The Subtlety of Aesop

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We examine how the Australian skincare brand’s appeal continues to endure, 30 years on.

By Thompson Wong

Aesop campaign installation, TANGS Singapore

Aesop’s rare moment is here. The Australian skincare brand, so used to understated subtlety, has much to shout about as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Yet true to its ethos, very little shouting has actually occurred.

There is a comforting, timeless quality to Aesop’s meditations on the skin. Nothing it says today feels new or radical, but instead an ageless promise.

For those new to the brand, a quick primer: first launched from a hair salon in 1987, founder Dennis Paphitis first designed a range of haircare products with essential oils to calm his customers. With these proving successful, Paphitis eventually added hand and body formulas, then skincare to his line.

Today, customers prize Aesop for its effective natural formulations and minimalist apothecary-style bottles. In a hypersensory world where loud products and celebrity endorsements constantly jostle for attention, Aesop is a cherished breath of fresh air.

But how has the brand preserved its relevance over three decades? The answer is unsurprising: a consistent focus on the skin backed by rigorous scientific research. According to Aesop, it is one of the few brands remaining in the market today curating all its formulations in-house with its own chemists.

This year, Aesop turns 30 – a milestone for most adults. To celebrate the occasion, the brand rolled out its campaign ‘Skin and Environment: A Dialogue’ globally earlier this year. Employing movement and sound, Aesop showcased a series of kinetic installations “exploring the skin in a constant state of flux, and visualising its response to seasonal, urban and internal conditions.”

At first glance, the campaign seems esoteric. It feels like a stretch connecting cardboard boxes or crinkled brown paper with the skin. But Aesop has never shied away from using its collaborations with artists, designers and architects to demonstrate an unusual point of view ultimately rooted in the truth.

In fact, there exists a comforting, timeless quality to Aesop’s meditations on the skin. Nothing it says today feels new or radical, but instead an ageless promise.

One almost imagines the brand’s words echoing what it would have said 30 years ago: instead of overselling its products or making unproven vows to reverse time, Aesop continues to think of its products as antidotes – to embrace what happens to the skin, and to nourish and protect them from the environment.

Skin and Environment: A Dialogue

30 years on, Aesop’s range of products continue to tackle everyday stressors in a range of environments: from pollutants, climate changes, air-conditioning and UV amongst others. In Singapore, that means a focus on lightweight creams to combat tropical humidity and heat.

In May, the brand also launched its Aromatique Room Sprays as the first permanent releases in its range for the home. A collection of three new scents named after ancient Greek cities, these include Istros (floral, smoky), Olous (vibrant, citrus) and Cythera (woody, spicy) housed in its signature amber bottles.

Campaigns and anniversaries aside, Aesop’s products should remain at the center of focus. It is for this reason I find myself at Aesop’s TANGS store along the Orchard shopping belt, having my skin examined in a consultation by Allenn, one of Aesop’s many in-store skincare professionals.

Methodically working his way through a variety of lotions, balms and creams with the air of a seasoned pro, Allenn recommends the following products and explains how each caters to the demands of my skin type:

  • Cleanser: Fabulous Face Cleanser
    • One of Aesop’s classics: a mild, low-foaming gel cleanser for sensitive or normal skin. Derived from gentle botanicals with a natural tonal balance.
  • Toner: B & Tea Balancing Toner
    • A gentle, everyday toner suited to all skin types, including sensitive. Named for its inclusion of Provitamin B5 and Green Tea extract, offering light hydration and antioxidant protection.
  • Moisturiser: Mandarin Facial Hydrating Cream
    • A lightweight, citrus oil-infused moisturising cream for normal or combination skin to cool and balance the skin.
  • Exfoliant: Purifying Facial Exfoliant Paste
    • A cream-based exfoliating formula suited to most skin types. Fine river-bed Quartz and lactic acid for exfoliation and reviving skin.
  • Mask: Primrose Facial Cleansing Masque
    • A cleansing masque containing anti-oxidants, suited to most skin types. A clarifying clay formulation delivers Vitamin E hydration while decongesting and refreshing skin.

Aesop, Seasons of the skin

Aesop’s consultations, which are free of charge, aim to guide customers in choosing the most suitable skincare regimen that considers their geography, skin type and way of life.

Back at Aesop TANGS, Allenn mops up the last traces of product on the back of my hands. My skin radiates. “Follow this routine regularly, and the effects will be quickly made obvious,” he says.

I ask Allenn how many Aesop products feature in his own regime, and he laughs. The five products demonstrated are just “the basics”. As he sweeps his arms to the neatly arranged rows of amber bottles in the store, I nod in tacit understanding.

30 years does not seem like such a long time now, with our ever evolving environment. For Aesop, it is clear that its quest for customer-focused products will likely continue to endure, many ageless years later.

Images by Aesop

Aesop was established in Melbourne in 1987 with a quest to create a range of superlative products for the skin, hair and body. The brand has seven stores in Singapore.


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