HONEST TO GOODNESS
With Melbourne-based cosmeticsnd hear is what you get
Cosmetics company Aesop is a rare bird, winning over the hearts of its customers through a unique ethos built around love, respect and transparency. General manager Suzanne Santos is the woman responsible, alongside founder Dennis Paphitis, and their passionate vision of ‘the Aesop way’ has grown what started as a single hair product into an international success. Suzanne was Dennis’s first employee back in 1987; today she travels the world as an ambassador for the brand, guiding it as it develops in new markets and educating its consultants and customers. She met with Fashion
Quarterly to chat about her career journey, love for the arts and skincare philosophy.
What does a day in your professional life look
[I] engage and support my colleagues here in Melbourne as well as internationally, overseeing the integrity of the brand and ensuring we maintain an impeccably executed approach to retail. Each day at Aesop is markedly different to
the one that preceded it.
interest in intelligent and sustainable design extends to every aspect of Aesop’s
This year marks Aesop’s 30th anniversary. What do you love about the brand?
That our workplace invites freedom of expression, quality of life and the opportunity to learn. Aesop life pays heed to literature, art, food and wine, architecture — so many things deemed distinct from cosmetics. Yet with Aesop, these fields coalesce seamlessly with what we do and how we think about things. The breadth of Aesop’s interests is what I value most… It’s fascinating to be a part of that.
The idea that ‘well-considered design improves our lives’ is a central tenet of the brand. What does it mean?
Put simply, we believe unequivocally that good design improves our lives, and our sincere interest in intelligent and sustainable design extends to every aspect of Aesop’s workings.
‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ are buzzwords many brands are capitalising on. Aesop makes no such claims with regards to its products, which contain both natural and synthetic ingredients. Why is this consideration of both nature and science important to you?
We fit into a category that’s comfortable for us but often uncomfortable for other brands and major retailers. We celebrate science, understanding that the formulation of remarkable products requires a blend of well-chosen scientifically proven ingredients and exceptional botanicals. Accordingly, we never use the words ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ in our communication.
From the ingredients you use to the customer service experience you offer, Aesop is all about transparency. Why does this policy work?
We believe in an honest and genuine approach. We eschew celebrity endorsements, false promises and preying on people’s insecurities to sell product; we communicate honestly with our clients about the function and efficacy of our products, respecting their intelligence and discernment. For over 30 years, we’ve celebrated and respected individuality, rather than conforming to conventional media notions of how beauty and wellness should look and feel.
You say that in formulating new products, you’re responding to the genuine needs of customers and not industry trends. How do you distinguish between the two?
At Aesop, rather than following trends, we listen to our customers, and only formulate a handful of new products each year in response to genuine client needs, with a clearly identified purpose and longevity in mind.
What are some recent additions to the Aesop product stable that you’re excited about?
I’ve particularly been enjoying our recently introduced trio of Aromatique Room Sprays: Istros is a refined, floral and smoky aroma; Olous is a vibrant blend of green and citrus botanicals; and Cythera delivers a warm, woody and spicy fragrance.
Aesop values and supports the arts. What are some examples of this?
Although our primary business is skincare, we draw constant inspiration from the arts and use them as an avenue through which to inspire, learn and communicate. This is part of our DNA, so it’s fitting that it manifests in direct engagement with like-minded cultural partners. Among those with whom we currently work are Auckland Art Gallery and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Tell us a bit about the Aesop retail experience…
Our stores [provide] unique environments in which clients can not only experience our product, but also receive sincere, well-informed and hospitable service. The relationships engendered and nurtured within their walls are the cornerstone of our success. When entering an Aesop store, each client is welcomed as a guest in our home and offered tea and unobtrusive personal service. We provide a quiet, warm environment that nurtures the senses, where each client feels calm, valued and listened to.
Aesop stores around the world all share a similar aesthetic but are uniquely fitted-out. Why is that?
Architecturally, our design method is to work with what’s already there, weaving ourselves into the core and fabric of the street rather than imposing ourselves on a locale. We look at the streetscape and try to retain and redeem existing façades, working with a local and relevant vocabulary to contextualise what we do. Together with interior elements including unobtrusive lighting, music and scent, this approach lends a subtle yet discernible signature; entry into an Aesop space inevitably marks a departure from bustle and clamour.
Aesop’s second NZ store is open now at 35 High Street, Auckland.
Aesop’s Suzanne Santos champions the brand’s authentic approach. “In all our products, each ingredient selected must serve a purpose in treating the skin or hair, otherwise it’s not used.” Opposite: Unique Aesop store fit-outs in France (top) and Germany.