Under the Skin
Photographs courtesy of Aesop
We are all visual creatures. As an evolved species, we have created cosmetic enhancement tools from make-up to surgery to instant filters that allow light to love our skin. So now that everyone around you looks just as beautiful, beauty needs to attend to the rest of our senses and thankfully, sensibilities as well, once the pleasantries are over. In this day and age, when all beauty and skincare brands proclaim treasured rituals to be the fountain of youth, with the whiteness of white and perpetual supple, one can see why Aesop moves to a different rhythm. No celebrity endorsements, no promise of scientific breakthroughs, a clean, clear, less is more approach to their design sensibilities and most importantly, redefining the old adage, that beauty is of mind, heart and skill, just as it is of skin.
—Head of Creative, Aesop
What are the values of Aesop?
I think that there are some really clear values within the company and there are also very talented people within the company. We work around our passion points, which is, first of all, making beautiful products—it’s the most important thing, and clearly communicating those products to our customers. But beyond that, there are key values that are important and the reason why we all choose to work here, at Aesop, is because of the integrity in the way we communicate and our connection to the arts and literature. These are all the things that we as people believe in. I guess if there is any guidance from me, it is to cling to all those things that we think are important, and that we think are true. There really isn’t anyone in the company that I could ask to do something the opposite though, they would turn around and say no.
The values of the company run from the top, from Michael, all the way through to everyone. If you go into one of our stores and talk to anyone, they will say exactly the same things to you. So, our course is quite clear I think.
How do you flex your creativity when Aesop is well defined by fixed design templates?
There is always a beauty and simplicity in most templated work. Some of those things that we do are very standard and I think that there’s an elegance to it that is lost with some companies trying to be too creative just for the sake of doing it. I think that elegance is what I really love about Aesop. When do we break out of it? I think I’m always looking out for those opportunities as well. Besides those moments of grace and humbleness, there are often opportunities when we’re connecting with communities and doing installations, for example. When there are opportunities to engage, especially when we’re collaborating with different partners such as at an arts event, arts institutions or festivals, those are the moments that we will step outside of the constraints. But, that will always feel natural because you’re never doubting who it has come from.
—International Visual Merchandising Manager, Aesop
So maybe you’d like to share what you do at Aesop?
Sure. I’m the international visual merchandising manager, which essentially means that I look after how the stores and products are represented in the public eye. Perhaps, a more poetic way to put it is to contextualise it like a person. If someone were to dress me in something I didn’t feel comfortable with, I’d probably stand in the corner at the party and no one would want to talk to me, I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, and I certainly wouldn’t be capable of having an intelligent conversation. Our role, the role of the VM coordinator and the role of VM, is to make sure that Aesop is always dressed appropriately so it can have intelligent conversations.
That’s a nice way to put it. So can I say that the retail store is more the structure, which is the body, and you dress the stores?
Yes, absolutely. And, I think they don’t work in isolation, they only work in harmony.
So how does it all begin?
It always starts with the site. It’s always about the site and the context of the site before any design. It’s about the location and the place. I think it’s really important that we don’t enforce ourselves onto a landscape; instead, we like to respond to and be sympathetic to that landscape. And, because it’s always a response to the site, we touch the ground very lightly.
—General Manager, Products and R&D, Aesop
So, I heard you started in the early days of Aesop—was it your first job?
It was, yes. I actually started out by working here part-time while I was still studying for my PhD. It was the first in-house role that Aesop had had for a chemist; before that, we worked with an external chemist.
What was it like back then?
It’s interesting because I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we’re sort of coming up to these 15 years at Aesop, and in many ways, the vision that Aesop had was ahead of its time, especially for the size that it was.
What size was that?
I think there were about 15 people at the head office back then.
A hundred and fifty here and almost almost a thousand globally. But, even when I joined, Aesop was already a global company; we were already selling into Colette, in France, and a couple of other global boutique stores. So, from that very moment, Aesop was positioned as a global brand. There was never an Australian product or a product that we were making for different markets. Everything was always for a global customer because we find that whatever your skin type is, more or less, can crossover to wherever you are. For example, a product that we’re designing that we find has a relevance in Singapore, will also have relevance in New York in the middle of summer. So, things aren’t necessarily that different. You’ve got people with different skin types in both of those environments.
Read more in The U Press N˚10 (Singapore edition).