lauder worked with her friend Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, to create the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness. It started small with Lauder and her husband, Leonard, largely financing the little bows given to women at department store makeup counters to remind them about breast exams.
That grew into fundraising products, congressional designation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and $330 million in donations – $50 million from Estee Lauder and its partners – to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which Lauder also started.
That money helped establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which opened in 2009.
Lauder died Saturday at her Manhattan home from complications of nongenetic ovarian cancer. She was 75.
Just last month, she reminisced about the early days of the breast cancer campaign. When it launched, it was so little known that some people thought it symbolized AIDS awareness.
“There had been no publicity about breast cancer, but a confluence of events – the pink ribbon, the color, the press, partnering with Elizabeth Hurley, having Estee Lauder as an advertiser in so magazines and persuading so many of my friends who are health and beauty editors to do stories about breast health — got people talking,” she said. Then, three years after distributing the first pink ribbon, a flight attendant noted it on Lauder’s lapel and said, “I know that’s for breast cancer.”
“From there, it became ubiquitous,” she remembered.
Lauder had been diagnosed with her cancer in 2007, but it didn’t slow her down much. Come each October, she appeared at cancer awareness events around the world.
The rest of the time, she went to work at Estee Lauder’s Fifth Avenue headquarters, which, despite its annual revenue of $2.48 billion, was run much like a family business. Over the years, Evelyn Lauder would hold many positions there and she helped develop its lines of skin care, makeup and fragrance.
She came up with the name of its popular Clinique brand during the 1960s. Most recently, she held the title of senior corporate vice president.
Her other passion was photography, and she was the author of the book In Great Taste: Fresh, Simple Recipes for Eating and Living Well.
Born Evelyn Hausner in 1936 in Vienna, Austria, she fled Nazi-occupied Europe with her parents, and they settled in the U.S. She attended public schools in New York City and Hunter College, part of the City University of New York.
As a college freshman, she met her husband, the elder son of Estee Lauder and whose family owned what was then a small cosmetics company.
“We had five products in the line, we only had two or three colors in our lipsticks,” she told cable news channel NY1 in 2005. “It was a baby company.”
The young couple married in 1959. Leonard Lauder is now chairman emeritus of the company. Estee Lauder died in 2004 at 97.
Leonard and Evelyn Lauder’s son William is executive chairman of Estee Lauder Cos. Another son, Gary, is managing director of Lauder Partners LLC, a technology investment firm.