Sunday, 13 November 2011

Evelyn Lauder : August 12, 1936 – November 12, 2011

Evelyn Lauder has died, aged 75, from complications of non-genetic ovarian cancer.

Despite having been such a staunch and visible advocate of Breast Cancer Awareness, Evelyn Lauder never referred to the fact that she herself had been a cancer survivor, surviving both early-stage breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It was not until an interview in 2009 with WWD that she even acknowledged any association at all, and even then she discounted her case as merely “a scare.” At the recent Breast Cancer Awareness event I went to, we were told that Evelyn Lauder's classic response, when asked by journalists whether she had a personal link to the disease, was: ' What difference would it make if I had?'

The Estee Lauder brand, despite being a huge orchestrated body of various other household names, still retained its family heritage and human face thanks to Evelyn Lauder's regular personal appearances with Elizabeth Hurley, and her eponymous BCA lipstick editions. At the October event, we were also told that at its inception, the very idea of mentioning the word 'breast' so openly was anathema. The pink ribbon was largely Evelyn Lauder's creation, and is now instantly recognised as a symbol of breast cancer.

Her belief that one day breast cancer would be eliminated, or at least managed, fuelled her passion to raise awareness. She also opened a breast cancer centre,

“I wanted to have the mall of medicine,” Lauder told WWD as the Center was opening in October 2009. “I wanted everything under one roof. I was on the board at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and at the time, the doctor who was in charge of the hospital said they were building a breast center. And I said, ‘Oh, this is fabulous. What are you going to have in the breast center?’ So he said, ‘We’re going to have oncology and we’re going to have mammography. I said, ‘Is that it?’ He says, ‘Well, what else do you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, I would want physical therapy, psychological counseling, an education center so that we could pick up information in either leaflets or online, nutritional counseling, a pharmacy so you don’t have to go running around the city to get everything, a boutique that might sell all the needs of a woman while she’s waiting for reconstruction to get the right bra and do whatever is necessary — bathing suits, you know?’” The 150,000-square-foot facility is a bricks-and-mortar testament to her vision.

It is arguable that Evelyn Lauder was the first to get a deep-rooted partnership between the beauty industry, and charity; the very idea that by treating yourself to luxury you can simultaneously give money and publicity to an important cause. And it never seemed to have any ulterior motive, any hint of scoring points, or of marketing acumen - though of course, Evelyn Lauder had plenty of that - she launched many now ubiquitous perfumes, handpicked brand ambassadors and scouted out Bumble & Bumble. Her legacy is undeniable, and I feel so sad at her passing. This article gives an intimate view of the person behind the brand, and is very much worth a read.

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