|Erno Laszlo biography part 2
- based on The Angel of Beauty: The Story of Dr. Erno Laszlo
by Diana Lewis Jewell, 1998, 113 p.
On November 3, 1939, the New York City Herald-Tribune mentioned that the Erno Laszlo Institute, specialist in beauty treatments and cosmetics, had leased a floor in a building on 677 Fifth Avenue.
Arriving with virtually nothing of his wealth from Budapest - in Europe war had broken out -, Erno Laszlo borrowed $10,000 from each of four friends. He furnished his Institute in the same way as the one in Budapest, a decor of marble and satin, black and cream, leaving his bank account with exactly $500. The list of clients waiting to see him read like the pages from the social register.
The Doctor's assistants wore black dresses and spoke in somber tones with Hungarian accents. Erno Laszlo himself had one big obstacle he could not overcome: his poor command of English. It threatened him, ruining his chances at passing the American Medical Association's accreditation examinations. He understood the questions but could not find the right words to answer the written exam. After two attempts, he gave up. He had to work and could not find the time for leisurely study.
He had studied with one of the best English instructors of the time, Mrs. Benting, language coach to many famous European actors and actresses. After seven months, she too, was exasperated. With his Hungarian medical diploma and knowledge of dermatologist sciences, he accepted that he could not give injections and write prescriptions in America without passing the AMA examinations. But he could still work wonders with skin. And that was what he continued to do.
Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Doris Duke, Greta Garbo, Lilian Gish and Paulette Goddard. As the 1940s turned into the 1950s, the Erno Laszlo Institute had over 3,000 clients. Mrs. Vincent Astor, Mrs. Stavros Niarchos, Mrs. Gianni Agnelli, Mr. Truman Capote, The Begum Aga Khan and, in 1954, the Duke of Windsor, were numbered among its members. In the 1960s, the list was enlarged by Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Hubert de Givenchy, Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and many more. In the pictures of Marilyn Monroe's death bed in August 1962, her Laszlo preparations could be seen on her bedside table.
The Erno Laszlo Institute was a closed society of the rich, famous and powerful. One needed to be recommended to gain admittance, and a single reference alone was often not good enough. In 1954 (?), each consultation visit cost $75, an unheard-of sum at the time. The Doctor's time was limited. He could only see a limited circle of persons.
In the 1970s, Barbra Streisand, Diane Keaton, Yoko Ono, Madonna, Woody Allen, Sting, Val Kilmer and James Spader joined. Later, Erno Laszlo products could be seen in films like Bonfire of the Vanities, Working Girl, Annie Hall and Final Analysis.
Erno Laszlo remained severe even with his most famous clients. In June 1963, the doctor cautioned the President's wife, Mrs. Kennedy not to put more oil or cream on her face. As she admitted having made changes to his instructions, he firmly replied: "You cannot make changes!" He also refused to remove Katherine Hepburn's freckles, when she asked him to remove them. He declined, saying they were an integral part of the Hepburn beauty.
When Ava Gardner insisted that she had followed his instructions, he told her: "Excuse me, but you are lying". - "How would you know?" - "Your skin tells me. You have not been doing your ritual. When you do, then you may come back, but not before." As the fiery brunette refused to leave, he came as close as he ever had to actually throwing a patient out the door. When she finally realized that she could not get away with any ruse, she calmed down and agreed to follow the Doctor's instructions.
In April 1967, Erno Laszlo's wife, Iren, succumbed to leukemia. The Doctor found solace in work, flying back and forth across continents. And that was what would change the rest of his life. When Sibille Schulz met him on her Pan Am Lisbon-to-Nice flight, he was simply a slightly disgruntled passenger. She was one of the women who had never heard of the famous beauty specialist who had just missed his Air France flight out of JFK and had now to make a stop in Lisbon. Sibille, in charge of the first class cabin, was in an especially good mood. In their conversation, they found out that they had much in common despite the fact that the Doctor's beauty institute was not part of her world.
Sibille agreed to a meeting at the Institute which took place after her vacation in the Middle East. He gave her a full consultation and sent his preparations by messenger to her. Another man would have sent flowers. But for Erno Laszlo, the gift of beauty was the greatest thing he could give to a woman. After an intensive courtship with Operas in Vienna and skiing on the slopes of St. Moritz, the lovely young beauty and the famous Doctor married in March of 1970 in a quiet ceremony in Lugano, Switzerland, where they bought a villa; he also had a home in New York and one in Vienna.
In 1970, the General Consul of Morocco asked Erno Laszlo to treat the women of the harem of Hassan II, the King of Morocco. The Doctor realized that their diet, the heat, the humidity and, above all, the fact that these women and girls had never washed their faces, had taken a toll. Erno Laszlo wisely had brought several months' worth of supplies with him. After his successful treatment, he refused to put a price on this service. Yet, in conversation, he had mentioned to the King that he needed a car in Switzerland and spoke of the Mercedes he had planned to purchase. When Erno Laszlo and his wife, who had accompanied him, returned to Lugano, the King had a Mercedes delivered to them as a gift.
Already in the early 1940s, the doyenne of the American cosmetic industry, Madame Rubenstein, had approached Erno Laszlo. She offered him a deal but he declined: "I am sorry, but I don't think this is going to work." He had no desire to sell his products, his formulas and his name. He wanted to control everything.
In 1951, partially persuaded by his clients, he decided to sell his products on the open market. His new clients would be monitored closely. Doris Duke, the restless tobacco heiress, was to finance the new cosmetic business. Her associate was Robert F. Fiske, a buyer of cosmetics for Saks Fifth Avenue. Two well-known industry professionals of Parfums Schiaparelli became directors of sales and promotions.
The plan was to limit sales and roll out with 30 stores in March 1952. A woman could only purchase the products if she enrolled as a member, through a sit-down consultation and skin analysis. By February 1954, membership had been "strictly frozen" at 25,000.
It was not until 1966 that Erno Laszlo decided to re-enter the marketplace, finding a reliable alliance in Chesebrough-Ponds which would handle production, distribution and advertising, leaving the Doctor to his passions: product development and innovations. The company, at retail, once again prospered. After the sale of the company to Chesebrough-Ponds, Erno Laszlo would spend most of his time with Sibille. In 1973, at the age of 75, he died from heart failure.
Added on September 30, 2002: In 1995, the Erno Laszlo company was bought by Nikos Mouyiaris, a Cyprus-born Master of Science from Rutgers University who entered the cosmetics industry as a bench chemist for the Erno Laszlo Company. He had started a small cosmetics manufacturing company in New York in 1975 with $6,000 borrowed from his brother. The enterprise has grown into Mana Products which, in 1995, assumed ownership of the Erno Laszlo Company from Elizabeth Arden. Since the beginning of 2002, Erno Laszlo is a part of Cradle Holdings, a company which also owns Penhaligon's. The biography of Erno Laszlo, part 1.
[Added on March 4, 2013: At the end of February 2013, Erno Laszlo has left Sak's Fifth Avenue. You can find Anne McFadden now at the Erno Laszlo Institute at 382 West Broadway, Soho, NYC].
Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.
Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.
Erno Laszlo and the Duchess of Windsor. Photograph copyright: Erno Laszlo LLC.
By the way: Estée Lauder, the woman who in 1946 founded together with her husband, Joseph, the Estée Lauder Company, was born in the Corona section of Queens in 1908 as the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. In other words, the skin care business has a distinctive Hungarian flavor. Check Estée Lauder's autobiography: Estée: A Success Story, 1985.