Christmas decorations go up so early in Singapore. The bright lights and dazzling shop displays seem to instigate a frenzied rush to end the year in as festive a manner as possible. In and around the malls, the year-end throngs of people mill thick and fast, and Christmas music blares on a never-ending loop, almost like an annual auditory drill. There is no respite for the eyes either, given that everywhere you turn, Christmas merchandise in garish display shouts mercilessly for attention. An ironic anxiety seems to fill the air; an overwhelming sense of being compelled to celebrate through gift-giving and yet not really knowing what to buy, coupled with a tiredness to think anymore on the subject. In such moments it is infinitely easier to switch off, give in and lapse into that mindless commercialism of buying just for the sake of it.
Yet there is something in us that resists this trite characterisation of our Christmas habit. There’s a deeper longing to find value in the things that we do at this time of year. In a pure sense, Christmas is an altruistic wrap-up to the year, a time of taking stock of all the good things received. Situated at the threshold of a new year, Christmas allows us to bid goodbye to past regrets and embrace a forward-looking hope towards the future. Even the message of redemption in the traditional Christmas custom upholds brandishing a clean slate and carrying expectations of greater things to come. Amidst the hustle and bustle, how can we kindle a spirit of hope this December?
Recently, Esquire was invited to a private event held by Aesop. Titled Atlas of Attraction, the event was held in an off-thebeaten-track location in a beautiful black-and-white colonialstyle house. On climbing a flight of stairs, we were greeted by an ethereal window installation placed at the stair landing. Laser-cut curvilinear shapes in a metallic material hung from the ceiling and floated across the room, like imaginary contour lines on a topographical map. The cut-outs glimmered with iridescence, and the lightness of the work lent a sense of a delicate balance. Moving into the other rooms of the event space, we saw Aesop products intentionally placed like contemporary art exhibits in a museum. The entire event venue became a conjured space of dreams, a place where one could look up, be enthralled and inspired, and ponder alternatives. Each exhibit seemed to encourage curiosity and invite a sense of playful wonder and hope.
According to Marsha Meredith, creative director at Aesop, Atlas of Attraction “was about expressing the idea of seasonal journeys and connections, [looking to] graphics and imagery that evoked a sense of movement, discovery and wonder”. The name of the event is also the theme of the brand’s gift kits for the season, with each kit representing “one of these journeys: the return to familiar horizons, the discovery of new landscapes, the strengthening of ties and the embracing of fresh ideas that replenish or inspire”.
To be quite frank, it can be counter-intuitive to associate these concepts with a mere skincare product. It might further be stating the obvious to describe the rules of engagement Aesop lays out for encountering its products as counter-culture, particularly in the midst of the Christmas season. Compared to the usual promotional noise espoused by most commercial brands, Aesop’s preference in remaining calmly hidden (in a waiting-to-be-discovered fashion) is ostensibly atypical. What could account for such boldness in going against the grain?