The Australian skincare brand Aesop, named after the famed Greek storyteller, wanted its long-awaited North American debut to be both discrete yet pervasive—akin to the brand’s ever-expanding but modestly packaged lineup of apothecary-inspired products. A total of four new retail locations will be open New York by early 2012, three of which were designed by New York–based architect Jeremy Barbour. A kiosk that opened in Grand Central Terminal in July was intended as a “teaser,” and in the fall the brand launched two more boutiques, one in Nolita that opened in September and another just south of Union Square that opened in late November.
All three of Barbour’s projects are unmistakably inter-referential in design yet each one is also specific to its location. Aesop’s latest University Place location is “a freer sister” of its Nolita counterpart, according to Barbour. Both brick-and-mortar locations feature wooden horizontal shelving systems, but those at the latest store on University Place are flexible and even temporal, with units that can be added and subtracted according to need.
Felt walls are intended to reference the soft finish of newspaper, an everyday material that plays a prominent role in the other New York locations, and a six-foot-long trough-style sink (salvaged from the historical Bethlehem Steel Corporation) sitting in the center of the space underscores the brand’s emphasis on customer sampling and interaction. The location came without existing plumbing or electrical infrastructure, allowing Barbour that much more freedom in his design decisions, such as the floor-to-ceiling shelves that required a sixteenth-of-an-inch precision.