There are family businesses in every industry, and in beauty, they tend to be matriarchies. This makes sense because most of the advice we get on how to apply makeup to our features is passed down by our mothers and their mothers and so on, to say nothing of the features themselves. It’s part of our inheritance. And for some, there is plenty more — in dollars, in shares, in legacies — to uphold.
But this is not a story about family beauty businesses; this is about cosmetics dynasties. Nepotism aside, throughout history, a natural course in life is that some children take up the work of their parents. In a few cases that work involves enormous corporate apparatus, beloved, decades-old product lines, and millions — if not billions — of dollars. For instance, A’Lelia Bundles still carries the torch for her great-great grandmother Madam C.J. Walker, the hair-care magnate, and, according to Guinness World Records, America’s first female self-made millionaire.
Bundles, a journalist and author, has biographed the women in her family and contributed to a Netflix series about Walker, starring Octavia Spencer. For three generations, Walker’s female descendents have taken the name A’Lelia. Her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, went from being president of the company’s East Coast operations to a figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Sisley Paris, the French beauty label built by Countess Isabelle d’Ornano and her husband, Hubert, has employed two generations of d’Ornanos. The youngest, Isabelle’s granddaughter Daria Botin d’Ornano, handles digital content.
In college, Aerin Lauder rotated through internships in different hamlets of her grandmother Estée Lauder’s cosmetics empire — creative at Clinique, marketing at Estée — before landing her first full-time job on the marketing team for Prescriptives. Aerin is now the style and image director for Estée Lauder; one recent project included repackaging the brand’s Re-Nutriv Diamond Sculpted Transformative Cream in a limited-edition jar inspired by the Gracie wallpaper that lined her grandmother’s office.
Aerin had been working at Estée for 25 years, and a living Lauder for about 42, when she launched her own fragrance and home decor label, Aerin. At the time she saw a gap in the market for a heritage brand that was unapologetically feminine. “Heritage is really important,” Lauder said. “In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve come from.”