Michael Kors Interviews Aerin Lauder
interview by michael kors
Having known Aerin Lauder for nearly 20 years, I was pleased to partner with her on this story; we spoke of new topics. Who knew such a glamour gal was the outdoorsy type, enjoying summer biking and hiking in Aspen? And although I surmised she always had a love of beauty pulsing through her veins, it was interesting to hear how her career has unfolded. When Aerin first started working at Prescriptives, one of her first jobs post-college, she was photographed by The New York Times in a little camel double-faced T-shirt minidress, a Michael Kors design. I love all things camel, and I remember thinking: Uh-huh, she’s a tawny girl, I’m a tawny boy; this is meant to happen. And we became fast friends.
Throughout the years, our memories involve dancing, shopping, and eating—dancing like crazy at a wedding until Aerin’s dress hem came down; partying on the beach in Wainscott at a chic AERIN party; sitting with her, Marilyn Manson, and Dita Von Teese at Bungalow 8 after the Met Ball one year; or going for late-night burgers (everyone ordered their own fries and no one would share!).
Our mutual admiration has blossomed into an enduring friendship, and I’m thrilled to see her evolve her successful career beyond beauty, incorporating accessories and home goods with her new brand, AERIN. With a penchant for fashion, style, and all things luxury, Aerin’s lifestyle brand seems a logical next step. Here, we discuss how her famous family and lineage in beauty informed her profession, why now was the time to expand her brand, and how her love of Aspen as a teen has only grown, culminating in the purchase of her first mountain home.
MICHAEL KORS: Let’s talk about Aspen. I can’t really ski. The only way for me to stop is to sit down. In my mind, unless I can be Audrey Hepburn in Charade, on a terrace, that’s my only skiing moment—only après, not during.
AERIN LAUDER: You would have loved skiing when I was in Aspen two weeks ago. It was so warm. You could sit outside in shorts and a T-shirt. It was perfect, from my point of view.
MK: When you were growing up, did you think you’d go into the family business and beauty?
AL: I always loved beauty and fashion. When I was a very little girl, I used to play with that Barbie doll that was only just the head. Remember that? It was this doll where you could do her hair, makeup, and jewelry. And it was probably my favorite toy. I always loved beauty and accessories, and it’s always something I was passionate about. So I think it was the next step. People always ask what I would have done if I weren’t doing what I’m doing. And I say I’d [still] be in fashion or in beauty. It’s such a dream come true now because I have the ability to go into home [goods] and accessories as well.
MK: When did you start working at Estée Lauder?
AL: Every summer during college, I would work in a different brand of the company—whether it was Clinique or Prescriptives. One summer I worked at Estée Lauder, and I really enjoyed the whole creative process. After college—I [studied] at the Annenberg School for Communication [at the University of Pennsylvania], which focused on visual communications such as advertising, film, and art history—I came to Prescriptives first for a few years, working with Jane Hudis. Then I went over to Estée Lauder, and I was there until just two years ago. Now I’m just a consultant, but it’s still been a brand that I’ve grown up with... Jane was an amazing role model because she taught me the importance of hard work, dedication, and passion. Even today, when I have meetings with her, I realize that it’s so important to love what you do.
MK: You can’t do what we do unless you’re totally in love with it.
AL: How this whole concept started was that people would always ask, “What’s in your makeup bag? How do you get that sun-kissed look? How do you create that no-makeup makeup look? What are the items you can’t live without?” After being in the beauty business for so many years and having Estée be such an incredible role model in the sense of beauty—as well as working with amazing makeup artists and going to fashion shows and being friends with designers—it was a wonderful idea to create this capsule beauty collection that was edited and focused. And from there we conceptualized the other categories. As you know better than anyone, people love buying into a lifestyle and an overall concept. So when they buy a shell-colored lip gloss, they can also buy shells for their house, as well as sunglasses and [items in] other categories [in that shade] to create one consistent image.
MK: After being strictly in the beauty world for so long, what let you know it was time to spread your wings and try something new?
AL: People were always asking me home questions. It was something I’ve always loved. I’ve always—since a young age and still to this day—loved decorating, fabrics, furniture, antiques, and lighting. And for all the articles I’ve done, a lot have been about beauty and style, but a huge amount have been about my homes. So it was a wonderful next step to go into that world. I’m doing tabletop now. We have quite a large showroom [in High Point, North Carolina] that we’re doing with E.J. Victor and Visual Comfort for lighting and Lee Jofa for fabrics. So we’re doing [the décor for] multiple rooms.
MK: My idea of fun is not to edit the closet, but I love rearranging a room. I could move furniture for hours on end.
AL: I think it’s so much fun to create a space. As the world has gotten more and more hectic—with these horrible catastrophes [happening]—people are going out less, ordering in, [having guests over]. People love to be in their homes. I think to make your home as comfortable as possible is so important. There’s something really interesting about that as a trend, that whole idea of lifestyle and being happy in your surroundings.
MK: Who’s the AERIN brand customer?
AL: It’s probably the person who wears Michael Kors clothes. It’s someone who loves luxury and style and at the same time has a sense of ease. It’s not necessarily an age group. It’s a woman who’s busy. She loves the idea of everything being edited and focused. And the same goes for the other categories, such as the home. We did all the fabrics so they can be mixed and matched, and the same for the tabletop. All the plates can be used together or separately.
MK: Chic, chic, chic, but at the same time simplify it.
AL: Exactly. It’s like simple style. I was in your store yesterday, and everything was color coordinated. It’s easy. People still want style, and they still want luxury, but they want it made simple. When you ask women today what’s the one thing they wish they had more of, they always say time. So the idea of being able to shop cross-category to buy the beach bag, the summer lip gloss, and the pillows for your pool house makes it into this very focused, easy life.
MK: Your whole family has been going to Aspen for a really long time. What’s your first memory of Aspen?
AL: I was in my early teens. I went to visit my aunt and uncle, and I absolutely fell in love with it then. There’s such a wonderful balance of outdoors and style—such a great energy, great restaurants, and shops. It has absolutely everything you could possibly want, from the most extreme skiing to the most luxurious stores to Nobu [Matsuhisa restaurant] and everything in between. It’s just the perfect destination for everyone. It’s wonderful because, unlike other ski resorts, it is beautiful all year round.
MK: Evelyn and Leonard [Lauder] went not just in the winter?
AL: No, they went for the whole summer. I love it there in the summertime. We go almost every summer for a week, but we don’t stay out there all summer. We go back and forth. It’s great because you do amazing hikes. The air is so fresh; it’s so sunny. [We go] white-water rafting and biking. It’s very sporty.
MK: But then you can get into town to get some miso cod! Perfect places are where you can have nature all day and then go shopping and have great food after.
AL: It’s paradise to us. I have two sons, ages 12 and 13. And everyone likes it for different reasons. I like it for Nobu [Matsuhisa], the beautiful scenery, the great shopping, and the easier trails. And my husband just did this insane Grand Traverse: a 40-mile ski race that starts at midnight. I know you’re dying to do that, Michael [laughs]. It was crazy. But that race was unbelievable because it shows that Aspen has so many different dimensions to it. That’s what makes it so unique.
MK: You like to tell stories with [the décor of] your homes. The house in Aspen feels very different than your apartment in New York or your Hamptons house. What do you love about the Aspen house?
AL: I love the view, and I love the simplicity of it. We have this beautiful Nakashima coffee table in our living room. I got it for my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary—before we even knew we would have a home in Aspen—because I loved the feeling of it, the style. It went into storage because we didn’t have a place for it for five years until we got this Aspen house. There’s always been a side of me that loves that simple, modern, mountain sensibility. And when I walked into the house and saw the view, I just knew immediately that it was perfect. And that’s why everything is very simple in the house. It’s all white and wood and fur blankets and throws because I just really wanted to focus on the views and the simplicity of nature.
MK: The Lauder family recently gave a generous contribution to the Aspen Valley Hospital [through The Lauder Foundation], and overall, your family has long been involved in philanthropy—both in Aspen and on a national level. Tell us about a cause that is close to your heart.
AL: I’m a huge supporter of First Book [a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that provides access to new books for children in need]. I have always loved books, and as a mother, I wanted to share my passion for reading with my children. For many children getting access to books isn’t easy. First Book understands how crucial books and reading are to a child’s life.
MK: Let’s be frank. We are Olympic shoppers. In what Aspen stores do you shop?
AL: My favorite store in Aspen is Kemo Sabe. You can get these amazing cowboy hats and branded belts and cowboy boots that have embroidered flowers on them. You walk in and you feel like you’re in this incredible Aspen experience.
MK: And your favorite restaurant?
AL: I love Ajax Tavern right at the base of the gondola. It has great food—delicious truffle french fries and cheeseburgers.
MK: So if you had to sum up Aspen in a few words, what does it mean to you?
AL: Mountains, fresh air, and style.
MK: That’s a pretty fabulous combo. Now the only thing I need to learn is how to ski like a normal human being.
AL: Come and visit. You don’t have to do anything. We could shop and eat truffle french fries.
photography courtesy of AERIN; françois halard; kevin mazur/wire image (kors)
Carte Blanche Wines, Woody Creek Distillers, Soulshine Music, and musician Black Joe Lewis presented “Sip, Savor & Boogie” during Aspen's FOOD & WINE Classic on June 20, 2014. 'Aspen Peak' and EKS Events helped produce the event.