Elizabeth Hurley spreads the word

Elizabeth Hurley is nothing short of a sensation.

For both who she is and for what she does. Who could forget when the British model-actress wore the Versace “safety-pin dress” that caused a shift in women’s fashion? Or when she broke through in the movies as Vanessa Kensington, the alluring female robot and Mike Meyers’ lover, in the “Austin Powers” series?

At a recent brunch for select shoppers at Bloomingdale’s White Plains, however, the current star of E!’s television drama “The Royals” focused not on film or fashion but on philanthropy.

For the past 22 years, Hurley has been the face of The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, which helped launch a movement and the iconic pink ribbon. The BCA works to raise awareness and funds for research, education and medical services, with Hurley spreading the word through talks and festive events that encourage men and women to take action.

And she does it all while wearing pink.

PROUD (AND PRETTY) IN PINK

When Hurley became involved with the campaign in 1995, there was some talk of breast cancer, thanks to first ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan’s public battles with the disease. But that awareness was certainly not the phenomenon it is now with even NFL players sporting touches of pink in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Then, the pink ribbon was nonexistent.

Hurley was all-too familiar with the disease, having watched breast cancer claim her grandmother, who was diagnosed in the late ’80s. Hurley wasted no time capturing the audience’s attention about a disease that doesn’t discriminate.

“One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime,” she said to the more than 60 attendees. “Just looking at these tables today, we know how important it is to all of us.”

The majority of attendees were women, but the BCA also recognizes the 1 percent of breast cancer cases in the country that involve men — represented by the single blue stone added to Estée Lauder’s Jeweled Pink Ribbon Pin in 2011.

It was fitting that the brunch took place at Bloomingdale’s, which began supporting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, created by Evelyn Lauder, with a single item 11 years ago and has since raised $11 million with its own Pink Campaign. Since then the retailer has joined forces with the Marisa Acocella Marchetto Foundation and The Carey Foundation’s Tutu Project, which seek to eliminate the daily challenges associated with treatment and recovery. These foundations were represented at each table by Marchetto’s  “Cancer Vixen: A True Story,” a graphic-style memoir about her fight against breast cancer; Tutu Project postcards, featuring activist Bob Carey in a pink tutu set against one of Bloomingdale’s black-and-white stores; and goody-bag information describing the BCA’s “Take Action Together to Defeat Breast Cancer” theme.

“We started a campaign that says there are very simple lifestyle changes you can make for yourself, and there are different ways you can help, but we’re asking everybody to think of something they can do,” Hurley said. “It can be taking better care of themselves. It can be doing some exercise. It can be helping a friend who’s going through treatment. There are many, many, many things you can do to take action.”

Hurley added that she was moved to involvement by one woman — the late Evelyn Lauder, Estée Lauder’s daughter-in-law, onetime senior corporate vice president of The Estée Lauder Companies and the founder of  the BCRF in 1993.

“She said, ‘Well, Elizabeth, women all over the world are dying of breast cancer and nobody is talking about it. And I want to change that.’”

In 1992, Lauder co-created the pink ribbon with Alexandra Penney, then editor-in-chief of Self magazine. A year later, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 19 National Mammography Day, and Estée Lauder, along with cosmetic brands Clinique, Prescriptives and Origins, raised nearly $300,000 for the BCA by offering a pink enamel pin for a minimum $10 donation.

To date, the Estée Lauder Companies’ BCA campaign has raised more than $65 million, and the BCRF, more than half a billion.

“The pink ribbon is now a sign all over the world that people are talking about breast cancer, people care about people who have breast cancer, and people are passionate about finding a cure for cancer and helping people who are suffering from this appalling disease,” Hurley said.

And the organization is growing with each milestone.

Beginning this year, the BCRF plans to grant $57 million annually to more than 250 scientists from international universities and medical institutions, in addition to its newly established Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, an international privately-funded project exclusively focused on metastasis research, with upwards of $30 million already committed.

“More women are now being detected with breast cancer, but less women who are detected are dying because treatments have improved,” Hurley added. “Every small action, we really believe, collectively helps everybody.”

But the BCA campaign and BCRF’s efforts are not all work and no play.

Every year, the BCRF hosts a Hot Pink Party, a benefit held at a number of venues nationwide. Since 2010, the themed evening — an April celebration for which hundreds of guests don pink — has included The Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan as a site.

“It’s pretty amazing when we do special events and everybody makes an effort to wear pink,” Hurley said. “It looks fantastic.”

Since 2010, the campaign has also illuminated international landmarks in pink, many of which were personally switched on by Hurley or Lauder, who died in 2011 of nongenetic ovarian cancer. The impressive landmarks list includes the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Tower of Pisa in Pisa and the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

“We also hold the Guinness World Record for the most illuminations for a cause that Elizabeth and Evelyn received in 2010 at the Empire State Building, for lighting 38 landmarks in 24 hours,” said Bari Seiden-Young, vice president, global corporate communications for The Estée Lauder Companies.

“And wearing pink for all of them,” Hurley chimed in.

MAKING TIME TO UNWIND

Besides traveling the globe, wearing upwards of 25 designer pink dresses every year (including a favorite Indian-style creation by John Galliano) and affecting the lives of breast cancer supporters, survivors, fighters and their families, Hurley makes time to practice what she preaches and spiritually unwind.

Her ultimate pastime is to escape to her country house, about two hours west of London, with her son, Damian, and connect with nature, cook and, most important, relax.

“I garden. I pick fruit. I make jam and preserves. I do really, really homey things there. I lie on the sofa and read a book and go for long walks with my dog. And that, for me, is a vital part of my life, because I feel it’s where I recharge. I’m quite healthy there,” she said.

Completely in the pink.

The  Estée Lauder Cos. contributes a percentage of the sales from 15 of its products to the BCRF, including Estée Lauder’s Pink Perfection Color Collection ($35), an eye, lip and face palette that donates 100 percent of its sales. For more about the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, visit bcacampaign.com. For more about the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, visit bcrfcure.org. For more about the Hot Pink Party at The Waldorf Astoria, visit hotpinkparty.com

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