The Aesop store in Paddington, Sydney.
Gone are the days when a beautiful advertisement alone is enough to entice a consumer to make a purchase. People are understandably becoming more and more cynical of marketing efforts. So that 30-second television commercial promising a beauty miracle is just a 30-second pee break.
It’s no wonder then that lifestyle-conscious brands like Aesop, which opened two stores in Singapore this year (Capitol Piazza and Westgate), prefer to speak more directly to its customers.
“There was never actually a vision,” says Suzanne Santos, general manager of retail and customer service at Aesop, who has worked with founder Dennis Paphitis since he launched the company in 1987. “Our products were a response to what was possible. What was in the market was just appalling, and many of those things have not changed: Heavily fragranced, highly chemically-based, highly coloured products — none of these things were serving the customer. You don’t need artificial colour; you don’t need artificial fragrance...”
Hand balm dispensers are set outside the Westfield Sydney store for passers-by to enjoy.
What you get instead from this cult beauty brand are highly addictive products, scented with essential oils and made with plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, which make you feel like you’re in a spa every time you hit the shower. So there’s no better way to convince someone of the efficacy of these products than to lure him or her into a shop to try them all.
Which brings us to the Aesop store experience, that comes second only to its products. Every single boutique around the world is individually designed, sometimes in collaboration with acclaimed designers or as a tribute to the store’s location — the Capitol Piazza store has Peranakan-inspired tiled flooring, for example.
Staff at Aesop show off their products with a hand ritual to cleanse, tone and hydrate. You always leave with sachets of the recommended products so you can give them a whirl at home.
While there are many copycat brands that have unashamedly ripped off the pharmaceutical-inspired bottles that continue to be an Aesop signature, the brand’s attention to detail cannot be so easily replicated.
The stores are always designed to be a respite from the bustle of the city, a chance to take a breather — whether it’s to try the brand’s new products or get a full-blown facial (not available at every store).
During a signature facial, raw ingredients are custom-blended for individual skincare needs.
Each store is kitted out with a fully stocked sink counter where the attentive staff enquire about your skin concerns and recommend products while treating you to a mini hand spa session. And even if you were to walk away not buying anything at all, you wouldn’t be empty-handed: They offer you small sachets to try the recommended products at home. We dare you not to return to get the full-size.
“One could argue that our store design is advertising,” says creative director, Marsha Meredith. “It’s a non-traditional form of advertising. Michael O’Keeffe [CEO of Aesop] has said our company isn’t a brand. It’s not a pretend face that we put on. It’s who we are. The way that we do things would always reflect our personality.
“If we could find a non-traditional way of communicating with people, that’s the way we’d do it. The more traditional forms of advertising, everyone’s getting bored with them really. They don’t connect with us, and they don’t connect with our audience either.”
New Aesop fragrance, Tacit (50ml), $135.
One of the (non-)brand’s art-related touch points include the mesmerising new short video, which is a visual expression of Aesop’s latest fragrance, Tacit, made of yuzu-inspired citrus notes, Basil Grand Vert and clove undertones. The video was created by Jonathan McCabe, a generative artist and designer from Australia who's known for his patterned artworks.
But is connecting with a cynical audience challenging? Santos doesn’t think so. “It’s not difficult if you’re genuinely comfortable with what you’re doing. We’re not trying to be something for everyone… we’re not trying to convert millions of people to come and buy the brand so that shareholders’ lives are happier. That’s not why we exist. We exist for those people in any city, Singapore to New York, for whom what we’re doing and what we’re saying and what we make, resonates.”