Aesop is an Australian cosmetics brand that has won many awards for their overall retail concept. They sell high quality care products for skin, hair and body. Aesop uses minimalist store displays and packaging to convey an understated yet iconic brand identity.
Products are sold in pharmaceutical-style brown glass jars, which gives the store a modern-day apothecary feel (Wells, 2012). Aesop’s minimalist packaging was created originally for practical reasons. The brown bottle colour means that fewer preservatives are needed, and all bottles are created from the same, repeated mould. Ingredients and instructions are printed on the front label, meaning that additional packaging (e.g. boxes) or instructional leaflets are not needed. This saves on cost and reduces environmental impact (Kuehlwein, 2012). Aesop kept this minimalist aesthetic, which is visible in their retail displays and logo, the latter which is simply the brand name rather than an unnecessary graphic.
Aesop’s retail stores each have a unique design and aesthetic that creates a unique experience. They adhere to the minimalist style but use displays and architecture that gives the shop character. Store design takes inspiration from local heritage and culture and presents a visually engaging and interesting response (Aesop, n.d.). As Kuehlwein (2012) put it, “Each store represents a different interpretation of a strict brand identity.”
While the aesthetic is a major point of the stores, it does not distract from the products. The minimalist displays are ideal for displaying the various bottles as they do not visually compete with them. The displays instead highlight the products, giving them more visual weight. This is part of Aesop’s brand identity: not being a cosmetics-selling company that indulges in overuse of beautiful imagery and decoration. The stores are instead beautiful in a different, less superficial way; a way that the target audience (intellectual people) would appreciate.
Aesop is an experiential brand, where customers discover the products inside. Informed staff members assist customers with finding the right products for their individual needs (Kuehlwein, 2012). The brand looks very prestigious. Customers pay for the implied high quality of the product as well as the brand name. Dennis Paphitis, the creator of the Aesop brand, said “why make something ugly when it can be interesting?” (Wells, 2012). The visual appeal in provided in an interesting way rather than a beautiful way. Aesop is an intelligent brand, as witnessed by their usage of thought-provoking quotations from various historical figures and celebrities.
Customers pay for the ideology behind the Aesop brand. They promote the idea that nothing is perfect, but everybody still strives towards what little self-improvement they are capable of. Aesop’s CEO Michael O’Keeffe said “… we’re not perfect, the customer’s not perfect, and it’s not that people actually want to become perfect either. … People should leave our store with a positive experience, rather than some of these brands that make people feel bad and the sell them products to overcome that.” (Kuehlwein, 2012) This brutally honest mentality makes customers respect the brand and pay to be part of this lifestyle.
Different materials are used for Aesop’s different store interiors. They usually have a hand-crafted aesthetic – none of the furniture looks mass produced. Aesop stores use a range of materials including wood, steel, aluminium, ceramic bricks, concrete, resin, plywood, paper, felt and twine (Winston, 2014). The usage of the materials is what makes the store interiors stand out. Ryan Russell, an architect behind 5 Aesop store designs, said that their intention for a Perth store was to use “fairly generic materials, but in beautiful and unexpected ways.” He furthers this by saying that they transformed a basic material into “something quite luxurious” (Castle, 2012). This is reflective of all Aesop interiors. Simple materials are constantly used in creative ways. A statement from Aesop regarding a store in Signapore said “the idea is to work with a sombre material palette in an unexpected way” (Winston, 2014). Again this is true for nearly all Aesop store designs. Unique materials are often sourced locally and repurposed for the store (Aesop, n.d.). Aesop stores around the world have done this, including:
- Oak archiving drawers used as a counter for storage and display in Melbourne.
- Small, polished, plumbing discs used for product display in Paris.
- Newspaper used as primary construction material in New York.
The materials add to each store’s unique aesthetic. A lot of thought is put into making the architecture visually interesting (as part of Aesop’s brand identity) but still relevant to the local surroundings.
Aesop (n.d.) Aesop on Design. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from http://www.aesop.com/au/article/on-design.html
Castle, E. (2012). Aesop. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from http://architectureau.com/articles/aesop/#img=1
Kuehlwein, J. P. (2012). Aesop –Fabled Brand, Fabulous Marketing. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from https://masstoclass.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/aesop-fabled-brand-fabulous-marketing/
Wells, R. (2012). The Man Behind the Aesop Brand. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/entrepreneur/the-man-behind-the-aesop-brand-20120222-1tntu.html
Winston, A. (2014). Deezeen’s top 10 Aesop Store Designs. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from http://www.dezeen.com/2014/12/17/dezeens-top-10-aesop-store-designs-interiors/