In addition to the company’s reputation for high-quality bath products, Aesop has created a name for itself in the design realm thanks to stores designed by the likes of Snøhetta, Ilse Crawford, Torafu, and Paulo Mendes da Rocha. Taxonomy of Design is dedicated to these spaces, showcasing the special details and ongoing themes through their stores. The digital guide also offers a set of interviews with the designers and architects behind these stores, focusing on the creative process, material selection, and the store’s context in its surroundings. AN sat down with creative director Marsha Meredith to learn more and to hear a bit about Aesop’s newest Chicago location with Norman Kelly.
The Architect’s Newspaper: How do you approach designing each store? What elements stay consistent and what elements change?
Marsha Meredith: Each of our stores is unique. We take inspiration from neighborhoods, past and current streetscapes, and then seek to add something of value. Collaborating with architects also allows new and poetic interpretations of Aesop, conceptually and physically, through the materiality and design features. Consistency for us means remembering at all times what our stores are meant to be: Places of respite where you can thoughtfully explore our skincare formulations.
How does location factor into the materials palette? Are there essential materials you include in each store?
Architecturally, our method is to work with what is already there, weaving ourselves into the core and fabric of the street rather than imposing ourselves upon a locale. Materiality often responds to a local history and allows us to be playful too. At Aesop Le Marais, in Paris, Ciguë repurposed 427 small polished steel discs—conventionally used to close plumbing pipes throughout the city— to create shelving for our products. For Aesop Nolita, our first U.S. store, Jeremy Barbour reclaimed 2,800 New York Times, cut them into 400,000 strips, and stacked them to craft “bricks” of paper that line the walls and create joinery. As the leaves yellow with the years, they become a testament to the time captured within and passing around the pages.Aesop North Melbourne was the first of several collaborations between Aesop and March Studio. Located in a Victorian House, it is distinctly different from the other, more modern locations with its evocation of old world glamour. (Courtesy Aesop)
How do you select an architect for each store?
We select architects not only for the excellence of their work but also their personality; their capacity to communicate and connect with us is integral to the realization of new spaces. In order to understand their motivations, we like to meet in person for a meal and conversation. The minimum criterion to be considered for a signature store project is usually five years’ professional experience though we are also keen to work with rising talents. We’re opening this fall our first Chicago store, conceived by Norman Kelley. This is their first retail project—their work usually lives in a more conceptual, artistic area. We’re excited to see the mark they will leave on an Aesop space.Architect Paolo Mendes da Rocha in collaboration with Metro Arquitetos captured the modernism of São Paulo with Aesop Oscar Freire. Concrete is writ large with a hefty counter and colorful floor tiles. (Courtesy Aesop).
Could you tell us more about Norman Kelley’s upcoming Midwest store?
Aesop Bucktown will open later this fall. Carrie and Thomas are working with the Chicago common brick as a primary material. Their design investigates the geometry of Chicago’s urban city grid and overlays grid patterns, putting our perceptions at play. Carrie and Thomas’ work can be currently seen at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the Architecture Biennal.Peter Girgis of Snøhetta was inspired by the roofs Eastern Orthodox churches when crafting the Aesop store in Oslo. (Courtesy Aesop) The ceiling in Aesop Prisensgate, Oslo, is composed of ten domes fabricated from fiber-reinforced concrete with a matte gypsum plaster finish. (Courtesy Aesop)