MILAN — Going for hand soap or fragrance shopping can be quite an experience either when in Rome or when it comes to Australian luxury personal care company Aesop.
When the two are combined, an 18th century painting can easily find its way in the customer journey. Cue Felice Torelli’s artwork “Teseo abbandona Arianna,” or “Theseus Abandoning Ariadne” in English, which welcomes shoppers at Aesop’s new store in the Eternal City.
Occupying a two-storied corner residence on bustling Via del Corso, the unit is the company’s second door in the city and an ode to ancient Roman architectural principles and geometric orders.
Designed with Aesop’s longstanding collaborator Jakob Sprenger, the location respects the brand’s philosophy of offering retail spaces that are distinct from one another and in character with each neighborhood, while staying true to the minimalist design aesthetic the label is known for.
High ceilings, earthy hues and a juxtaposition of matte and polished textures define the new space, which is dominated by a staircase connecting the two levels. The ground floor is marked by elements in walnut timber, brass and burnt orange lacquer, as well as walls in Travertino Romano marble that interrupt the linearity of the product arrangement. A series of hand basins punctuates the space, enabling customers to test the brand’s formulations.
The second floor features an intimate suite dedicated to Aesop’s fragrances, while offering an overview of the venue and a closer look at the bespoke elongated chandeliers inspired by the antique columns that can be found throughout the city’s archaeological sites.
“Our goal was to create a retail space that not only reflects our identity as a global skin care company but also pays homage to the rich design and culture of Italy, all while embracing the unique characteristics of this remarkable corner location. We wanted to go beyond the ordinary and deliver something truly remarkable for our valued customers,” Karl Wederell, Aesop’s general manager, Europe, told WWD.
“Rather than resorting to the typical approach of bright, flashy window displays and loud light boxes inside the store, we decided to infuse architectural elements in the windows and showcase a stunning 3 x 2 meter Felice Torelli oil painting on the main wall,” continued the executive, underscoring that the aim was “to create points of interest that captivate and engage our customers in a more sophisticated and meaningful way.”
Aesop’s first store in Rome opened a stone’s throw away in 2018 and marked the brand’s inaugural collaboration with Studio Luca Guadagnino, the architecture and interior design studio launched by the acclaimed Italian movie director.
Wederell explained that the decision to double the presence in the city is strategic due to the new unit’s positioning, which will enable the company to boost it visibility to a global audience given the constant stream of tourists, in addition to locals.
“While Italy may be one of our newer markets, it holds immense importance for our company. We are fully confident in our plans to expand our presence by opening more stores in Italy,” added the executive, teasing new locations both in the capital and in Milan, where Aesop opened its first Italian store in 2015.
In the coming 12 months, other units will be unveiled in London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Madrid and Copenhagen, said Wederell. In particular, the U.K., France and Germany stand out as top performing European markets for the brand, where “we see tremendous potential for further growth,” said the executive, who also acknowledged “the promising opportunities that lie within markets like Italy and Spain, where we have received exceptional customer response, strong brand engagement and favorable commercial results.”
Expanding into new territories, establishing new stores, exploring alternative channels, enhancing key amenities, and partnering with existing stockists will be key in the brand’s growth strategy, according to Wederell. But he underscored the company is “equally committed to maximizing the productivity and driving like-for-like growth within our existing portfolio.”
To be sure, the brick-and-mortar channel remains the largest for the brand, contributing about 65 percent of annual revenues. Last year Aesop registered sales of $537 million.
“We understand the importance of physical retail as our main channel, so we’ll keep investing in store innovation, design and improving the overall customer experience,” said Wederell, stressing the commitment both on developing engaging interior concepts and prioritizing comprehensive training for the staff.
Aesop currently operates around 400 points of sale across the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia, with a nascent footprint in China, where it has three stores in Shanghai. Its first store opened in China last year, but the brand entered the mainland China market in 2018 via Tmall Global.
Aesop’s signature amber bottles with black-and-white striped labels are also available in prestige retail, beauty and hospitality venues globally.
In addition to the new doors in Europe and push in China, travel retail will become increasingly important as a channel, “with several key airports earmarked for counters to open in,” teased Wederell.
The company’s strong retail presence, customer-obsessed philosophy and extensive and performance-based product lineup contribute to its positioning in the global luxury beauty market. No wonder last April L’Oréal signed an agreement to acquire the company from Brazil’s Natura & Co. in a deal that valued Aesop at more than $2.5 billion.
As reported, at the closing — which is expected to take place in the third quarter of 2023 — Aesop will join the L’Oréal Luxe division, which also includes beauty brands such as Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent, Kiehl’s and Mugler.
Established in Melbourne in 1987, Aesop offers skin, hair and body care, as well as fragrance and accessories for the self and home, all featuring plant-based ingredients and sustainable vegan formulas.
In particular, fragrances are expected to be a key focus in the growth plans of the company’s business. To be sure, both the fragrance and skin care categories already boast some of Aesop’s bestselling products, said Wederell, who cited specifically the Tacit eau de parfum and the Lucent Facial Concentrate and Exalted Eye Serum skin care products.
Asked about how he sees the Aesop customers’ behavior evolving, Wederell pointed to clients’ “greater understanding of their own skin, asking us what they can do to support its continued health.”
“Over the last few years the bathroom has become a place of true sanctuary and self care for many of us, and as a result, there is much greater consideration for the products we invest in and the quality of ingredients we use on our skin… There is also a deeper understanding how our skin feels and behaves in response to environmental conditions, hormonal fluctuations, diet, sleep, and other influential factors,” he noted.