If we had to describe Aesop’s retail store designs in three words, they would be sincerity, simplicity, and sustainability.
Designed by a slew of notable architects, from Snøhetta and NADAAA, to local studios such as Kerstin Thompson Architects and March Studio, each of Aesop’s stores is unique, but easily identifiable as the popular Australian skincare brand.
A large part of this is Aesop’s design philosophy of working only with what already exists when searching for new locations. This means immersing itself in unfamiliar landscapes, engaging with local culture and history, and investigating the use of local materials—decisions that create an authenticity and timelessness in design.
“It is our intention to weave ourselves into the fabric of place and add something of merit rather than impose a discordant presence, and our consistent practice to use a locally relevant design vocabulary,” Aesop states boldly on its website.
We explore three Aesop projects in Australia that prove the incorporation of sustainability into retail fitouts don’t have to be complicated, but can happen organically, and create a design solution that is easy, refined and pleasing to the eye.
FLINDERS LANETucked away in a classic Melbourne alleyway, Aesop Flinders Lane was revitalised in 2015 by the brand’s in-house team of designers to reflect the constant cycles of regeneration “found in both nature and our urban environments”.
The highlight of the store is also its most obvious—an undulating cardboard wall accented by dark finishes. Made of exposed-edge cardboard sheets—the same used for shipping Aesop’s products—the wall is shaped to guide visitors through the space; its curbed form allowing for an interplay of light and shadow.
The concept for this cardboard wall was inspired by the store’s previous design, which featured 3,000 folded boxes lining the length of one wall. According to lead architect Kian Yam, the recyclable material is intended to soften and evolve as the store ages and wears, “showing signs of life and a connection between the built form and its occupants”.
The rich shipping and manufacturing history of this inner-west Sydney suburb, as well as its inevitable gentrification in the 1960s, largely informed Aesop Balmain’s design.
“The embedded history of Aesop Balmain’s location provided graceful cues for a contemporary refurbishment by local architect Henry Wilson—encouraging an elegant sufficiency,” Aesop explains.
The design team retained several of the shop’s original elements, including doorways, fireplaces and the wall’s raw sandstone blocks—all of which were discovered during renovation. The 19th century rough blocks are balanced by Australian Chestnut floors and white ceilings, which add a sense of volume to the space; as well as smooth, linear white powder-coated steel edge shelving.
“These modular structures also act as frames for the counter units and improvised sinks, made from plastic tubs. Copper’s warm tones are found lining the windows and façade, while the utilitarian aesthetic continues to custom lighting in the windows—lightweight and portable,” the brand adds.
Where Flinders Street referenced regeneration, and the Balmain shop speaks to history, Aesop Bondi Beach is, of course, all about being by the water.
Designed by Cibi to capture the spirit of its location, the fitout features weathered textures and simple materials that are reminiscent of a beach house. Sun rays streaming into the store are refracted by steel-framed windows. The shelves and benches along one wall are made of timber sourced from the Geelong wharves, their grey tones complementing the concrete walls and floors.
“The floors have been buffed to a polish, with dips deliberately left in place to elicit moments of discovery and surprise; an antique laundry sink in raw concrete sits against one of the walls,” Aesop notes. “The sea nearby is referenced in the amorphous wave-like forms of the benches opposite, which are topped with cool grey Carrera marble.
“Textures and tonality work in concert to achieve a casual ambiance that gains character from the change in surface and grain.”
More of Aesop’s store details may be found on Taxonomy of Design, a website dedicated to its ethos that “well-considered design improves our lives”.
All images courtesy of Taxonomy of Design.