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Aerin Lauder: 'Every woman can be beautiful'

From Kristie Lu Stout, CNN and Milena Veselinovic, for CNN
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Meet Aerin Lauder, glamorous granddaughter of make-up mogul Estee Lauder
  • In 2012, she stared her own lifestyle brand, AERIN
  • Credited with casting ethnically diverse models for Estee Lauder campaigns

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

(CNN) -- When your grandmother is one of the most famous cosmetics moguls in history, it might put a little pressure on you to succeed.

But for Aerin Lauder, the 44-year-old granddaughter of Estée Lauder, who founded the eponymous make-up company, the legacy has been an inspiration rather than a burden.

Lauder worked her way up through the ranks of the billion-dollar family company for 25 years to the position of style and image director.

In 2012, she decided to combine her passion for home décor with her knowledge of beauty, to launch her own lifestyle brand, called AERIN.

The businesswoman spoke to CNN's Kirstie Lu Stout about her drive, the importance of saying "no," and how beauty transcends borders or race.

CNN: Are you living out your dream today with your own brand, AERIN?

Cosmetics queen's billion-dollar empire

Aerin Lauder: I'm definitely living my dream. As a little girl, I've always loved beauty and I loved home, so I've managed to combine the two into a brand.

The making of a cosmetics mogul

CNN: What is it like to live up to the heritage of Estee Lauder?

AL: It is an amazing legacy and I think she is always looking down at me very proud. She taught me the importance of excellence; so has my uncle, my cousin and my aunt, everyone who works at the company as a family member has really re-emphasized the importance of excellence and perfection.

CNN: You had a very international upbringing, growing up in Vienna, Austria, where your father was the U.S. ambassador, then moving to Manhattan. How did that shape who you are today?

AL: It shaped a tremendous amount of my vision, style and taste. When we moved to Europe when I was a teenager I really did not want to go. I was happy in my school, with my friends, but looking back on it, it was the best experience I've ever had. We traveled every weekend, I experienced incredible new cultures, museums, cities and it really opened up my eyes.

CNN: You worked your way through the ranks of Estee Lauder and managed to extend the reach of the brand to all corners of the world, partially through casting diverse models. In 2003 you hired the Ethiopian model Liya Kebede, then in 2011, models Liu Wen and Joan Smalls from China and Puerto Rico. Why is that an important thing to do in this business?

AL: Because beauty is global. It's the idea that every woman can be beautiful, which is a concept Estée has which is still so modern today. It's the idea of beauty from all over the world.

Aerin Lauder at the Met Gala in New York.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

CNN: Are you a detail-oriented person?

AL: I'm very detail-oriented, which is good and bad. Because I will wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about something or seeing a mistake, thinking about it and I immediately send an email -- I'm very focused on details. But I think that is really important because it is my name on that product, and I think it should be the best it can possibly be.

CNN: What has been the biggest mistake you have made in your career and how did you overcome it?

AL: I think it is very important to learn to say "no." I think it is sometimes important for brands or the creative director to learn to say "this might be on trend but it is not right for us." I launched products and campaigns which I thought might bring in new consumers but in reality would make the existing Estée Lauder one maybe discouraged.

I think it is very important to learn to say no.
Aerin Lauder

CNN: In your business schedule you are balancing work and family. How do you find time and get inspired?

AL: I think you can get inspiration from anything. It can be a walk on the beach, it can be a moment with your children, and also the Internet has been a wonderful source for inspiration. You can Google it, search it, look at the beaches for the sensibility of there and feels like you are there. I think the Internet is a great way to get inspiration.

CNN: Is luxury attainable?

AL: Luxury is definitely attainable. I think it could be anything from a beautiful little gold bowl on your desk, to a very glamorous chandelier, and everything in between.

Read: Bobbi Brown's billion-dollar idea: 'Lipstick like lips'

Inspire: Building a billion-dollar empire the Tory Burch way

Learn: Iconic fashion designs, from Coco Chanel to DVF

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