Our partners at Aesop just launched Aesop Book. To celebrate our collaboration and this occasion, we interviewed their creative director Marsha Meredith on her understanding of design, its relation to contemporary art and her future visions for Aesop.
Despite all the differences in the design of each store, what are the common parameters that you look for in all of them?
The guiding principle is in creating spaces of calm, elegance and functionality—to offer respite from the sensory overstimulation that pervades so much of modern life. Of course, there are certain design principles we adhere to worldwide. We try to do more with less, and to minimise our footprint. We prefer natural or muted lighting, depending on the setting; a generally understated design vocabulary; and materiality with local relevance. Ideally, the stores offer sensory pleasure in the same way our products do.
What is a no-go?
Wasteful use of materials or space. Ostentatious or garish design that dominates a setting rather than complementing it.
What do you try to achieve in the design of the stores? Is it about the display of the products, the functionality of the space or something else?
Above all, our stores should allow us to introduce ourselves and our products to customers in an effortless manner, characterised by ease and comfort. Among other things, this means they need to accommodate basins for product demonstrations, and to offer adequate room for product display; they should also offer a place of for customers to rest momentarily. Of course, functionality and poetry are not mutually exclusive. Part of creating individually designed stores across the world is ensuring each space reflects or weaves into its surroundings.
What role does research play in your design process?
Wherever we go, we try to work in harmony with existing elements, often drawing inspiration from the local streetscape or the site’s history. In Aesop Kammenstraat, Antwerp, for instance, some of the decaying, peeling walls were preserved; Aesop Brera in Milan was previously a locally beloved salumeria whose original signage we preserved. Of course, this isn’t always possible. In the context of a retail complex like a mall, the imperative is ensuring customers feel welcome and unhurried, cocooned from thudding music and harsh overhead lights.
How do you pick the architects or designers you work with?
There are no definitive criteria. Sometimes we seek out like-minded practitioners we’re interested in working with, and at other times collaborations emerge from chance encounters. Much of it is down to instinct, shared values and a mutual openness to dialogue.
Do you work in collaboration with contemporary artists too?
Among our recent collaborations are last year’s gift kits, collectively titled ‘Atlas of Attraction’, to which the couturier Iris van Herpen lent her vision; and a video installation called Epistēmē, conceived with conceptual artist Bart Hess. In 2017 we worked with Olivier Sevère and Julia Kent to create a film for our third fragrance Hwyl, and with Nathalie du Pasquier and composer Jesse Paris Smith for our Room Sprays launch. Literature is equally important to us. We have worked with many eminent writers—such as Zadie Smith and Alvaro Enrigue—through our online publication, The Fabulist; and we support outstanding narrative non-fiction through the Horne Prize, an annual essay award presented in collaboration with The Saturday Paper, a prominent weekly newspaper, in Australia. We also partner with several literary festivals around the world.
How do you understand the relationship between contemporary art and design?
While there’s opportunity for overlap, design is about functionality, and art is about untrammelled expression. Both have the capacity to transport us and to reset narratives and practices. At best, these worlds can support and inspire each other without compromise.
What are your future visions for Aesop? How would you like to see the brand develop?
Our focus in the coming years will be sustainability, both social and environmental, and exploring digital and social channels to share our world more broadly. As we continue to grow, so do the opportunities to challenge ourselves while continuing to adhere to the values and standards that have guided us to this point.
How did you and your team arrive at the idea to publish an Aesop Book?
As we moved into our thirty-third year, it seemed appropriate to pause for reflection, to take stock of the first three decades. Given our history of literary engagement and our love of the written word, a book seemed a natural fit—an enduring, palpable form through which to share the Aesop story.
What is the main theme of the book?
It’s perhaps best described as the design of the codes, conventions and culture manifest in our products and stores. Everything that has brought us to where we are after three decades.
Last but not least, where can one get the book?
It is available for purchase in Aesop signature stores and online from 22 October.
Save the Date
24–27 September 2020
Marx Halle Vienna