WHEN YOU THINK of women who embody American style, it’s mostly icons from the past that come to mind: Jackie O, Babe Paley, CZ Guest. Finding the modern-day equivalent is no easy task, for nowadays women with a genuine sense of fashion and appreciation for the finer things in life have become a dying breed. Hitherto, spending days decorating the home, entertaining and choosing outfits for grand soirées was all that a lithe and beautiful society swan had to do in order to become an arbiter of style. Things are different now, as even “women of a certain pedigree” – as they were often referred to – are obviously more than just pretty clothes hangers flitting from luncheons to nights at the opera. They’re smart, strong and accomplished females who manage to have successful careers while never sacrificing those “frivolous” things that make life easier.
If you were to identify the modern-day equivalent of those style mavens of yore, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Aerin Lauder, granddaughter of Estée Lauder, the pioneering woman who created a cosmetics empire at a time when most girls were expected to marry and have children by 25, and could thus only aspire to be secretaries. After working for more than two decades for her family company, Lauder, who still acts as its style and image director, decided to branch out and establish Aerin, a lifestyle brand that includes beauty, decor and fashion accessories.
We’ve seen Lauder grace the front row at Michael Kors or Oscar de la Renta, dispense entertaining tips for the most celebrated glossies, and pose for A-list photographers in her houses in New York, East Hamptons and Aspen, and over the years she has come to embody 21st-century American style.
Why did you decide to start your own label?
It’s always been a dream of mine and my whole family has always said to follow your dreams, and then I saw that there was an opportunity that people wanted something more than just beauty from me; they really associated me with home and accessories and so it was a wonderful next step to go beyond beauty and to the idea of lifestyle.
Were you always planning to do beauty, fashion and interior?
Originally it started off as a beauty concept and I wanted to see if it could go beyond beauty, because I love home and accessories almost as much. I was fascinated with these different categories and I felt there was a real place in the marketplace for a lifestyle brand based on heritage, luxury, feminine elements, story-telling – all the different products with wonderful stories behind them, whether it’s the chandelier inspired by a piece I found in an old cafe in Vienna or a fabric inspired by something that was in Estée’s home. The brand is based on effortless style, whether it’s beauty or home or accessories, so it’s the idea that things can mix and match.
How has your experience decorating your houses helped you?
When decorating, it’s always important to have the idea of luxury and comfort. I have two teenage boys and two dogs, and they live in every room and I think it’s important to use all the rooms in your home and to feel comfortable and at the same time have beautifully designed pieces. When I was going into the design process, I was inspired by my travelling, history, images that I had seen; it’s a little bit of everything but I definitely think comfort is very important. To me, that’s luxury. When you’re cosy and it’s a beautiful velvet sofa, or it’s a wonderful chair, a really amazing desk to sit at, it just feels strong and sturdy and functions really well – that defines luxury.
Are there pieces directly inspired by your grandmother?
The wallpaper is very authentic to my grandmother. She loved birds and flowers; it just felt so perfect for the brand but by doing it white on white it feels modern and fresh. There was also a wonderful chair that we call The Joseph (after my grandfather, Estée’s husband). He always used to sit in this chair, with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other. It’s truly the most comfortable club chair, so we have that under his name.
Did you enjoy designing fashion and accessories?
The accessories were a wonderful next step because it really was about timeless style, but with a modern sensibility. They’re all quite simple – the shoes are beautiful, effortless. The jewellery is great; we do it with Erickson Beamon and so it has a wonderful fashion edge to it. It’s whimsical and aspirational, really cool. It’s quite seamless, and when you see the gold of the jewellery, it works with the gold on the bookshelf or the console. It really becomes a world.
What’s your approach to entertaining at home?
In a way that’s luxurious, but at the same time casual. I think there’s something nice about inviting friends over with children and just having a spontaneous dinner and sitting outside and making it really easy. It’s great friends, great food and I think it’s nice when people bring children, especially in the summertime when it’s all outside and casual at a beach or pool. That makes it really fun.
How would you define American style?
I think Americans have a sense of casual, luxurious sportswear. We do wonderful, big cashmere sweaters. Michael Kors to me defines American sportswear. That fantastic pair of suede jeans, and loafers, and a great sweater and aviators – American sensibility really embraces that luxury sportswear. In America it’s about jeans and a blazer and a great pair of shoes. It’s simple.
Is there a fashion rule you always follow?
Great accessories. I think that’s a really wonderful finishing touch. Whether it’s a great bag, a necklace or a pair of shoes – you can be in the most simple, unexciting outfit, but by wearing a great pair of shoes or a great bag or a pretty necklace, you completely transform your look. Estée had this great concept: you put one piece of great jewellery on, not tons. The same goes for decorating. You don’t need to put so much around one beautiful light fixture, a pretty simple couch, a coffee table – certain elements can transform a look or a room.
Do you remember the first beauty product you used?
It was a lipgloss. I was at school and I had an Estée Lauder lipgloss. It was a shade called Opal and it was all iridescent and pretty and very, very light, and we were all in the bathroom trying it on. It was my grandmother’s, it had Estée Lauder on it, and it made me realise that my grandmother was more than just a grandmother. It was a wonderful moment and it made me so proud because everyone wanted to try it on.
Is there a teaching from your grandmother you swear by?
That everything can be beautiful if you take the time. This wonderful concept that even if you’re sitting at your desk, a beautiful arrangement of flowers or a pretty coffee mug will transform your experience at work. That idea that everything can be beautiful is so true.