Bath Oil Bliss

The late Estee Lauder was a very shrewd woman.  Oh well, tell you something you did not already know.  Companies as successful as Estee Lauder pretty much demonstrate sharpness on the parts of their founders as a matter of course, but notice I used the word “shrewd”, not brilliant, or highly intelligent, or even bright.  Diction does have its uses, and the distinction implied here is that Estee had an EQ that outdistanced her competitor’s IQs. An IQ is much more common, and possibly less useful in business.  IQs simply insure your ability to do quadratic equations with ease, to solve for X, but the former gives you a precious insight into how the minds of your fellow humans work, or are likely to work, if they are standing indecisively in front of a perfume counter with $9.99 left over from that week’s shopping budget and a yen for perfume.

You see, Estee knew other women.  She knew that they had yearnings for glamour, but that most of them did not have the means to buy it for every day deployment.   Glamour was the heavy artillery of femininity, reserved for those occasions when the husband was getting too friendly with his secretary (people had secretaries in those days) or they needed a loan from their Fathers, or it was Parent Teacher night at the Elementary School, and they had to talk the science teacher into passing Kevin-who was a sweet boy but let’s face it- not the sharpest knife in the box.  Out came the cherished bottle of Heaven Scent, or White Shoulders or in Mom’s case Tabu.

But enough of these pathetic mid-century machinations, our contemporaries are far too sophisticated to stoop to such transparent stratagems when they can strap on the killer stilettos instead.  Estee Lauder however, knew this world, haunted as it was about its prosperous edges by memories of the Depression.  No woman worth her Morton’s Salt wanted to be known as a bad household manager.  It was her business, in those days before everyone’s Mom was at the office and slinging Lean Cuisine into the micro wave on a nightly basis, to save money.  The idea was to save not to spend, and therefore such things as perfumes were generally bought for women by sweethearts and husbands and proud fathers and not by women themselves.

What Estee knew was that women actually wanted to buy their own perfume, dammit!  Inside of each household manageress stoutly defending the contents of her wallet, was a closeted perfume buyer just waiting to be let out.  But, and this was a formidable but, she could not be seen as buying perfume, because perfume was an extravagance.

You had to sell them scent by stealth.  Ms. Lauder hit on the ingenious strategy of selling them bath oil.

I mean everyone in those days had bath oil.  It was somewhere in everyone’s bathroom, sometimes in the form of gelatine coated beads in shades of jello- transparent red and green in tall glass jars.  Right along side the tall glass jars of cotton balls, and next to the bath cubes, which always came wrapped in paper with little tin foil belts on.  Estee* was simply going to sell her perfume in the form of bath oil in a pretty little blue bottle-but- and here comes the really clever bit, when you got said bottle home, and your husband said, “Honey! Perfume when we have to put braces on Kathy’s teeth!! Upper and Lower this year!!!”  You could quite honestly reply that it wasn’t perfume, it was BATH OIL.

You may be rolling your eyes at this point saying honestly how naïve can most husbands be and how lame-o this idea was.  But you and I are not multi-millionaires because we do not keep our eyes on the ball and sell frustrated housewives glamour for $9.99 cents a bottle.  It isn’t the brilliant stuff that makes you super rich.  Nope, it’s energy and application and just enough of an EQ to tell you what it is that Women Really Want.  That’s not so dumb.

Even Freud couldn’t figure that one out-but Estee could.

*Youth Dew started its existence as the scent of Estoderm Youth Dew face cream.  See Two Shades of Chinese Red.

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2 Responses to Bath Oil Bliss

  1. Olfacta says:

    I’m thinking back to a time when women didn’t even get to choose their own perfume! It was supposed to be a gift, a scent the husband found appealing when, in fact, he often bought it unsniffed off some duty-free cart on a plane or during a Christmas-eve dash to the drugstore or shopping center (malls were still rare then). All perfumes could have been named “Guilt” then as that was so often the reason for their purchase. There were many unsung steps toward liberation; “Youth-Dew” was one.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Yes you’re right. My Mother’s perfume was always bought by my father (except for that Tabu, Mom bought that). Youth Dew was that first move towards spending your own discretionary income the way you wanted to, and in fact, I still often feel that its alright to purchase perfume at the Lauder counter because somehow it seems less portentous,compared to niche or imported stuff. Funny to think of Estee as a feminist figure, although by happenstance, she may have ended up as one. As to the duty free purchases-oh what I wouldn’t give to have hung on to the one or two I talked myself into buying, or that Dad bought for Mom!

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