The latest Aesop store to open is in Auckland's Newmarket. Trudi Brewer meets Suzanne Santos, spokesperson and general manager of retail and customer relations and discovers what makes this brand so thoughtful.
The latest beauty space to fill your senses is a brick, corner store that you will smell before you lay eyes on it. Founded by Dennis Paphitis back in 1987, it came from humble beginnings, sold from a single hair salon in Armadale, Melbourne. And today with over 150 stores the most recent collaboration with architects Patterson Associates it has a distinctive New Zealand flavour. With bare timber floors and Victorian domestic wash-house basins, there are also touches of 50's inspired furniture that sit perfectly in the neighbourhood of Newmarket. As the first standalone store, Santos shares the brands intention for it to be the beginning of many.
Why launch a standalone store in NZ now?
Everything needs to come at the right time. We had many people coming into our stores and not just in Australia but around the world. Also, our online store was servicing so many New Zealand customers we considered it the perfect time to launch.
Will there be more?
Yes. There's a place for us in Wellington; I think there is a kinship, a like-mindedness that makes it very comfortable for us to be here. The type of comfort with which people find themselves in here is evidence that we have a place and purpose here. So I think many centres with a history will find a small Aesop presence.
You are known as one of the most respectful beauty brands in the world, why is that?
I did not know we had that title? From the very first day, we have always acknowledged and naturally respected the place of other companies. No company owns a bathroom. If someone has a love for another product, why would we diminish that, you may as well diminish them as a person. So I don't think it is a difficult position to take.
How do make sure you are one of those brands in a bathroom?
I think we should be in that bathroom because that person has made a decision that they want you in there. What we do is open doors and counters, and the invitation is yours to trial the product, and if together a connection is made, you will buy it. It's no more complicated than that.
I like the testers outside the stores, who's idea was that?
We opened our first door in Melbourne, and it was down a long flight of stairs laid with magnificent brown wool New Zealand carpet, into a no way out, down a long tunnel. People would walk by, some would walk in, and some would not see us at all. There was a cement container installation sitting in front of the store, which was the perfect base to place a 500ml bottle, and the then brochures. It took two minutes for two women to walk by and try it, look down the end of the long tunnel and enter the store.
And now that story is legendary?
Yes, but let's be frank it began out of desperation.
Who is the Aesop customer?
It is not possible to say. Across the earth there are threads of sameness that bring people to Aesop. There is something about the comfort of being inside our spaces which is at the forefront of what becomes an Aesop customer. And, the ability to be able to form trust quickly. Also in the absence of advertising, the references you're going to make to buy an Aesop product is going to be very different. It is a comfortable place to be, and in a world where retail can be crude and ignore people, our customers are cocooned, by what we do. Which is clearly what they are seeking.
What would you expect the first time you visit an Aesop store?
The main thing that matters to me is that they are acknowledged and the feel there is a place for them in our store. That matters to me beyond anything else. It's important in this world full of judges, not to be judged? That they hear the sound of quality music and smell comforting aromas, From the eye contact, to the smile and that the advice they receive is clear and articulate, educated and informed. That is what i will hope they encounter.
If you are new to Aesop, what is the one product you should try?
Nine times out of ten I would suggest a cleanser. The idea of getting a cleanser onto skin twice a day would be a wonderful practice, and it will change their skin.
Describe Aesop in six words?
It is tricky in a world where a lot of words that used to be incredibly legitimate have lost their legitimacy. The words I would have said ten years ago I would never say today.
Have you got one word?
Thoughtful - in everything we do.
Visit Aesop online.