Their approach to store design gives each an individual personality, unlike a usual roll-out which is largely about adapting the brand of store to a new location. With Aesop the store is as unique as the location. You may have noticed that larger chains are also taking up this approach, notably trying to individualise their stores. However, I think Aesop is one of the first, certainly to do it so well.
Aesop, in collaboration with their design team seek something specialised & unique for each locale. For this post I'm looking at design studio Russell & George. With an impressive 8 Aesop stores, the latest being Singapore shop-in-shop. This collaborative approach provides a sense of surprise & delight for the customer as they visit each location. Each Russell & George project exhibits a design clarity & it's own personality while still maintaining a coherent design language and an evident sensitivity to materials.
'We treat every opportunity as a way of revealing hidden personalities of our clients'
An intriguing approach & I wanted to find out more. A credit to the team at Russell & George. Look out for the Q&A with Ryan Russell, Director at Russell & George.
Aesop have collaborated with Russell & George for Armadale, Claremont, Doncaster, Myer Melbourne, Chatswood, Hong Kong Sheung Wan, Kuala Lumpur Pavilion & Singapore shop-in-shop stores.
I was intrigued by the light fitting for the Armadale store, the beautiful pendant fitting which is hand blown glass by Paolo Venini for Venini 1960's. The pendant features a set of single strands of air bubble lines between a very thin layer of glass.
It is a technical miracle as the air trapped in the very fine glass skin, has not erupted in expansion of the bubble. It was handblown from a lump of glass approx 15 cm in diameter to its final existing size.
'Our choice of location, designer and materials are the subject of much discussion. We open stores only where we find people who understand the intention and integrity of our products. And we aim to enhance every neighbourhood into which we move.'
The Aesop Claremont store is pleasingly sunlit and minimal, with pegboard shelving, a spacious counter of Kimberley sandstone, with an integrated demonstration sink, and cork flooring.
- Looking at Claremont – I was wondering if you could you tell me what the pendant light fitting is?
It is a vintage brass fitting sourced from Sydney. Danish in origin. No designer named but we are told it may be designed by Fog & Mørup.
‘We wanted to create a space that was both calming and enlivening,and to make the materials and colour palette work together towards that goal in a way that was subtle and refined.’ Ryan Russell
The walls and floor of the store are overlaid with Italian swimming pool tiles. While their toughness and durability are assets in an environment with clear practical requirements, the tiles were appealing also for what they evoke.
The tiles have been angled on the walls, then run in diagonal lines across the floor, giving the illusion of movement, and providing a clear and inviting pathway into the store. A gum-leaf green pigment runs through the tiles rather than sitting on the surface of it, giving it depth of colour and an unusually matte texture.
‘Even if you don’t know they’re pool tiles, you associate them with places of water and cleanliness, places that would comfortably house Aesop products,’ Russell explains.
The full effect of the tile work is visible from outside the store through a wall of custom-made, thick panes of glass. Each pane weighs half a tonne and required a team of twelve men to position.
‘Building the front of the store was a challenge...The glass panes attach only at the top and bottom, and the gap between them allows the scent of the store to waft outside.’ Ryan Russell
While each Aesop store is designed with reference to its surroundings, the Doncaster store houses two objects found in every Aesop space: porcelain sinks used for product demonstrations, and furniture hand-picked by Paphitis. In this case, he chose a pair of wooden stools he describes as ‘awkward 1950s Italian pieces, simple but striking in shape.’
Russell explains that the design was inspired by the subtle interplay between water and land that is so germane to Sydney. The store is understated in tone, calm, with space allowed to explore the Aesop range free from excessive visual interruptions.
One wall of the store is a wood panel world map on which consultants can display the Aesop products that are most sought-after or seasonally pertinent.
The product demonstration area contains a wash-plane made of a single piece of folded, aged brass that slopes back into the main counter, combined with a garden tap. As with all Aesop stores, Chatswood Chase uses the highest-quality materials and expert craftsmanship to create a retail environment.
- What was special about the brief that allowed/inspired you to create these spaces? What is the starting point for a new store?
The starting point for all Aesop stores is always the local context. The designs are generally derived from responding to the local environment and the allowing the store to have a dialogue with these conditions.
- What is the collaborative process like? Is Aesop very involved in the design process?
The process generally starts with a fairly broad discussion about what the store should be about. Sometimes, Aesop proffer an idea sometimes we do. It is a very organic discussion and collaboration that evolves over time.
- What are the essential elements of a successful collaboration?
A keen interest in exploration, respect & listening, from both sides.
- Would you treat a shop-in-shop design in a different way to a stand alone store?
We have done many of these types of sites for Aesop. We generally approach both types be it a store or shop in shop the same way. The designs are shaped from the individual conditions around the site and in this way are always unique as the conditions around them are unique also.
- Is there a design language that you consider using with each new store?
We tend to avoid design language in all our work and focus on creating ideas.
- Where do you & your studio look to for inspiration, either from design or outside of design?
We don't tend to look to other designers or interiors when designing our work. The ideas can really come out of anywhere - text, art, pop culture, advertising, social theory or geometry. Sometimes they come from an understanding of our client or bouncing ideas around. Sometimes they can be a little absurd. It really depends on the individual job or context. One thing we do try and do is focus on one idea and refine it.
We were attracted to this part of Hong Kong Island’s western district because it retains buildings of historical relevance while welcoming creative modern retailers. The area is home to temples, tea shops, traditional craft stores, with galleries and design agencies opening in the ladder streets and leafy laneways.
Our Sheung Wan store...is crafted from bamboo and raw concrete. We chose this combination of materials to acknowledge the local landscape – Hollywood Road Park is nearby, circled by towering apartment blocks, and bamboo is a plant of cultural and environmental note. The store contains compressed bamboo shelving and external walls will be clad in bamboo.
The design embodies Aesop’s predilection for clean, linear arrangements and natural materials. The structure uses finely proportioned wooden slats for walls, folding doors, and ceiling; this simple, elegant frame allows for abundant light and evokes a sense of enclosure, protection and tranquillity. Other interior elements include black basalt flooring, and copper sink and pipes.
With reference to traditional medical laboratories of the early to mid-twentieth century, the design uses a palette of ivory and soft sea green. A black-tiled countertop reiterates the space’s utilitarian aesthetic and recasts the modest tile in a scientific manner. Shelves and flooring of European Oak offer a warm contrast.