A long weekend in Palm Beach with Aerin Lauder

The scion of the Estée Lauder empire, founder of global luxury lifestyle brand Aerin and Palm Beach habituée shares one-off shops, compelling cultural programmes and top ice creams with Christina Ohly Evans. Portrait by Jeffery Salter

Aerin Lauder in front of the Society of the Four Arts
Aerin Lauder in front of the Society of the Four Arts | Image: Jeffery Salter

Palm Beach has always been a big part of my life.  I grew up spending holidays here with my grandmother [Estée Lauder] and all of my family, and I love the beaches, the sun, the architecture…everything about the place. There is a clear sense of tradition here – people still don black tie for the annual Coconuts New Year’s Eve gala – but there is also an exciting, younger energy in town. The next generation is moving to Palm Beach, and there is an international draw because of its proximity to Miami, so the town feels more vibrant and creative than ever.

The pool at the Italian Renaissance-style Breakers Hotel
The pool at the Italian Renaissance-style Breakers Hotel

My grandmother – who was my mentor – always loved the elegance of Palm Beach; one of her earliest fragrances, Aliage, was inspired by the sporty lifestyle here. Estée always wore white pants, a Pucci shirt and a broad-brimmed straw hat, and my Palm Beach uniform isn’t much different – though I tend to wear white jeans instead. The town is little changed since my childhood; the colours of the bougainvillea, the sculpture gardens and the very specific Mediterranean style of architecture are all wonderfully intact. You’ll find these grand, sweeping estates, as well as beautiful apartments that were built by Addison Mizner in the 1920s. All of these homes and spaces have clear Spanish and Italian influences, with plenty of the white stucco that’s so perfect for the south Florida climate.

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Palm Beach’s gardens are some of the most beautiful in the world. The Society of the Four Arts is one of my favourite places not just for flora – there are about 170 plant species including hibiscus, orchids and palms – but also for its incredible sculpture garden, complete with pergolas. It does all kinds of cultural programming – Simon Schama has been here, and documentary filmmaker Ric Burns – as well as concerts and screenings. This is a peaceful place to spend a morning, before heading to the nearby Lake Trail, a bike path that follows the edge of Lake Worth, past boat docks and historic homes and with gorgeous views along the Intracoastal Waterway.

The elegant, old-world patio at Renato's
The elegant, old-world patio at Renato's | Image: Nickolas Sargent

There are all sorts of hotels in Palm Beach, from historical and grand to those with a more boutique feel. But the iconic Breakers, which was built in 1926 in the Italian Renaissance style, is among the best. This is a great spot for everything from tennis and golf to lounging by the pool in one of their cabanas; the spa and gym are perfection too. I’m a big fan of its breakfast buffet – which is served in a massive ballroom that makes you feel like you’re on an old ship. Its relatively new Seafood Bar offers some of the best crab cakes on the island. For a more intimate stay, Brazilian Court has apartment-style suites and also an excellent restaurant by Daniel Boulud, while I like The Colony Hotel in the centre of town for its old-world feel, complete with a beautiful high tea served on the porch.

Via Mizner, a Gilded Age courtyard, is home to many local restaurants and shops
Via Mizner, a Gilded Age courtyard, is home to many local restaurants and shops | Image: Susanne Kremer/4Corners Images

The heart of Palm Beach is Worth Avenue. You’ll find some of the most incredible shops and restaurants here. One of the most special places, tucked away off Worth Avenue, is Via Mizner – a little courtyard, full of shops and restaurants, that’s on the US National Register of Historic Places. This whole area symbolises the Gilded Age and the work of architect Addison Mizner, whose designs line part of the street. I always encourage people to look up on Worth Avenue, because some of the most beautiful gardens dangle above them; even the palm trees lining the street are lit from below at night.

Chic cover-ups, straw hats and bags at CJ Laing
Chic cover-ups, straw hats and bags at CJ Laing

The shopping here is world class. Kassatly’s – opened in 1923, it’s Worth Avenue’s oldest shop – is a must for towels, while Leta Austin Foster is an institution for luxurious D Porthault linens and children’s clothing. Just next door you’ll find CJ Laing, one of the best places to stock up on cover‑ups, sandals and straw hats. For anyone interested in monogramming and embroidery – of everything, from hand towels to clothing – or even in personalising an order of Oreo cookies, Lori Jayne Monogramming & More is a truly unique find; she will customise virtually anything and her shop is a hidden gem. Hive is another must, for the array of housewares and accessories and, particularly, for the beautiful selection of notecards.

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In addition to great shopping, Via Mizner has some excellent restaurants. You can sit outside at Renato’s and enjoy really classic, fresh food: roasted baby artichokes and Dover sole in a beautiful setting. For a more casual bite, I like lunch or dinner at the nearby Pizza al Fresco; it has an excellent thin‑crust frutti di mare pizza and a lovely garden under twinkling lights.

What’s exceptional about this shopping area is its mix of old and new; you’ll find names like Valentino just up from a florist, Tom Mathieu, who does incredible arrangements with tropical plants. Trillion is another classic, with a hugely colourful array of cashmere for men and women. Its Italian sweaters in shades of hot pink, mint and purple are perfect for Palm Beach, and the shop is considered an institution for menswear in particular. Worth Avenue is also home to Mary Mahoney, a noted home-decor boutique where I always find unique glassware and Buccellati silver. And for lovers of vintage, there is no better place than Palm Beach because there is always an estate sale on somewhere. And the Church Mouse on South County Road is a treasure trove of everything from antique furniture to 1960s evening bags and clutches by Emilio Pucci.

One of the newer additions to town is Sant Ambroeus in the Royal Poinciana Plaza, a sister to the New York and Milan cafés. I love it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes a hazelnut gelato from its standalone cart. But I’m actually very loyal to Sprinkles, the local ice cream shop nearby, because I’ve been going there all my life, and the homemade coconut ice cream is outstanding. For even more old-fashioned atmosphere, there’s Green’s Pharmacy on North County Road; it has a traditional soda fountain counter and makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches and vanilla milkshakes in town. You’ll also find things like Whitman’s Sampler boxes of chocolates and practical sun hats. The whole place is purely nostalgic.

For a short road trip, head just an hour south to Miami where the new Surf Club is both sleek and glamorous. The restaurant there, Le Sirenuse, serves food just like the food at the original in the famous hotel in Positano. You actually do feel transported to the Mediterranean.

My grandmother loved Palm Beach for the natural beauty, the sense of tradition and the people. Even today, there’s an embracing of the old world, but also a younger generation that feels tied to the area. The times that I shared here with my grandmother – visiting the Flagler Museum, sitting in the sunroom in her chairs or just cycling along the bike path – I now enjoy with my sons. I always hope that when people come to Palm Beach they access those same feelings of warmth and history. It is a place for people of all ages, with all kinds of varied interests; but Palm Beach hasn’t changed much over the many years I’ve been coming, and that’s what makes it so special.”

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