French existentialist philosopher, feminist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir eloquently expressed the term ‘generosity’ as an act where “you give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” No matter how small the gesture, if it stems from a place of honesty and empathy, it can leave a deep and lasting impact on both giver and recipient.
In this season of giving, Aesop’s 2021 gift kits collection entitled ‘Anatomy of Generosity’ honours and encourages everyday acts of kindness by paying tribute to five nurturing personas—The Advocate, The Listener, The Mentor, The Forager and The Protector. Importantly, each gift kit is tied to one of five registered charity groups, and the Aesop Foundation has donated AUD $100,000 to each, regardless of sales.
Vogue Singapore meet two luminaries who manifest the characteristics of their respective archetypes: culinary anthropologist and TV presenter Nithiya Laila as The Advocate and artist Isabella Ong as The Listener.
Nithiya Laila as The Advocate
On a regular day, you can find Laila at Tekka Market picking up local plant produce such as gotu kola (or Indian pennywort) or ponnanganni keerai (dwarf copper leaf spinach), organising an Ethiopian pop-up supper or conducting a cooking class to make indigo-coloured onigiri from the juices of the blue pea flower. “Biodiversity and native plants are my jam” is the mantra of one of Singapore’s strongest advocates for local sustainable foods.
She cites her grandparents as huge influences, passing on herbal remedies for skincare and quick healing, such as fresh turmeric rice scrubs, crushed Indian borage leaves for cold or pointing out edible plants growing along the streets. “But it was really my first year of university studying anthropology in London, working in farmers markets, community allotment gardens, organising supper clubs in halls and continuing to experiment with homemade skincare blends that it really became a part of my personhood and identity,” she says.
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Laila believes that sustainable living should be part of our everyday. “It’s the only way to be, in a way that nourishes you, your environment and community—like good food. [I want people] to look beyond trends or post-colonial aspirations, for the lens on superfoods not being ingredients from the global south that are ‘discovered by the west, rebranded and sold back, but where we discover and build upon what thrives in our own backyards,” she asserts, highlighting the wealth of ingredients that can be found right there. Even small steps—incorporating just 20 per cent locally grown native plants into your diet—is a start. Beyond reducing carbon footprint, consuming a biodiverse diet comprising organic and unprocessed plants also improves gut health.
To reduce the gulf between inspiration and application, Laila is currently building a digital platform for native edible plants with recipes on how to replace an imported herb with a locally grown one, as well as links to a seed exchange between growers.
Like Aesop’s unwavering commitment to tread lightly on the environment, “this connection of nature from that which we inhabit, to what we grow at home and what we put on and in our bodies is all inextricably linked”
“I am inspired by nature consistently, not just in this macro way of forests and oceans around us but in my day to day micro experiences. It’s the memories tied up in nature—walks home from school where my grandma would point out different edible plants. My grandpa and his friends foraging for mangoes and bringing home a big haul. Warm sesame oil hair masks and turmeric pastes for rashes—this connection of nature from that which we inhabit, to what we grow at home and what we put and in our bodies. It’s all inextricably linked. I am lucky to do work that is built on a very personal sharing of my connection with nature in the medium of food and exploration. I am drawn to Aesop for that very reason. They create inspired by nature: it’s skincare you can almost eat and I love that.”
Isabella Ong as The Listener
Where Laila motivates through the visceral sense of taste, sight and smells, Ong’s influence is more cerebral, though no less enigmatic. The architectural designer turned artist/coder works in the fields of new media, technologies, architecture and research, exploring the relationship between body and space. Her work Weathering with Us, was created together with Tan Wen Jun, is currently exhibiting at the National Design Centre’s Waste Refinery exhibition. The kinetic sand installation that has a rotating beam raking mandala-like patterns onto olivine sand—a volcanic mineral that is able to regulate carbon levels when mixed with seawater—enforces stillness and contemplation. But these hypnotic patterns on sand are anything but random: Ong, having consumed climate change data from Tweets and other scientific studies, codes and transmutes these otherwise cold and ‘depressing’ Doomsday Clock-like statistics into patterns that are meditative and restorative.
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“Eco or climate anxiety is a real issue that many people have, especially the younger generation,” Ong explains on why she hopes her work with Tan will incite feelings of positivity and hope about the future. “A report on the communication of the climate crisis states that “we have gotten too lost in the data, the fear, and the need to tell people how bad things are”. Studies reveal that fear might not be as effective a motivator for genuine engagement. The fatalistic outlook resulting from the barrage of bad news over the last decade might be impeding authentic climate action.”
Instead Ong hopes her work leads viewers to experience a “more affectionate relationship with the world.”
The theme of generosity brings to Ong’s mind the idea of abundance, specifically, earth’s abundance. But there are limits. She cites vegetation Greek goddess Persephone as a personification of generosity in her coming and going between bountiful harvests, and seasons of rest and fallow. “Through this, I hope we will be able to redefine our relationship with nature, and respect the balance and cycle of our natural resources,” says Ong.
Aesop’s products marry science and nature, incorporating man-made with botanical ingredients, allowing us to experience these plants in an intimate manner, “engaging all senses and allowing a new way of appreciating the materials that make up our natural world”
Serene in spirit and ever present to the world around her, Ong explains quietly: “There is this saying Alles ist Architektur by Hans Hollein, which translates to ‘everything is architecture’. This statement means that, as architects, we have to look beyond spatial qualities and invite ideas from different fields. This instilled in me a receptiveness to a wide range of topics and the ability to synthesise concepts that are diverse and different, weird and wonderful. In a way, this is a form of listening?”
Discover the Anatomy of Generosity
Aesop The Advocate gift kit, $140
The Advocate bravely upholds the collective voice before their own, amplifying and lending strength to the forgotten and underserved. In the purest expression of care for others, this kit encourages the spirited advocate in your life to give back to themselves with Aesop’s iconic Resurrection Aromatique Hand Wash, Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm, Rind Concentrate Body Balm, and Citrus Melange Body Cleanser.
Aesop The Listener gift kit, $105
The Listener actively holds space for others. With a generous ear and empathetic spirit, they are attuned to the world around them. Listeners gift us with their attention and, after reflection, offer sage wisdom to build, fortify and support, much like this trio of edifying body treats including Aesop’s Geranium Leaf Body Cleanser, Geranium Leaf Body Balm, and Geranium Leaf Body Scrub.
The Mentor gift kit, $250
The Mentor has their eye on the future, transmitting wisdom to the next generation. Gentle, nourishing, and fortifying, this triptych of skin-supportive products starring Aesop’s Parsley Seed Facial Cleanser, Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Facial Toner, and Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Intense Serum is a heartfelt token of appreciation from student to master.
Aesop The Forager gift kit, $60
The Forager is a glint in their eye. With heart and mind open, they collect ideas, resources and wisdom in order to uplift those around them. Akin to this persona, The Forager gift kit by Aesop refreshes and empowers with its Citrus Melange Body Cleanser and Rind Concentrate Body Balm.
Aesop The Protector gift kit, $130
The Protector gift kit is an aromatic trio for the home or office and combines the Resurrection Aromatique Hand Wash with Post-Poo Drops and the Cythera Aromatique Room Spray. Perfect for protectors move with courage to preserve the small, forgotten, underrepresented, balancing their ecosystem and all those who inhabit it.
All of Aesop’s exquisite gift kits are encased in 100 per cent recycled paper pulp cases as part of the brand’s sustainable mission. Explore seasonal gift kits today at Aesop.
Beauty direction: Alli Sim
Director and creative producer: Vanessa Caitlin
Director of photography: David Bay
Beauty editor: Dana Koh
Sound: Hazirah Rahim
Stylist: Joey Tan
Make-up: Bobbie Ng / The Make Up Room
Hair: Marc Teng
Manicure: Dulcia Lim
Colourist: Julien Chichignoud
Production crew: Kim Hyun
Production assistant: Andy Leow
Models: Nithiya Laila / Isabella Ong