Estée Lauder at work...
There was a shoe shop in London’s Edgware Road in the ‘50’s called “Cover Girl”. The shoes sold there were cheap, colourful, and as near the traditional concept of “tart’s” footwear as makes no difference. Strip-sandals in every colour of the rainbow with heels that began at 3 inches and went up.
Most of the shoes were under £2, exceptional extravagance nudged £5. All that was needed to complete the image was an ankle-bracelet and a poodle on a lead. (Thought: do the kids today who favour ankle-bracelets know their significance? Right ankle: open for business. Left ankle: I’m still around, but the ‘cleaners’ are in – it’ll be business as usual next week. Or, like a certain leader of Westminster Council happily sporting an Acid House [smiley face] badge, believing it means ‘Have a Nice Day’. Are they blissfully unaware? Would it be kind to tell them?)
But I loved Cover Girl, I’ve always loved flashy feet.
My strip-sandals went from red to white to blue to pink to green to fluorescent mauve with stiletto heels, and all of them under £2.
Among the shoes, displayed in the window were photographs of “Cover Girl” herself: “friend of the stars”.
Inside the shop itself, similar pictures covered the walls.
There was Cover Girl relaxing with Gregory Peck, smiling with Greer Garson, sharing a drink with Margaret Lockwood or a joke with Phyllis Calvert; in earnest conversation with James Mason or Ronald Reagan.
Half Hollywood and the whole of Pinewood it seemed were Cover Girl’s pals. This dark-haired, well-covered, jolly Jewish matron obviously enjoyed one Hell of a social life. One couldn’t help wondering why such a socialite bothered to run a shoe shop in the Edgware Road.
You had to look closely to see the autograph book clutched in her hand and realise how carefully planned such ‘informal’ moments were. Friend or relative carefully positioned with camera as Mama approaches Star, autograph book at the ready. Star signs, book gets palmed, friend takes photograph. Yet another for the window.
You had to smile. It was so blatant. But it worked.
It worked for Estée Lauder too, waylaying the Windsors at Palm Beach Station. No sooner had the Duchess opened the car door, than Esther from Brooklyn had a hand on her elbow and a chum with a flash-bulb at the ready.
So keen was Estée on cultivating the Windsors that the Duchess was eventually forced to demur at the avalanche of free samples and if the Duke is reported to have said that Youth Dew was the only perfume he liked, he certainly got exposed to plenty of it.
However, one thing is certain: Wallis Simpson did not land a King with Youth Dew, and as only wannabes choose ‘exotics’ where real femmes fatales rely on the track record of florals, the smart money is on Patou’s JOY.
It mattered to Estée Lauder to be considered ‘Society’. It mattered so much that she denied her Jewish background, lied about her childhood, gave neither of her parents obituaries in the newspapers, and fabricated a country-club background with stables and tennis courts. ‘Viennese’ relations were more acceptable than the actual Hungarian, so ‘Viennese’ they became.
There was no way that “Esther from Brooklyn” could break into the Palm Beach set. The most exclusive club did permit Jews admittance, either as members or as guests. According to one leading socialite: “Even Jesus Christ would not have gained entrance.”
And if Our Lord would hardly have eaten his heart out, Esther did. She wanted that milieu badly.
She submerged strangers with gifts and was prepared to clutch, claw and clamber her way into society.
Charlie Revson hated all this. “Who’s she kidding?” He would snarl. “What’s with this ‘Estée’? She’s Esther! Esther from Brooklyn!”
And, to her eternal annoyance, “Esther from Brooklyn” he continued to call her. Actually, it was Queens, not Brooklyn. Queens was even poorer than Brooklyn at the time.
Revson could take competition, thrived on it. Loved a good fight, understood all and any business ploy or manoeuvre, but he hated social climbers, they got up his nose.
“That Man” was how Lauder referred to Revson.
Delighted, he brought out a man’s cologne called That Man, so she had to see it advertised on every hoarding and in every magazine.
It was Esther’s uncle who set her on the road with his home-made face cream (he also produced a cure for chicken lice) and when he died penniless and his widow was left with nothing, the Life Insurance having long since been traded, Estée, now doing quite nicely, was asked to help.
“Look behind the bath,” she said; “you know how Hungarians hide things.”
In the 1980s, Patou brought back 12 of their original fragrances. Designer scents, all subtle, all chic.
Rigaud, one of the most respected houses at the time, were one of the Old Brigade who watched to see how they went, content to let someone else “test the water”.
Leaving aside Charlie Revson’s cardinal rule of marketing [sadly, she doesn’t actually say what this is!] (which Patou imperiously ignored) the sort of woman who bought them is dead – along with luxury liners, cocktails and laughter, tea at Gunter’s and the Savoy Grill.
In the 1980s, the only woman to have in mind when creating a perfume was a brassy, vulgar, tasteless, nouveau riche.
They were the only ones with the money, and money was all that mattered. The pharmaceutical companies had taken over, the artists either dead or dying.
Today, Ernest Beaux or Ernest Daltroff wouldn’t get to first base. François Coty might as well never have been born, and Pierre François Pascal and Jacques Guerlain are churning in their graves.
Houbigant would not recognise his company. Lubin and Piver are names from the past, and D’Orsay? Isn’t D’Orsay a museum?
And all thanks to “Esther from Brooklyn” and the old boyfriend who, thinking she could do with a helping hand, presented her with the formula for Youth Dew...