Product formulation and creative store design are some things that Aesop holds dear, writes Kasmiah Mustapha
THE kiosk in New York’s Grand Central Terminal is made of more than 1,000 pressed and bound copies of The New York Times. The walls, floor and ceiling of its store in Saint-Honore, Paris, are covered with 3,500 pieces of wood. The ceiling of the store in Adelaide is covered entirely with amber coloured bottles in a net.
For a brand that relies more on word-of-mouth than advertising, Melbourne-based Aesop strives on being different from other skin care companies. And one of the steps it uses to ensure it stands out is creatively designing its stores and counters.
Step into any Aesop store in the world and you will realise that the things they share in common are the products lining the shelves, quotes from famous philosophers and poets decorating the walls and ceilings and a sink for customers to wash their hands before and after trying the products.
When asked about the concept of the stores, Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis says the variation expresses the company’s thinking and creative evolution. It also reflects the company’s respect for the culture and history of the neighbourhood in which it is located.
He says the most important aspects considered in the store designs are humility, intelligence and communication.
“Our space is intended to invite people to explore and learn more about how we think and what we do. The same principles are applied when formulating the products. Good design must be sincere, original and communicate a timeless quality to be relevant. Design is integral to everything that we do and we believe our designs communicate with and attract customers,” he said in an email interview.
He believes there is no need for advertisements or celebrity endorsements as there are many ways to communicate with customers.
A visit to Aesop outlets and counters in Hong Kong recently revealed the creativity of the people behind the brand. The facade of the store in Sheung Wan is covered in bamboo, a nod to the plant’s importance in Chinese culture. The pop-up counter at Lane Crawford is made of recycled timber. The counter at the IT One department store is made of 800 resin boxes placed on steel rods of various lengths, resembling floating lanterns, another homage to Chinese culture.
Aesop head of business development Asia Pacific Stefanie Gebauer, who is based in the island, says when planning for stores and counters, the team will also consider local climate and what the shoppers are looking for.
“I will give ideas on what the design should look like. But it is up to the architect and creative team to refine and develop the concept. It is not up to me to approve the design. But I will never support a design that does not fit with our business.
“For example, we can’t have a counter made up of newspapers like the one in New York. With the climate in Hong Kong, it would either shrivel up or be eaten by cockroaches. I give suggestions to the architect based on my experience as a shopper and what I would like to see in a store.”
Gebauer also considers the size of the store which has to be between 28 and 46sq metres. Anything bigger would make the space too bare and anything smaller will make it appear cramped, she says, adding that once the board approves the proposal for the location of a store or counter, she will discuss the concept with the architect and creative team. After that, her involvement is kept to a minimum.
“Throughout the process, we will get sketches to keep us updated. We play the role of sanity check for the designing team to see if it works. But we try not to influence the design process too much because the architect and creative team know what they are doing.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Gebauer says location is very important as it affects sales. However, Hong Kong’s competitive retail business often means it is difficult to get a suitable location.
“We look at where we should have a presence and where people shop. Getting a space in shopping malls is like a waiting game in Hong Kong. It is not easy. It can take anywhere between a few months and two years to have a discussion with the mall management. Once we are offered the space, I need to determine if the size is right, and who our neighbours are. There are a lot of factors to consider.”
She reveals that the designs have drawn customers to the products. “For instance, when we set-up the counter at Lane Crawford, we got lots of comments from shoppers saying that it was different and interesting and that they liked it.”
Aesop recently opened its first store in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur (photo). To pay homage to local culture, the store design is inspired by old, wooden Malay houses.