The Aesop space needs no introduction; one might walk past its usually elegant entrance, before succumbing to the seductive invitation of its wafting scents at the door. As the materiality of the space envelops your senses, it’s hard to not be lured in by olfactive notes of musky leather, fresh citrus, and woody sandalwood amidst unique design touch points. This convergence of elements lulls and intrigues your being while offering a temporary calm. And all at once, heart and soul, we’re sold on the precious brick-and-mortar moments offered in-store at this quietly luxurious Australian beauty-meets-lifestyle brand.
The cult beauty and skincare label is known to stray away from conventional marketing methods, choosing instead to trust in its product to speak for itself. Much can be expected from their in-bottle magic, that is always compellingly and thoughtfully formulated, as evidenced by their research-based focus on ensuring each individual’s skin care needs are accounted for. This shines through with their latest product offering as well: the Exalted Eye Serum, that primes and nourishes the delicate under-eye area for balance.
Vogue Singapore speaks with Aesop’s chief customer officer, Suzanne Santos, to really get behind the formulations and design ethos of the label—from its slow and sustainable approach to skincare, to the creative sensibilities of the brand.
How did the Exalted Eye Serum come about?
Since 1992, Aesop has offered exceptional formulations for the face, but it soon became apparent that something quite specific was missing for the eye area. The skin around the eyes is thinner, and more fragile, than that on the rest of the face. There is also a significant lack of natural oil production in this area. This means that the skin around the eyes is particularly susceptible to dehydration and dryness, and readily manifests the visible effects of fatigue—such as dullness and puffiness. The eye area is also subject to the effects of seasonal allergies and may bear dark under-eye circles.
The development of Aesop’s first Eye Care product began with a desire to create something that would absorb effortlessly and provide instant hydration. In 2003, our first Eye Care product—Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Eye Serum—was introduced. Since then, we continued to expand our range with new additions including Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Eye Cream and Remove, catering to the needs of customers across the world. A clear opportunity was identified to develop a vitamin-enriched eye product to sit within the premium Skin Care+ range. We draw on the strengths of Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Eye Serum, and provide a similarly exceptional product that would offer sustained hydration and additional benefits for a wider range of skin types—hence the introduction of the Exalted Eye Serum in 2022.
Describe the formulation and creation process, especially during Melbourne’s multiple lockdowns.
It typically takes two years to fully realise a product, with much collaborative effort and many iterations between concept, development, testing, manufacture and launch. Our approach is to take the time needed to ensure each new formulation we create is of the highest quality, safety and efficacy. Those are assessed for each new product through a rigorous schedule of testing. Our highly skilled in-house chemists scrutinise and perfect every aspect of the formula. At any one time, we may have a number of products at various stages of development, though perhaps only a few will make it to market; we refuse to develop products simply because of a perceived marketing requirement to have a new launch.
There’s been a backlash towards essential oils and/or fragrances in skincare over the years. How does Aesop balance the duality of pleasure and purpose when it comes to scents in skincare?
When formulating products, our priority is efficacy. Aesop formulations are renowned for their evocative aromas, which arise from the essential oils used in their production. However, these aromas are an incidental pleasure; the oils are selected primarily for the benefits they offer to the skin and hair. Like grapes harvested to produce fine wines, essential oils and their aromas vary with every batch—according to soil quality, altitude and other environmental factors related to cultivation of the plants from which they originate. We note this phenomenon with pleasure and make no effort to disguise nature’s seasonal variations.
In a noisy world of ‘fast’ beauty, there’s Aesop which has been wonderfully anti-conformist and highly intentional in its approach. Describe Aesop’s ethos towards skincare and self-care.
Instead of quick fixes promising instant results, we extol the virtues of a more measured and meaningful approach: one that is focused on the routine enjoyment of observing and tending to specific—often highly individual—skin care needs. As with lifestyles and diets, we understand that skin health is an ongoing endeavour rather than a finished product, compelling our customers to embrace a process of continuous support and care. This attentiveness requires time and space, carving out a moment in the day for personal reverence, and shutting out the endless noise in order to connect with our skin—to listen to its minor fluctuations and responses as it passes through the seasons, weathering a variety of conditions.
Aesop over the years has been often imitated, never duplicated. If you were to unpack the anatomy of Aesop, what elements have made it so successful?
Our stores and counters are the embodiment of our philosophy and our approach to retail service. While no two Aesop spaces are ever the same, when a customer enters any door around the world, they encounter the familiar: the products on our shelves, the knowledge, gracious hospitality and service extended by our consultants, and an aesthetic anchored not only to our sensibility but also to local culture, traditions and materials. Our exacting standards demand that we remain wholly responsible for every aspect of the business—from the ideation and formulation of our products to the settings in which they are presented, and the ways in which their benefits are articulated and demonstrated. Were we to stray from these standards, our offerings would inevitably be diminished.
How have elements such as art, architecture, literature, design, and local contexts come to influence and enrich the Aesop brand experience?
A creative sensibility underpins all that we do—not only our collaborations with artists, artisans and architects, but also our approach to hosting and the formulation of our products. We believe that good design improves lives, and implement this ethos in every aspect of the company, from product packaging to interior architecture. In creating our spaces, we often work with experts who are skilled in the use of particular materials and techniques, and partner with architects and designers who excel in their fields. Consequently, no two Aesop stores are the same—each is a response to the distinctive characteristics of its location.
Many of these creations have been chronicled in Taxonomy of Design, an online compendium of some of our finest stores. The experience within any Aesop store, and our relationship with our customers, is never simply a transactional one: it is also educational, prescriptive and sensorial. We host our customers in calm, warm, comforting spaces that look, feel and smell good—each store a restorative haven of visual harmony where they can sit and have some tea if they wish, and receive informed service from consultants of the highest calibre and knowledge. We have a meaningful conversation with each of our customers to understand their concerns, skin type, environment and preferred textures. We invite them to explore the formulations with us: demonstrating each product at the sink, allowing customers to experience how it feels on their skin, has become the ritualistic hallmark of the Aesop consultation.
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There’s been a huge push towards ‘clean’ beauty over the years. As much as Aesop utilises botanicals, the ingredients and formulas are also rigorously tested in your labs. What star ingredients and innovations are close to the heart of Aesop?
For over 30 years we have adhered to a fiercely independent approach to skin care, marked by an unwavering commitment to quality—aiming to create products of premium efficacy and sensory pleasure through solid science, delivered in uncomplicated packaging and with a touch of humour. While Aesop has always sought to tread lightly on the environment—for example eschewing outer packaging of individual products, where not legally required—we are now on a more deliberate journey towards having a positive effect on the environment by becoming a fully regenerative company. As the business grows, our approach to design continues to evolve, along with our ethical and sustainable sourcing of materials, and our adoption of circular principles. We are on a journey to reduce our impacts on the planet that generously sustains us. So far, our progress has led to Aesop becoming a certified B Corp®. As a Certified B Corporation®, we meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability—balancing purpose and profit to a greater end.
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Beyond recycling ‘empties’, what are some of Aesop’s key sustainability efforts for 2022 and beyond?
In November 2021, we started an in-store refill trial at Aesop South Yarra, Australia, which allows customers to purchase a selection of favoured formulations in reusable glass bottles. Once empty, this vessel can be returned and exchanged for a refilled replacement. This directly rewards the customer and helps our business and the environment. We continue to evaluate our options for both in-store and at-home packaging return programmes, and hope to introduce these into more Aesop stores.
Name your top skincare picks for the hot and humid Singaporean climate.
In the morning, in addition to gentle cleansing, I would suggest Lucent Facial Concentrate. It is light, barely there, but holds potent benefits. Almost all skin types will benefit greatly from the vitamins delivered by just one pipette of this exceptional serum; if your skin is normal, dry or dehydrated, it can function as a vitamin-rich preface to your chosen moisturiser, and significantly boost hydration. In hot and humid conditions, it offers excellent nourishment and hydration without encumbering the skin. In the evening, I would unreservedly recommend Fabulous Face Oil, for the sense of wellbeing it confers in addition to its hydrating, decongesting and balancing properties. The lightweight texture and smooth, near-matte finish make it a pleasure to experience on the skin; and the aromatic impression of this product is like no other—essential oils of ylang ylang and jasmine, particularly, evoke a sense of warm, languid evenings and gardens in full bloom. Only a few drops are needed to effect an elevated mood while delivering multiple benefits to the skin. It’s a delightful precursor to sound sleep.