The long, thin, swan's neck supports a finely sculptured head. The patrician features, regal chin, confident glare and radiant complexion scream Park Avenue. The tall, cigarette-thin figure, emphasized by four-inch stiletto heels, is more suggestive of a svelte runway model than a working mom. Although Aerin Lauder is not a fashion model, she might well have been. One of a new breed of trust-fund tycoons - who actually work although they're born wealthy - she had the beauty business in her blood.
"Aerin is almost unique among the others in her set," says a close friend. "She would hate the term Park Avenue Princess, but that's what she is. "She is also unassuming, unpretentious, very real. Very down to earth. There isn't a trace of arrogance or hauteur about her and it's not an accident. She has been raised to despise arrogance, even as a pose."
Aerin Lauder is the granddaughter of the legendary Estée Lauder, founder of the half-century-old $3.5 billion global cosmetics empire, and daughter of Ronald Lauder, the 57-year-old chairman of Clinique and former United States ambassador to Austria. Aerin is one of a new generation of Park Avenue Princesses. They not only have impeccable pedigrees, but high-flying careers - millions of inherited dollars and demanding jobs. She and a select group of Upper East Side friends who populate the same junior committees and sip the same drinks in the same drawing rooms form a bridge between the boardroom and society - combining the social demands of the charity hostess with the rigorous demands of corporate culture.
Among them are some of Manhattan's most poised and beautiful women - as well as the richest. Serena Boardman, 29, heiress to a sizable fortune from the First National Bank, once worked for Sotheby's and now works for a luxury dot-com e-tailer. Her younger sister, Samantha, is a doctor. Sloan Lindemann Barnet, 32, who inherited a chunk of a $1.5 billion telecommunications fortune, paid her legal dues as a Manhattan prosecutor and now works the Oxygen television channel and Web site. Working socialite Lauren duPont was until last year a senior editor at Vogue. She now contributes to the magazine as well as running her own consultancy.
Then there's sisters Pia Getty, Alexandra von Fürstenberg and Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, all daughters of duty-free billionaire Robert Miller - who discovered early on that life is not duty free. They not only married well, as generations of socialites have before them. They also work hard.
"The whole concept of socialite almost disappeared in the '90s," says social chronicler Selma Vass. "It's as if they all went into chrysalis and re-emerged transformed. If they worked at all, they used to have the sort of jobs you got to kill time until you got married. "But these young women have serious jobs. Serious careers. The sort of jobs you keep after you've found a husband and had a couple of children. Despite all the money."
The undisputed leader of the current crop of Park Avenue Princesses is racehorse sleek Aerin Lauder. In her 20s, sporting Manolo Blahniks with Michael Kors or Oscar de la Renta wherever she went, she was regularly featured on magazine best-dressed lists alongside Hollywood stars and rock divas. She also made the Top 10 in the perennial charts of America's youngest and most powerful.
Now, at 30, Aerin Lauder is the member of the family most closely compared in character, style and spirit with her illustrious and feisty forebear. "I look at Aerin and I see Estée," her uncle, Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder said recently. "She has her flair. She knows how to pick the exact right fragrance, the exact right color."
Those are traits she showed early in her life. A favorite family photograph shows Aerin, barely out of diapers, playing dress-up with her grandmother's clothes and cosmetics at the Lauder estate in Palm Beach. She is making faces in Estée Lauder's straw hat, gold sandals and one long white satin glove. When she was 7, she would thumb through fashion magazines the way any other child her age might have played with dolls. Her father tells how any search for a missing copy of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar usually began - and ended - in Aerin's room.
Today, Aerin is director of creative marketing of Estée Lauder, a senior executive in the family business. She brings her grandmother's implacable zeal and - at least as important - her instinct, to duties that include trawling Paris and Milan for next season's fashion and color trends.
"When people ask me, 'Why do you work?' I find that almost rude," she says. "Everybody has to work. "You've got to work hard at whatever you do. You've got to do something that stimulates your mind, otherwise life becomes very petty and you have too much time to worry about nonsense. Even if you don't work in an office and you want to be at home with your children, then work at something you think is important. Do something!"
Aerin is credited with developing lines of new products to update the company's image for a younger generation of cosmetics consumers. Among them is a Mehndi-inspired series of authentic-looking, but temporary, tattoos. Her first big score for Estée Lauder was Mirror Images, a lipstick that lets women layer a gloss lipstick over a matte. Despite skepticism, it was an instantaneous hit. The palette she created for lipsticks and other cosmetics is overtly sexual, with shades named Exotic, Nude and Wild. There is talk of building a division around her; even creating a new Aerin Lauder brand.
A generation ago, a woman with Aerin Lauder's background might have done little more than lunch. Her life would have been measured out in Le Cirque and Cipriani coffee spoons, invitation lists for rigorous museum fund-raisers and bouts of therapeutic shopping. But now, the Ladies Who Lunch are Ladies Who Work Through Lunch. And their most admired status symbol isn't the right table at the Four Seasons, but a seat on the board. Truman Capote would have been appalled.
Aerin began her career in the family business straight out of college. She learned her trade working for the Prescriptives brand marketing group, then joined the Lauder brand in 1995. She stepped on to the fast track when the title Executive Director of Creative Marketing was invented for her.
Along with her other duties, Aerin works directly with Estée Lauder's promotional face, Elizabeth Hurley. Aerin is one of the people who have pushed to have Hurley's racy public image incorporated into the company's image with a sensationally daring new series of nude ads.
Although missteps have been few, she caused a stir when she admitted to a reporter in an unguarded moment that Hurley would inevitably be replaced one day. It seemed an innocent enough admission at the time, given that Hurley has just celebrated her 35th birthday. But the remark was taken to mean that a search for Hurley's replacement was already under way and Estée Lauder had to calm troubled waters with a denial.
Aerin's younger sister Jane, 27, with whom she is very close, has joined her in the business, but while Aerin works the creative side, Jane is very much attuned to business administration. They talk every day, as sisters and as colleagues, and they live just a few blocks from each other in Park Avenue's Gucci ghetto.
Five years ago, both women made an enviable killing when Estée Lauder went public. Each of the sisters are thought to have grossed $92 million from the sales of shares while the family, headed by Leonard, kept firm control over the companies.
As well as her demanding business schedule, Aerin also has a dizzying social life. She is regularly featured in Avenue, Quest, W and Vogue as a guest at this garden party or that, among other members of the moneyed elite at Christie's or at the Met's Temple of Dendur as co-chair of one fund-raiser or another. In 1996, she married her college-days sweetheart, investment banker Eric Zinterhofer, son of a New Jersey pathologist, in a Hamptons wedding. They have one son.
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