Evelyn H. Lauder did not start out life as a business savvy beauty and health champion, but she has adeptly fulfilled that role. After her marriage to Estee Lauder’s son, Leonard, her mother-in-law persuaded her to leave her teaching career to help with the family business. At that time, Estee Lauder Companies had a handful of products on the market, and Evelyn would answer the phone in different voices to make the company seem larger than it was. She was influential in developing the training protocol for employees, which is still used today.
Perhaps more important than her contribution to cosmetics has been her involvement in the fight against breast cancer. She helped raise funds for the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, built in 1992. A year later, she founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which raises money for clinical and genetic breast cancer research. In 2006, the Foundation raised 27 million dollars—bringing its cumulative dollars raised since 1993 to over $160 million—and funded 115 scientists from around the globe. In addition to her philanthropy, Mrs. Lauder has held numerous photography exhibits and recently published a cookbook, In Great Taste. All of the proceeds from her photography and book sales go to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (for more information see The Breast Cancer Research Foundation: Where Make-up Meets Mammography).
We caught up with Mrs. Lauder at her recent photography exhibition, Perceptions of Beauty, at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Before her fans and friends began pouring in, we were able to ask a few questions.
Q: What prompted you to start The Breast Cancer Research Foundation?
EL: There was no single organization dedicated to breast cancer research, particularly clinical research, in a coordinated fashion. There were organizations that were doing emotional support, there were groups that were doing mammography, and other groups that were helping the underprivileged and underserved, but there was really no one raising funds specifically for research on a national level. I looked everywhere to find a foundation and there was not one. At that moment in time, there was a cross roads in my life. I knew I wanted to devote myself to doing this because getting it done would accelerate the research process. I am not one of those people that says, “Somebody ought to do this” and then waits for it to happen. I believe that if you think something needs to be done, you have to do it yourself. So I did. And, in fact, fourteen years later, it has accelerated the process.
Q: What are some preventative measures you would urge all women to take to reduce their cancer risk?
EL: Stay slender because fat cells produce estrogen. Get off hormone replacement therapy because a recent study showed that is not only bad for breast health, but also is bad for your heart. I would also tell them not to drink too much—two to three glasses of wine a week is about right. Do not smoke because smoking not only increases lung cancer risk, but also increases breast cancer risk. Exercise is good not only for [your] figure, but also for brain and general health. In terms of diet, stay on a low fat diet; eat plenty of fruits and cruciferous vegetables. Diet and exercise take a disciplined lifestyle, but they can be done. I have a cookbook out called In Great Taste, which incorporates recipes that are healthy, easy, low-fat and delicious. And all of my royalties are going to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Q: What are your major inspirations for your photography?
EL: I love nature and I have taken a lot of inspiration from nature. Recently, I started to do these portraits of the head vases for myself because I thought they were so wonderful. I got excellent response from people in the art world who said this is the best photography I have done thus far. Basically, I keep my eyes open and am inspired by things I see all the time.
Q: Many of your photographs are of doll-like women. How do these relate to your ideals of beauty?
EL: These girls are doll like, but I do not have one specific view of beauty. I just look at every woman differently and I think every woman can be beautiful. Every woman should take her best feature and emphasize it. What is on the inside of you is what’s important—it can be the sparkle in your eyes, the expression on your face, or your personality. That, to me, is what makes a woman beautiful. I do not think any woman is ugly and I think every woman has something she can enhance. That is what I encourage every woman to do, to enhance her best feature, like getting a good haircut.
Q: Many women may be curious—what is your daily beauty routine?
EL: My routine starts with cleansing, then I use Advanced Night Repair, and I also use Perfectionist, which has a little wand and is a concentrate. I put it on my laugh lines, around my lips, and on my forehead. Then I use Day Wear, which has a moisturizer and an SPF of 15, and then I start with my makeup. At night, I use Advanced Night Repair Concentrate and Crème de la Mer and some other products. I hate telling people my beauty routine because their eyes glaze over and they say “I can’t do that.”