You would expect to hear a lot about Aesop on a media trip organised by the Australian skin, hair and bodycare brand, but to have the driver arranged as designated airport transfer start the introduction is quite a surprise.
As James weaves through the spring morning traffic to Paramount House Hotel, located at the former headquarters of Paramount Pictures Studios in Sydney’s fashionable Surry Hills, he talks about his daily ritual of using the Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum, and how it has just the right amount of lather, leaving his skin feeling fresh and smooth.
There is no time for more from this ardent consumer but Aesop’s passionate staff certainly have lots to share, starting with its newest product, the Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator, a lightweight cream that took close to three years to formulate.
Every product the brand develops corresponds with need. This one came about because, over the last five years, an increasing number of people came into its stores saying their skin was sensitive or reactive. “We have lots of products suitable for sensitive skin but none that had been developed from the ground up,” says Dr Kate Forbes, general manager of sustainability and innovation. The idea of formulating something to address the needs of sensitive skin took shape from there.
The hydrator uses two ingredients new to Aesop — a green microalgae rich in anti-oxidants and an extract from dormant bulbs of daffodils. Ingredient suppliers the team collaborates closely with told it about work being done on red algae and microalgae, which have properties that can soothe skin and reduce redness. Daffodil bulbs, as the brand’s own research shows, are essentially in hibernation, and protecting the cellular materials within them.
The dormant bulb extract works to reduce the heightened, sensitive state of the skin, bringing calm, comfort and equilibrium, Forbes explains. Ingredients available in Aesop’s labs, such as ginger root extract and Bisabolol, were added to the blend, resulting in a non-greasy hydrator whose very name speaks, quietly, of what it does — soothe irritated skin.
“Choosing a name is a big challenge for us every time to make sure [it is] what we’re really trying to represent. When we think about those signs of sensitive skin, particularly what you’re feeling on the inside, we imagine in that moment when you want this product, you want something that helps give you that calm, that helps give you that silence. For us, it’s a bit of a play on words — that idea of your skin seeking silence, seeking calm and respite.”
Words lend weight to everything Aesop does. There are quotes on the inside of the teacups at all its stores, on the walls of its treatment rooms, its skincare kits, its press materials and even the menu at Icebergs, the iconic restaurant overlooking Bondi Beach where the Asian media dined with members of the Biennale of Sydney team. Among the guests were Brook Andrew, artistic director of the 2020 biennale, and Brazilian performance artist Jota Mombaca, one of the 98 artists and collectives who will be taking part in the platform for art and ideas between March 14 and June 8.
In 2016, Aesop and The Saturday Paper established The Horne Prize, named for author, editor and intellectual Donald Horne (1921-2005), who was known for The Lucky Country, his 1964 critique of Australia. The award seeks out essays that “illuminate Australian life, bringing insight and new thinking”.
Literature, art and architecture are pillars associated with the brand founded in Melbourne in 1987 by Dennis Paphitis, who was quoted in an interview as saying that the thought of it evolving into a “soulless chain” horrified him.
Quick visits to Aesop’s stores at The Rocks, Balmain, the Strand Arcade, Pitt Street and Paddington quell any worry about that happening.
Every Aesop store has its signature display of amber bottles lined neatly alongside walls or around basins and seating areas. More than just commerce, customers can expect a space that is calm, clean and comfortable, where attentive consultants are trained to listen, then walk them through a range of products that promise quality and efficacy.
“We focus on building relationships with customers and assisting them with what they might need. We want to be the first one to ask what brought them into the store,” says.
The locale and the community inspire the design of every store, from its layout to the materials used for the walls, counters, shelves, taps and accessories. Aesop’s retail architectural manager Denise Neri works closely with selected architects to retain the character of the neighbourhood, keeping in mind the people who live or work there and those passing through.
Aesop Sydney has a granite structure wrapping the interior of the sandstone building. The granite is crafted by local stonemasons while sandstone lines the pavements of bustling Pitt Street in the commercial business district.
But wander to the back of the store and you will find stone steps where you can sit and watch a video on how ideas germinate and beckon artisans to be creative. For its opening on Sept 11, the brand specially brought in 2,300 daffodils — its staff strength worldwide — to decorate its stores in the city as a way of saying thanks to each employee.
There is little fanfare in the way things are done at Aesop. Well, when you expend care and thought into every process of your product and operations, silence speaks volumes.
This article first appeared on Oct 7, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.