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Two more of the 7 designs that came.  Circa late 90s.  


Part three of three


I stood there speechless as he was unloading boxes onto the pavement.  

“Here, Ken…let me get up in the truck and hand these down to you!”  

“Heavens!!  How MANY of those are mine?”  

“ALL of them!” I looked at the sender:  ESTEE LAUDER CORP., New York.  

I looked at the recipient:  KEN BROWN STUDIO.  On every box!  It was obvious this shipment was intended for me.

I will tell you this.  It took more than a coffee break’s time for Brad to hand me the boxes that I quickly placed on the pavement just outside my back entrance.  When my portion of the UPS truck’s shipment was completely off-loaded, Brad said “Sign here.”  I signed there.  Brad drove away, leaving the shape of the rear of the truck in the formation of boxes that had been stacked around it.  

I was as puzzled as if the mid-morning moon hanging high above had left its orbit and sat in the field behind my Studio.  What had just transpired just left me standing there, still and quiet.  Mind racing.  Doing the math.  Wondering if any minute I’d get the followup call from NY telling me the shipping clerk from the Long Island warehouse had made a terrible mistake.  I imagined a troubled voice on the other end pleading with me to get Brad to do a 360 and come pick up those boxes.  

Nothing was logical.  

Before I got too crazy in the thoughts racing through my head, I selected a box and cut the yellow nylon bands that criss-crossed every carton listing the compact model inside that box.  The outside carton revealed another box inside.  It was securely taped, so I slit the box at the top’s fold, opened the flaps, and then peeled away a thin piece of protective plastic insulation material…sorta like miniature bubble wrap.  There, in a plastic tray sat several rows of compacts, each individually wrapped in a piece of tissue paper.  I took one out of its formed ‘pocket’ in the tray, removed the tissue, and found a gleaming gold-finish round compact with a lion’s head.  It’s the one pictured on the first installment of this little trilogy.  

Again, and even more so, this made no sense whatever.  The piece was brand new.  Bright gold metal.  Round mirror in the inside of the lid.  It had no powder puff or refillable translucent powder element inside and it wasn’t in the felt bag and gold box you’d find in the Estee Lauder department.   Those were added in the U.S.  In their huge network of stores, worldwide, those compacts that were fully fitted for retail, retailed at $55. each.   The boxes were from…you guessed it…China.  And if I was in the store where it might have been purchased during one of my events, the engraving would have been free to the purchaser.  

By the way, in December, 1997, I visited Moscow with my brother, Michael.  It was his special treat for me to travel on his nickel!  (He needed Advantage miles on American Airlines to maintain his Platinum status)  We trudged around Red Square, visited Lenin’s tomb at the edge of the Square, and went into an Estee Lauder store in a multi-story building of shops lining the other side of Red Square.  They had the same compact designs in that store that I got 4 years later. 

I wrapped the tissue back around the first one I saw from that first box, placed it in its tray, and dug deeper.  Multiple trays were stacked all the way to the bottom of the box.  CRAZY!  I buttoned that one back up and looked at one from another group.  Same thing.  There were 7 different groups of designs.  I sampled each and became doubly amazed and alarmed with each discovery.

I quietly took the boxes one-by-heavy-one into the storage room of my Studio.  That took more than twice the time getting them off the truck.  I organized them into their groups before putting them on shelves that I had to clear for their new home.  The phone in my pocket rang a few times in the process.  No area code ever came up 212.  

As the next 3 weeks passed, every call that came to my cell phone would certainly be the one.  Every email’s subject line that came, I expected to read, RETURN OUR COMPACTS!  That never happened.

Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

I was not going to be pro-active in this situation, leaning on the side of a possible miracle, though this whole thing was bizarre.  

When the time for that first Ken Brown Professional Engraving Seminar arrived, I was prepared for each of the 5 students to get 3-4 brand new Estee Lauder compacts for their in-class work on the third day.  I built them into the class process for the first several Seminars, then realized students were just not ready to tackle one of these beauties by the third day.  I quickly learned those had to be part of the Certification process so, for several years now, only those enrolling in the optional Certification program get the compacts.  

During the years, we’ve donated them, engraved mostly, to many charities, fund-raisers, and as promotional pieces…and Thank You gifts for various reasons.  What few we’ve sold have barely made a scratch in the postage/shipping charges for those we’ve sent across the land.  Of course the primary use has been to train students with them; that’s the purpose I wanted them for.  But I must say, it’s still a puzzlement how and why such a load of them came with no cover letter, no followup to see how they were working with students, and no phone calls asking for them back.  

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 This $150.compact was purchased and engraved in Toronto during an event there in 2002. It was not a part of the series or the ones sent.

Through these 12 years since I wrote and asked for some damaged lids and backs, that shipment of brand new Estee Lauder compacts has impacted a lot of people and created a lot of goodwill and joy.  One of our most successful uses was offering them to my entire mailing list for a $50. donation to the American Heart Association.  Each was personalized, signed, and dated.  I sent a very nice check to the New York AHA office, along with a cover letter saying that the Estee Lauder Corporation was ultimately responsible for the donation, with our own efforts here.  

Another joyful use of them was for a group of about 30 healthcare workers where Gail’s mother was being cared for after a stroke in 2003.  Each woman in the facility got one, personalized, with a note of appreciation for their taking care of our precious Ruby.  

So…how did the compacts make it to our door?  My theory is this.  Someone got the request and decided, in view of their intended use, this would be a good place to unload a fair number of boxes with discontinued product, no longer in the stores.  The compacts were a part of an astrology series in 1996 or 1997 as I recall and were sold by the hundreds of thousands…probably more…worldwide.  These were left over after the series had run its course.  Probably a tiny, tiny percentage of their overall sales of the line.

They had been on their books for a long time, and taking up valuable space in one of the EL warehouses.  They actually had probably been written off some years before and were gathering considerable dust.   Surely, they were destined for the landfill but nobody had yet given the order.   Estee Lauder would NEVER send their exclusive designs to a discount outfit or re-seller of any kind.  I believe my well-timed request gave them a reason to clear the space and give them a good home.  It would have been a heart-breaking waste to send them off to the dump or a metal recycler.

I had engraved hundreds and hundreds of the 12 designs in my beginning days with Estee Lauder.  In one shipment from New York, I had far, far more than I had engraved in many events for Estee Lauder.  Many of those first ones were at that ground-breaking event at Saks Fifth Avenue in Tulsa.  To see them, in quantity, show up at my back door for a genuine need in my classes made a memory I’ll never forget.  

If you have a compact that came through The Ken Brown Studio, know that it was in one of those many boxes that arrived and blew my mind…and Gail’s… that April day in 2001.

Mistake or miracle?  



More compact photos

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