NEW YORK – Aerin Lauder has no doubt her childhood visits to her famous grandmother Estée’s houses in Manhattan, Palm Beach and East Hampton were deeply formative experiences. “My earliest memories are of how she smelled and her jewellery,” she recalls, in a telling association of fragrance, aesthetics and glamour. “When I was really little, I would reach up and grab the jewellery she left on her dresser. I was fascinated by these incredible objects.” With the upcoming Fine Jewels sale at Sotheby’s New York on 17 October, Lauder – who worked for two decades in various divisions of Estée Lauder, Inc., before launching her own global luxury lifestyle brand AERIN in 2012 – has an opportunity to link her long-standing loves of fragrance and jewels.
As she prepares to launch the new AERIN Tuberose Collection, which features Tuberose Le Jour (for daytime) and Tuberose Le Soir (for nighttime), Lauder is partnering with Sotheby’s to explore this inescapable dichotomy among the auction’s offerings. She is also consigning two gems of her own, the proceeds from which will benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), an organisation founded by her aunt Evelyn in 1993 that today stands as the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the world.
AERIN LAUDER AT HOME IN NEW YORK. PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIAN CASSADY.
Lauder says she has always enjoyed picking different types of adornment depending on the time of day. “For day, I love really fun, wonderful, dramatic pieces of gold. At night, I like to incorporate stones and wear, for example, a big cocktail ring.” The two items she has donated to the sale illustrate her taste: perfect for day is her gold, rock-crystal and diamond ring by David Webb, while a glamorous night on the town calls for a gold-and-diamond ring by Van Cleef & Arpels. Whatever the hour, Lauder believes it is of utmost importance that jewellery be memorable – an opinion she inherited from her illustrious ancestor. “My grandmother loved big, iconic pieces,” she says. “She liked to wear just one great jewel, with a great dress and handbag. She taught me the idea that less is more.”
Such was Aerin Lauder’s inspiration when she launched her own company five years ago. Founded on the principle that living beautifully should be easy, the brand develops tailored collections in the realms of beauty, fashion accessories and home decor, which are available on her website and at select retailers. “For a busy woman, true luxury is having your options pre-edited for you,” Lauder explains. “It was the way my grandmother started her business, too. She started with just four or five products. We like to do things in a small, focused way. The idea is, you don’t have to have so much, but just have a few great pieces.”
With her new fragrance collection, Lauder tells the story of one of nature’s most perfect flowers, the tuberose. Long held as a symbol of love and friendship, this prized blossom reveals different scent impressions at dawn and dusk. Hence, Lauder’s Tuberose Le Jour offers the dew-touched aroma of this flower at sunrise, while Tuberose Le Soir evokes its opulent, intoxicating aura at sunset. “Tuberose Le Jour was inspired by the magical fields of tuberose flowers grown in India, where people gather buds at dawn to preserve their bright, fresh floralcy,” says Lauder. At night, the flower takes on a distinctly different character. “The fully opened petals are harvested only at sunset,” she explains. “I was fascinated to have experienced how the fragrance changed, becoming increasingly rich.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the tuberose was one of her grandmother’s favourite flowers. “Even today, when I smell one, it reminds me of her. My grandmother loved fragrance and told me never to leave the house without it. She was always testing new fragrances, but she especially loved Beautiful,” Lauder recalls, referring to the Estée Lauder scent launched in 1985. “She had an incredible nose and a passion for flowers. She loved very feminine Bulgarian roses and white flowers in general. Her houses, especially her tables, always had the most beautiful arrangements.”
AERIN’S RECENTLY LAUNCHED FRAGRANCES: TUBEROSE LE JOUR AND TUBEROSE LE SOIR. PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIAN CASSADY.
To refine her own horticultural knowledge and her nose, this summer Lauder toured some of England’s great gardens, including those at Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Badminton in Gloucestershire, seats of the Dukes of Devonshire and Beaufort, respectively. “The beauty of the English countryside is amazing. Everything looks so effortless and easy, yet luxurious and warm,” Lauder reports. “I’ve never seen geraniums like I saw there. In America, you just find hot pink or red. In England I saw purple, sparkling pink and climbing geraniums, which I had never seen before. It was magic.”
Another wellspring for Lauder are the gardens of her home in East Hampton, which she inherited from her grandmother. The house, decorated largely in her favourite shades of blue and white, is a refuge she shares with her husband, their teenage boys, plus three dogs. “Weekends are all family time. We love to go sailing, bike riding, barbecuing.” But for Lauder, even weekend casual has its limits: no matter what, she dresses for dinner. On a recent safari in Tanzania, for instance, she pulled out a Stella McCartney ruffled lace blouse, which she dressed up with a piece of jewellery.
Wherever she is, Lauder seeks out museums and galleries, as befits the daughter of esteemed collectors and philanthropists Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder. Her father, a former US ambassador to Austria, founded the Neue Galerie in New York in 2001. Her mother has been a longtime leading trustee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, one of the institutions Aerin also supports, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she has been a Met Gala co-chair.
In her rare downtime, a favourite occupation consists of browsing through auction catalogues. “From the jewellery catalogues, I have gotten a lot of ideas for packaging for my products,” Lauder says. “I get so much inspiration from them.” It’s only apt that the Fine Jewels sale should now get a little inspiration from Lauder herself.
James Reginato is writer-at-large of Vanity Fair and author of Great Houses, Modern Aristocrats (Rizzoli).
Click the slideshow to view Aerin Lauder's Fine Jewels picks for day and night: