Aesop Westfield & Harrod's, London / Tolila + Gilliland Architects

There's no doubt that when an new Aesop store opens, it's going to be interesting and something that you'll want to walk into and explore. As I walked past the latest Aesop store to open in London, a collaboration with Parisian firm Tolila + Gilliland Atelier d’Architecture, I wanted to do just that. Tolila + Gilliland transform the space, formerly a jewellery store into a harmonious and beautiful space. True to Aesop's philosophy in it's tactile nature and use of materials as a core part of the design. No fake surfaces here, but a beautifully bespoke interior. Read on for Q&A with the designers and more about the project. 

Could you tell me a little about your studio

Gaston Tolila (France) and Nicholas  Gilliland (US) formed Tolila+Gilliland in 2011.  Our team works from the 13th arrondissement in Paris, where we focus on all types and scales of projects

How did you come to design the Aesop stores in London?

We were first contacted by Aesop to design several spaces in Paris.  It was a great experience, which led to a small “corner” in Geneva and then the two London spaces at Westfield and Harrod’s.

What was the brief for the store?

The brief is incredibly open.  As you may know, each Aesop store is bespoke and designed around its one specific details and material palette.  Product clarity is one constant.  The experience of the customer, from the touch of surfaces to the acoustics, to the fine-tuning of the lighting design, are all an expected to be part of the design response.

Did you collaborate directly with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis?

Yes we had the pleasure of working directly with Dennis on these spaces, as well as with his talented teams in Paris and London.  Aesop takes design very seriously.  We were surprised, for example, that even initial sketches were distributed throughout the organization for feedback.  It was exciting to see the level of engagement!

How long was the design and construction process?

Approximately 6 months for Westfield, 3 months for Harrod’s.

Did you visit the site prior? what was the design process like?

We visited the site before, and during the process.  Westfield was originally a jewelry store with a very generic layout.   Aesop asked us to rethink the entry sequence, so the façade was redesigned for a more generous approach.  Once inside, it’s about constructing an immediate intimacy.  Design submittals were discussed between London, Paris and Sydney on a weekly basis, and included major concept issues down to the details of the under shelf lighting.

What materials were used in the interior?

Felt, Concrete and Steel.  Back of house is in clear-coated plywood (yes, at Aesop the back of house counts! It’s very holisitic).  An attention to detail is critical, so an investment in time and materials was made down to for the interior of drawers, the types of drawer mechanisms used…. Shops in mall interiors are usually limited to surface decoration, but Aesop allowed us to create a true “bespoke” space, altering the proportions of the volume, creating a very specific Aesop space.  It’s also 100% handmade.

Did you collaborate on any part of the design with other makers or craftsmen?

We had some great craftsmen at Superbuild and Tekne. It was a very active discussion and exchange with them throughout.

Is the design typical of your design work and how?

The restrained palette and clear volumes are typical of our approach, as is a focus on “true” materials.  There is no faux metal here, no plastics, etc.  We hope this space will live a long and well-worn life.

What is your favourite part of the design?

The bench sliding in and out of the façade, questioning the limits of the space and creating a really cozy interior…

What did you learn along the way?

It’s necessarily a very fast process.  Keep it simple.

What would you do differently if anything?

There are always a few details that drive us crazy but… that’s a trade secret!

What inspires your work currently?

We're constantly looking beyond the office for external references with material presence appropriate to each project. We've been looking at wood and the vernacular of American barns, concrete with Claude Parent's bunker-like masses, Glaciers for an all-glass structure, translating the richness of Op-Art into a constantly-changing terra-cotta facade.... An open-ended process that becomes, we hope, laser precise in its application as each project develops.

What are you working on next?

We are currently working on various housing projects, an arts cinema and community center in Paris, and are in the early phases of a building in Miami’s Design District.  We also recently launched a valet, “Jeeves” with the editor La Chance.  We enjoy all of these scales.