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Evelyn Lauder: Founder of the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness


In her long career as an executive at Estée Lauder, the cosmetics company founded by her mother-in-law, Evelyn Lauder, who has died of complications from non-genetic ovarian cancer, worked with many shades and hues, but pink was the colour that changed her life. In 1992, working with her friend Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, Lauder created the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness.

The campaign had small beginnings, when Lauder and her husband Leonard financed the bows given to women at department store make-up counters to remind them about breast examinations, following a brush with early-stage breast cancer. That grew into fund-raising products, leading to the US Congress designating October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the foundation by Evelyn Lauder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Last month she recalled the early days of the campaign. "There had been no publicity about breast cancer, but a confluence of events – the pinkribbon, the colour, the press, partnering with Elizabeth Hurley, having Estée Lauder as an advertiser in so magazines and persuading so many of my friends who are health and beauty editors to do stories about breast health – got people talking."

Three years after the first pinkribbon was distributed, she said,a flight attendant noted one on Lauder's lapel and said, "I know that's for breast cancer."

Lauder said: "From there, it became ubiquitous."

She was born Evelyn Hausner in 1936 in Vienna. Her father, who had lived in Poland and Berlin before marrying the daughter of a Viennese lumber merchant, owned a lingerie shop. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938 the family fled, initially to Belgium and then to England. Evelyn's mother Mimi was interned on the Isle of Man – "The separation was very traumatic," Evelyn recalled. She was placed in a nursery until her mother was released, and in 1940, the family sailed to New York, where her father worked as a diamond cutter, then in 1947, the Lauders bought a dress shop in Manhattan.

Evelyn studied at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York. After receiving her degree, she was a public school teacher for several years.

As a college freshman, she had met her husband, the elder son of Estée Lauder, when she went with him on a blind date. On their second date Estée asked her to stay and be the hostess for a birthday party she was giving her son.

"So I stayed," Evelyn recalled. "What could I do? She was like a steamroller."

She and Leonard married in 1959, and she joined the family business, which was then a small concern. "We had five products in the line, we only had two or three colours in our lipsticks," she said. "It was a baby company."

The company had begun in 1946 when Joseph and Estée Lauder began producing cosmetics. At first, they only had four products, but two years later they established their first department store account, with Saks Fifth Avenue.

Evelyn Lauder rapidly became a valuable asset to the company, coming up with the name of the Clinique brand during the 1960s. Her teaching background was a springboard for one of her earliest contributions, creating the company's brand training programmes. She also measured colour standards in make-up, sold products in stores, and made personal appearances.

Most recently, she held the title of senior corporate vice president and Head of Fragrance Development Worldwide, a job for which her love of gardening and flowers served as inspiration. She led the development of some of the company's most successful perfumes.

Her other passion was photography, and her work is represented in many public and private collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, as well as leading medical facilities in the US and abroad.

She also had two books of photographs published, The Seasons Observed in 1994 and An Eye for Beauty in 2002. In September 2011 her works were on display at the Gagosian Gallery in London. She also wrote In Great Taste: Fresh, Simple Recipes for Eating and Living Well.

Lauder was diagnosed with non-genetic ovarian cancer in 2007, but she maintained her hectic schedule. Every October she appeared at cancer awareness events around the world.

Evelyn Hausner, teacher, businesswoman and health campaigner: born Vienna 12 August 1936; married 1959 Leonard Lauder (two sons); died New York 12 November 2011.