When Leonard Lauder was 13 years old, his mother, Estée Lauder, used her kitchen in a way that wasn’t exactly commonplace for 1940s-era housewives—she turned it into the headquarters of her nascent beauty business. By 1958, Leonard Lauder had officially joined the company, as it was already in the thick of the explosive growth that it would enjoy for decades. Now, after a 60-year tenure at the Estée Lauder Companies, where he served as C.E.O. and chairman, Lauder is now known as its “chief teaching officer.” He shares his most valuable lessons and cherished memories in a new book, The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty. Herewith, his key components to the good life. —Ashley Baker
Bedtime: I love my bedtime routine. Normally, I’m in bed by 10:00; I read for an hour and then it’s lights out at 11:00. I rarely have difficulty getting to sleep. But if I do, instead of counting sheep, I mentally check off all the specialty department stores we used to sell to, starting in Portland, Maine, with Porteous, Mitchell & Braun, and working my way down the East Coast, past R. H. Stern and Filene’s in Boston, Gladding’s in Providence, G. Fox in Hartford, and so on. I’m usually asleep before I get to New York.
Breakfast, weekday: Depending on my fancy, breakfast can be anything from Greek yogurt with fresh fruit to ham and eggs, country-style.
Breakfast, weekend: My wife, Judy, makes a delicious French toast from whole-wheat bread, with sliced bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and Vermont maple syrup. Heaven!
Cocktail: When I used to travel to Denmark, I always came back with a bottle of aquavit. My favorite cocktail is a Danish Mary, made with clamato juice and Danish aquavit. No spices.
Date: Judy and I have a weekly date night. Whether it’s dinner in or out, it’s just the two of us. After dinner, we snuggle in bed and watch an old movie.
Dinner, weekend: When my parents were alive, we had a tradition of going out for dinner every Sunday, always at the same restaurant, originally Luchow’s, now long gone. We’d celebrate the beginning of a new week.
Escape: Early on, when the company was fighting for every counter, I’d sometimes say to my late wife, Evelyn, “We’ve got to get away for the weekend.” It didn’t matter where. It was always amazing how two or three days in a different setting can give you a new lease on life.
Excuse: I was late in driving to my son William’s home in the country for lunch and I needed a good excuse. Suddenly, a small plane came down and landed right on the median of I-684. Traffic came to a standstill. It was the best excuse ever but I could never use it again. Fragrance: The first blockbuster creation of my mother, Estée Lauder, was Youth Dew fragrance. It helped launch the Estée Lauder Company. When I discovered that it was Judy’s favorite fragrance, I knew we were made for each other.
Hideaway: My late wife, Evelyn, and I bought a little log cabin north of New York City. It was so isolated that no one could find it, even if I gave them the right directions (which I didn’t always). I brought my mother up there once. She looked around with some disdain and said, “Why didn’t you buy yourself a real house?”
Hotel: I’ve been lucky enough to have stayed in almost every grand hotel in the world. My favorite is Le Bristol, in Paris. They recognize you, the food comes on time, and everything is always right.
Indulgence: I always have to have dessert, even if I shouldn’t. My favorite is a slice of apple pie à la mode or an affogato.
Lunch, weekday: It’s my pivotal meal. It’s when I caught up with friends, clients, and everyone I wanted to see offline. My favorite dish is vermicelli noodles with vegetables and soy sauce.
Movie: The evening that Judy and I knew we were meant for each other, we watched a movie at home and she fell asleep in my arms. I don’t remember the movie, but I can attest that our story had a happy ending.
Nonfiction book: Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour, by Lynne Olsen. I love reading about history.
Novel: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. It’s very sweet and touching.
Pen or Pencil: Pen. I always keep a Montblanc on me with the widest possible tip and black ink because you never know when you need to write a thank-you note! And you should always write a thank-you note.
Piece of advice: There’s an Italian saying that was a favorite of the wife of my dear friend the late Richard Gardner, the United States ambassador to Italy: “Before you speak, be silent.”
I take an afternoon nap every day no matter where I am—always have, always will.
Spouse: I’ve been so lucky. I’ve had two great wives. My first wife, my dear Evelyn, was my partner in life and in the building of Estée Lauder. When she passed away after 52 years of marriage, I was incredibly fortunate to find my second wife, Judy. Judy and I had known each other for years. She and her husband, Al, and Evelyn and I were great friends. Al died two years after Evelyn, and Judy and I became members of the club no one wants to join. What started as sheer comfort in each other’s company evolved into attraction and then love. Lightning really can strike twice.
Television series: I’m an admitted Anglophile. My playlist starts with Upstairs Downstairs, moves to Downton Abbey, and then The Crown.
Theme song to my life: “There Once Was a Man,” from The Pajama Game.
Time of day: Early morning. Judy sings when she opens the blinds and the day begins on a good note.
Toast: Artisanal raisin bread, with melted butter and Vietnamese cinnamon.
What makes a woman beautiful: Her smile.
Work of art: It’s impossible to pick a single painting. I’ve always been drawn to the Cubist Picassos. They weren’t as easy to understand as the Impressionist paintings. There was always a complication, a grittiness that attracted me. I had to work hard to discover what was so great about them, but once I did, I fell in love.