Tatler Singapore

Poetry and Purpose

As beauty and wellness become increasing­ly driven by values rather than value, the influence of Aesop and its pioneering concept is becoming undeniable

- By Coco Marett

Cult is a word that gets thrown around often in the beauty world. But few brands can claim to have such a legion of loyalists as Aesop. Since it was founded in 1987 in Melbourne, the Australian skincare brand has drummed up an army of conscious customers who care about design, the environmen­t, consumptio­n and, if we’re being real, status.

I first met Suzanne Santos, co-founder and chief customer officer of Aesop, when we appeared together on a panel to discuss how Covid-19 has transforme­d the beauty industry. “We’ve lived in the bathroom in a very matter-of-fact way, where we’ve tried to do things quickly; slap product on our face and rapidly clean our teeth,” she lamented at the time. “Now, we have this pause, and the bathroom is a place where there is considerat­ion. I personally welcome the shift in demand for more time to nurture and celebrate oneself. We have always encouraged our customers to use each product with a sense of purpose.”

Conducted over Zoom, Santos spent much of our discussion pacing around her sun-soaked Melbourne living room, dressed in a loose white ensemble and thickframe­d glasses. Her demeanour is at first intimidati­ng, then refreshing, then captivatin­g. You soon come to realise that, like Aesop, Santos simply doesn’t operate the same way others of her ilk do. There are no rehearsed or publicist-approved answers; careful and considered in her responses, she possesses the kind of contemplat­ive authentici­ty that has shaped the brand she’s helped to build over three decades. My interest piqued, I asked if we could continue our conversati­on after the panel.

“We have adhered to a fiercely independen­t approach to skincare, and found our voice by operating outside of the industry,” Santos tells me in a follow-up conversati­on. Aesop has been a renegade of sorts in the wellness space, and as more brands move towards becoming cleaner, greener and more inclusive, they’re taking notes on the codes that have defined Aesop from day dot, as they say in Australia.

Some examples: Aesop has never used animal testing on any of its products, which are 100 per cent crueltyfre­e and vegan, and housed in eco-friendly amber glass bottles to preserve the potent botanical extracts. Its androgynou­s packaging also makes Aesop one of the early gender-neutral beauty companies, characteri­sed by using art and literature, rather than models, to represent the brand, which is apt since it was named after an Ancient Greek storytelle­r.

“The ideals of this generation in terms of fairness and equality, of what is inside a jar and the parameters of how it got there ... [this narrative] is absolutely the driving force behind these incredible changes we are seeing,” Santos says. “The beauty industry has acknowledg­ed that it can no longer speak in the same voice [that it has] and the demands of that will become higher, and the relinquish­ing of brands that don’t respond will be clear.”

A pioneer in slow, clean beauty, Aesop has always used sustainabl­e packaging—its amber glass bottles are instantly recognisab­le, and a common sight in upscale hotel and restaurant restrooms around the world. Likewise, its products feature meticulous­ly sourced, environmen­tally friendly ingredient­s with the excess dialled back. “We ignore product trends and only develop new products to serve a genuine purpose,” Santos explains. “It is our quest to do less and do it well.”

A perfect example is the recently launched collection of Aesop candles. As a brand known for its unmistakab­ly earthy scents—aesop has made faces smell of herbaceous parsley seed, nourished hands with notes of cedar atlas and rosemary leaf, and even masked bathroom unpleasant­ries with its tangerine peel and ylang ylang

“Post-poo Drops”—one wonders why it’s taken 33 years to release something as simple and, frankly, commercial, as a candle. But, hey, that’s just the Aesop way.

There’s an element of novelty with Aesop’s products, and the premium prices have raised many an eyebrow. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal published an article about Aesop titled “Should I Splurge on $40 Hand Wash to Impress My Guests?” More than seemingly basic skincare, customers are paying for ethical ingredient­s, the appeal of treading lightly on the environmen­t and the meticulous in-house research and developmen­t that promises both quality and moral consistenc­y.

Aesop has also rejected the promotion of beauty ideals. “We don’t believe in preying on the weaknesses or insecuriti­es of our customers,” says Santos, adding

that she and her colleagues “view ageing as a dignified process, believing the marks of its progress should be embraced rather than obscured”. In place of bodies and faces, the brand uses art, interior design and literature to define itself. Its stores, of which there are more than 240 around the world, are designed in collaborat­ion with local architects, ensuring no two are alike. Santos describes them as “places for peace and quiet contemplat­ion”. Product packaging is often emblazoned with quotes by the likes of Marcel Proust, William Faulkner and Margaret Fuller.

“We have included literary quotes within our products and spaces as a way of expressing our points of view and creating resonance with our customers,” Santos explains. “Our relationsh­ip with the arts has been integral to the developmen­t of Aesop; it has fuelled and inspired us for 30 years.”

In October 2019, the brand launched Aesop: The Book, published by Rizzoli. More than a retrospect­ive journey into the brand’s history, it is a love letter to the artisans, artists and architects that have inspired and shaped the brand. The book opens with this quote by Antoine de Saint-exupéry, author of Le Petit Prince: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and open seas.”

It’s hard to think of a more fitting quote to summarise a brand as nuanced as this one. After all, Aesop has made people do something that skincare brands usually don’t: it has made them think.

“We ignore product trends. It is our quest to do less and do it well”


 ??  ?? Suzanne Santos co‑founded Australian skincare brand Aesop in 1987
Suzanne Santos co‑founded Australian skincare brand Aesop in 1987
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 ??  ?? From left: An Aesop store in Kyoto, Japan; the use of amber glass bottles is a brand signature
From left: An Aesop store in Kyoto, Japan; the use of amber glass bottles is a brand signature

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