Aesop – lessons in poetic retail
Aesop was a slave, a storyteller who lived in Ancient Greece between 620 and 560 B.C. His stories – or fables – always contained a moral connotation and learning of some sort and they are among the best known in the world. Aesop’s fables have been adapted in many languages and dialects, by eminent poets and popular bards and have been used across many centuries for the moral education of children, because they used finesse and storytelling to explain ethical and humanistic concepts in a simple, entertaining manner. Being initially French educated, I can still remember Jean de La Fontaine’s “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (The Grasshopper and the Ant) and it has been one of my favorite fables since age 8– even though I never have managed to apply its learnings to myself…
Aesop is also the name of company founded in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 that makes beautifully packaged, great-smelling products for the face, body and hair. Mainly plant-based, Aesop products also include non-botanical ingredients that are effective while remaining safe and gentle.
The first time I saw an Aesop cream was about 7 years ago in London, at the Liberty Beauty Hall space that has now become a COS store. Amid the colorful displays and the kaleidoscopic makeup counters, the Aesop table clearly stood out: rows of dark jars and bottles bearing white labels inscribed in a clean, very modern font –to me they looked as if they contained a remedy composed by a modern-day alchemist. I was intrigued. And when the saleswoman put a dab of some heavenly scented cream on my hand, I was hooked. I bought the cream which was labeled “Relax Aromatique Body Balm – 2003-04 Vintage” and I still have a little left in the glass preciously stored in my bathroom cabinet. The cream still smells great, by the way – absolutely no signs of aging – and I dab some on my pulse points from time to time – frankincense, bergamot and an irresistible blend just make me feel wonderful.
Throughout the years I have regularly bought Aesop products from small, niche boutiques and I can safely say that it has been a brand that always attracted my eye. But what I saw a few days ago in London really surprised me and beyond simple attraction, it made me love Aesop. I was walking on Westbourne Grove, when the familiar packaging caught my eye. I saw that it was a standalone boutique and crossed the street to look closer.
It was a store with the simplest design: dark shelves with the products displayed – sometimes in rigorous order and sometimes in a calculated mess –, clean and minimalistic but as I came closer I could not repress a smile. The floor of this simple, very graphic store was literally covered with tree leaves. And the two employees were walking around organising the products and their footsteps made this unmistakable crisp noise that I could hear from the outside and that instantly made me want to talk a long walk in a forest or a park.
So I go in. And I suddenly remember that I have always wanted to try the Geranium Leaf Body Balm – and particularly after my friend Romaine had told me that the smell of Geranium kept toxic people away…-
The inside of the store is really very simple: three units of 3-tier black tables are displayed behind each other, a white ceramic sink at the far end of the store and on the right hand side the same 3-tier table with the cash register, a few glass containers filled with products and the house perfumes on it. The walls have names of writers and poets as well as quotes written on them.
The products are displayed in rows and sometimes the bottom shelves contain blank books or tubes of product in a pile. Aesop have also composed a few kits that contain series of products – those kits are named after streets where Aesop stores are located: Rue St Honoré (Paris), Oberdorfstrasse (Zurich), Westbourne Grove (London)…and they add a fresh graphical element to the whole store. In all, the store is very simple, uses no-fuss furniture and lets the products be the stars in their own, understated way.
The cream I would like to purchase is called Geranium Leaf Body Balm is in a bright green tube (and with just one other body balm in an orange tube constitute the only real colours in the store) and I spot it immediately. I tell the smiling young lady that it is what I would like, she asks if I just want the cream or the whole kit I say just the cream, she wraps it in a fabric pouch, makes me try two perfumes that I was interested in smelling, gives me a few samples to try, I pay, take a few pictures and leave. Perfect.
After spending a week in London looking at many beautiful stores in their Christmas attire, the only store I felt like writing about is Aesop. It somehow touched me. And I think many retailers could learn a moral lesson from Aesop – sometimes keeping it simple, letting the product shine and adding a whimsical idea that makes people have a happy thought and smile is all that is required to make you fall in love.
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