Evelyn Lauder: Makeup Maven and Pink Ribbon Creator Dead at 75

Evelyn Lauder and Elizabeth Hurley
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The daughter-in-law of Estée Lauder was diagnosed with nongenetic ovarian cancer in 2007, but still continued to work for the makeup company and promote cancer awareness around the world.

Beloved cosmetics queen Evelyn Lauder passed away on Saturday at her home at age 75.

The cause of death was nongenetic ovarian cancer, said Alexandra Trower, a spokeswoman for Estée Lauder Companies. She was diagnosed in 2007.

Lauder, the wife of Leonard A. Lauder, head of the Estée Lauder Companies, and daughter-in-law of the company’s formidable and powerful matriarch, Estée Lauder, had already personally beaten breast cancer in 1989.

Her larger crusade against breast cancer began In 1992, when she and her friend Alexandra Penney, former editor-in-chief of Self, created the breast cancer awareness pink ribbons. First, it was just little bows given to women at makeup counters to remind them about getting regular breast exams and mammograms.

Later came fundraising projects and products that grew into October being declared by Congress as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Over $330 million in donations – $50 million from Estee Lauder and its partners to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation – helped establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in 2009.

Elizabeth Hurley, a longtime face of Estee Lauder cosmetics, tweeted today, "RIP my dear friend and mentor, Evelyn Lauder. I will miss you so much. The world will never forget your work for breast cancer."

Just last month, Lauder reminisced about the early days of the breast cancer campaign. "There had been no publicity about breast cancer, but a confluence of events – the pink ribbon, the color, the press, partnering with Elizabeth Hurley, having Estee Lauder as an advertiser in so many magazines and persuading so many of my friends who are health and beauty editors to do stories about breast health -- got people talking," Lauder said. Then, three years after distributing the first pink ribbon, a flight attendant noted it on Lauder's lapel and said, "I know that's for breast cancer." "From there, it became ubiquitous," she recalled.

Lauder's 2007 diagnosis with ovarian cancer didn't slow her down. Each October, she appeared at cancer awareness events around the world.

The rest of the time, she went to work at Estee Lauder's Fifth Avenue headquarters, which, despite its annual revenue of $2.48 billion, was run much like a family business. Over the years, Evelyn Lauder would hold many positions there and she helped develop its lines of skin care, makeup and fragrance. She came up with the name of the Clinique brand during the 1960s. Most recently, she held the title of senior corporate vice president. Her other passion was photography, and she wrote the book "In Great Taste: Fresh, Simple Recipes for Eating and Living Well."

Born Evelyn Hausner in 1936 in Vienna, Austria, she fled Nazi-occupied Europe with her parents, and they settled in the U.S. She attended public schools in New York City and Hunter College, part of the City University of New York. As a college freshman, she met her husband, the elder son of Estee Lauder and whose family owned what was then a small cosmetics company.

"We had five products in the line, we only had two or three colors in our lipsticks," she told cable news channel NY1 in 2005. "It was a baby company."