In 1937, photographer Cecil Beaton summed up a trip to Palm Beach as: “Tennis, swimming, lunch. Golf, drinks, dinner. The Patio. Bradley’s. Bed.” 80 years later, there may be some new stores on Worth Avenue, but the Beaton-described spirit of Palm Beach is the same: a place of retro luxury where leisure sports and tropical tradition reign supreme.
That’s the premise of Aerin Lauder’s new book for Assouline, Palm Beach. Tracing the glamorous escape from the days of her grandparents, Joseph and Estée Lauder, to present day, it shows partly how Palm Beach has changed, but mostly, how it has stayed the same. The Breakers is still an institution. Colorful Lily Pulitzer and Pucci sheath dresses are still donned for dinner. Sprinkles still serves up the best ice cream in town. It’s just all enjoyed by a new generation. (A concept best embodied by a visual example: Slim Aaron’s portrait of C.Z. Guest juxtaposed with an photograph of Lauder herself, striking in their similarities right down to their yellow labs, despite the multi-decade gap.)
Below, Aerin Lauder talks to Vogue about her Palm Beach—the one she enjoyed as a child at her family’s Neoclassical home on Ocean Avenue (and where Douglas Fairbanks made a memorable appearance), to the one she enjoys with her family today. (Plus, why she’s still looking for a turquoise bathtub.)
You dedicated this book to your grandparents, Joseph and Estée. What is your favorite Palm Beach memory with them?
Aerin Lauder: Every year we would go down to Palm Beach for multiple holidays and vacations. It was just the excitement of that first day arriving there and having that first glass of orange juice or scoop of ice cream. And looking at the ocean—that sense of happiness and contentment when I first arrived.
What was their home like?
Estée loved white houses with pillars. I think it was from her love of Gone With the Wind. Whenever she was looking for a home in a different area, she always gravitated towards the white house. So this was truly a tropical paradise. It was right on the ocean, with an incredible green backyard. It had a beautiful pool, tennis court, an interior garden, and this incredible metal work furniture that we still have to this day.
In her dining room was that iconic blue Gracie wallpaper with the birds that she had in all of her homes. There was lots of blue and white within the home. The living room was blue and white, the sun room was blue and white, the bedroom was blue and white, her bathroom was blue and white. She had this fantastic turquoise bathtub. To this day, I am still looking for a turquoise bathtub.
In the book, you say that “Someone once told me that when Estée threw a dinner party in Palm Beach, being asked to attend was like receiving an invitation to Buckingham Palace.” Take us inside a Palm Beach dinner thrown by your grandmother.
She loved entertaining. She was the one that always taught me the importance of chocolates and sweets on the table, not even just for dessert. The flowers and the table were always perfection—she always was known for doing incredible menu cards and place cards .
Estée would always leave a little gift for everyone at their seat, whether it was a compact or a new fragrance. She said, “No matter who you are, everyone loves to get a little gift.”
What was the best celebrity sighting you had at your grandmother’s house?
Once in Palm Beach, Douglas Fairbanks was with my grandmother. I had a group of friends over, and people were swimming in the pool, some with their clothes on. It was quite wild. I was like, “Oh no, we shouldn’t be doing this in front of my grandmother and Douglas Fairbanks!”
How does the Palm Beach of today differ from your childhood?
When I was growing up, there weren’t as many restaurants. Now you can have sushi and Mexican food. There’s so much to offer. But then at the same time, that sense of tradition and elegance has never changed. There is that sense of family time, and tropical ease.
Describe to me your perfect Palm Beach day.
A perfect Palm Beach day would be to wake up, have a coffee by the ocean, go for a long, long walk on the bike path, which I love. Then, lunch with family and Worth Avenue in the afternoon to visit someone of my favorite stores.
What are your favorite Palm Beach hotspots?
Pizza Alfresco is great—right on Worth Avenue, it’s an adorable pizza and salad place and you eat in a Mizner garden. Sant Ambroeus is a wonderful new addition to the area.
There’s a place called Taboo that’s been around forever on Worth Avenue. That’s fun to go for a drink, they have tons of wonderful martinis to pick from.
How about Palm Beach institutions?
Sprinkles Ice Cream is an institution to me. It has the best homemade ice cream and, of course, sprinkles. Then there’s the Breakers hotel, which has been there for so many years. It has something for everyone—golf, tennis, croquet, and games for children. Plus, there’s hamburgers, seafood bar. And they just redid their spa, it’s incredible.
On the bike path there’s some beautiful old homes. The original Bethesda-By-The Sea, originally was on the bike path. Now it is a home that belongs to the woman behind Kemble Interiors. We included her in the book. Her house is magic. I mean it’s probably one of most iconic landmarks to me.
For something cultural, there’s The Society of the Four Arts. It has a beautiful garden. They rotate exhibitions. Oh! Green’s Pharmacy. It’s been around forever. It has the best soda fountain, vanilla milkshake, and grilled cheese.
What is Palm Beach style?
Palm Beach style is very feminine, elegant, colorful with an ease to it. I love to wear a long Pucci dress and casual, festive earrings. I think Palm Beach is also somewhere you can have fun with jewelry—it is the tropics, you’re on holiday! I’m always carrying a little straw clutch.
What, exactly do you love most about Palm Beach?
The history. The memories. The elegance. And most of all, the beauty—even on a rainy day, you still look at the ocean, the beach and all the incredible homes on South Ocean Boulevard.
Below, some of the photographs featured in Palm Beach by Aerin Lauder.