THE PROSPECT of receiving a sack full of goodies is sometimes enough of a reason to attend a Hong Kong PR event. Scoring a designer leather passport holder is almost worth enduring 60 minutes of excruciating talk about grades of Italian leather over lunch. Showing up at a cocktail party is not too soul-destroying a chore if you come away with a 50 ml bottle of the latest must-smell perfume, compliments of your host. A couple of weeks ago, a jewel-toned invitation arrived bearing the marketing haiku: 'Splendour. Opulence. Brilliance. Estee Lauder.' Instead of a bag brimming with freebies, this particular PR luncheon was using live bait: an appearance by one Aerin Lauder. For readers not addicted to American Vogue, allow me to explain. Aerin Lauder is the 28-year-old granddaughter of Estee Lauder (the founder of the prestigious US cosmetics line), the niece of Leonard Lauder (company CEO) and daughter of Ronald Lauder (company chairman and former Austrian ambassador). In the two years since she became Estee Lauder's director of creative product development, hardly a month has passed without her impressively manicured image gracing the glossy, perfumed pages of Vogue, Elle or Harper's Bazaar: 'Aerin in a fairy-tale de la Renta gown marrying Erin Zinterhofer at her parents' Long Island estate!' 'Aerin in a Bill Blass evening dress at a party at the Met!' Along with the flawlessly turned-out Miller sisters and rich girl-turned-novelist Marina Rust, Lauder is a fixture on the young New York society scene, a proud member of the Prada-razzi and a regular on the annual best-dressed, best-tressed and most-seriously trust-funded lists. And yet unlike a certain tribe of Manhattan rich that lives for lunches at La Goulue or its thrice-weekly Pilates class at AB, Lauder is a dedicated career girl, or so her company bio says. It hardly matters that she manoeuvred seamlessly from lowly communications undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania into a top-level position at the family biz - or even that she conveniently created the executive job for herself. It's not as though she snatched a job away from a more qualified candidate, say, a Harvard MBA or someone with a decade of relevant experience. Lauder, you see, is not just another cosmetics industry executive churning out 'make-up stories' with names like 'First Blush' and 'Wild Lilacs'. She's a much rarer commodity: a company spokes-heiress. The first thing you learn when you meet Lauder is that her 'natural look' takes a suspiciously long time to finesse. We've just feasted on duck and candied pears at a Grand Hyatt lunch thrown in her honour, and now she has retreated to a private suite for a fresh coat of paint before interviews begin. After some 20 minutes, the assembled fashion editors - all dressed in black, courtesy of the Joyce sale - and I are starting to tap our feet. Finally one of the slick, New York marketing suits emerges to announce that Lauder is ready for her close-ups. For all the attention by a local make-up artist, Lauder looks exactly as she looked 20 minutes ago - her pretty, aristocratic face a subtle palette of pinks and browns. 'Usually, I like to do my make-up myself,' she says. 'I hate it when some one gives me a strong lip.' Fortunately, her lip today is weak and she's beautifully put together in a white Ralph Lauren trouser-suit and lilac suede mules from Manolo Blahnik ('My one weakness,' Lauder coos). A journalist once wrote that Lauder was born with a 'silver compact in her mouth'. Had she ever thought of rebelling against her obvious destiny and become, say, a circus performer or an astronaut? 'No, never,' she says resolutely, her face creasing into a pleasant corporate smile. 'Since I was a small child I wanted to work with cosmetics.' In fact, compounds such as fragrance and night creams are so much a part of her genetic make-up that she never felt compelled to join the other Upper East-side Manhattan brats' notorious experiments with expensive designer drugs. She does confess to playing with one chemical substance: lip gloss. 'I remember when I was 12, all my friends and I sneaked into the bathroom to try it on,' she says, running her hand through an artfully streaked lock of hair. 'The colour was opal. We all thought it was so cool.' Now down to business. 'Asia is very important to us,' she says. 'It makes up about 16 per cent of Estee Lauder sales, which is a huge percentage. It's one of the fastest growing markets and there are lots of trends coming out of here.' Other than the ever-popular tattooed eyebrows, what might they be? 'Leg make-up for one. I saw a foundation that you put on your legs. We don't even have that in the States yet.' In the name of research, the day before Lauder had even braved a trip to that frenzied, low-rent, make-up mecca, Sasa. 'I saw all these young girls grabbing at nail polish - just grabbing! It was very exciting,' she says. 'Colour is very important out here.' Especially white, it seems. While Lauder's fake tan products are the best-sellers in the US, it's the skin-whitening line that flies off the shelves in Asia. But it's Estee Lauder's autumn 1998 collection 'Be Jeweled' that Lauder is here to hype. She speaks in rapid-fire sentences, as though she were fuelled by espresso. And she's so poised and serious she can say things like, 'The season is all about luxury. Minimalism is maxed out, and now we're seeing a return to self-indulgence,' without dissolving into giggles. In a bid to get beyond the company line, I turn to an obvious target: Elizabeth Hurley, Estee Lauder's other corporate face and long-time paramour of the infamous Hugh Grant. 'Elizabeth really does represent the woman of the '90s,' Lauder says, repeating some well-rehearsed lines. 'She's beautiful, smart. She has a lot of interests. She's a film producer. She likes to read. She travels. I think that really does make the modern woman.' So did it affect Estee Lauder's business when Elizabeth had to wear a ridiculous blonde wig just to go to Harvey Nichols because Hugh had been arrested for lewd behaviour on Sunset Boulevard? 'Our customers do call up,' says Lauder carefully. 'But they all say, 'I can really relate to what Elizabeth is going through.' ' Oh come on, Aerin, didn't the company ever think, 'Oh my God, what have we done by hiring her?' 'No, never,' Lauder says evenly. 'Because our contract is with her, not him.' Speaking of contracts, we have come to the end of our allotted time. Lauder hands me a bag and says, 'Happy Year of the Tiger.' Swathed in a sea of purple tissue paper inside a gold box sits a gold compact shaped like a tiger's head. It's a thoughtful, appropriate corporate gift. And like everything else from the House of Lauder, it's beautifully, flawlessly packaged.