STYLE

Aesop and 'the obsessive consciousness of self'

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Moon bathing, lucid dreaming, and all sorts of nocturnal rituals have inspired Aesop's new Sublime Replenishing Night Masque. Photo from AESOP/OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Our skin is an outward expression of who we are, and where we are mentally and emotionally. As the days in quarantine stretch out longer, as we cover our faces up in masks, our skin can manifest these extraordinary stresses in various ways. Taking care of one’s skin, in a way, has become an imperative part of many people’s lives through the lockdown.

This is something that Suzanne Santos, chief customer officer for Aesop has observed. “Many people who have been working from home for some time are taking a little more time to look after their skin assiduously, partly because they have more time to spare, but also because it is one of the simple, everyday acts that can buoy the psyche as well as benefiting the skin,” Santos says.

Since 1987, Aesop has created a strong identity in the skincare industry as a peerless expert — both in the science of skincare and in matters of branding. Having been with the brand since it started in Melbourne, Santos is responsible for how the brand has distinguished itself through its customer experience.

But as more people stay at home and choose to shop online, a brand like Aesop — known for its thoughtfully designed physical stores — will need to reevaluate what it means to be a timeless brand that is aware of the times we are in. For Santos, it means staying true to the brand’s ethos, and letting that guide their next few steps.

Aesop co-founder and chief customer officer Suzanne Santos guides and cultivates the brand's unique customer experience. Photo courtesy of AESOP

“None of [our values] will change with the global pandemic,” she says. “When it comes to engaging with our customers, we have maintained a commitment to service of the highest calibre, distinguished by honesty, warm hospitality and an extensive body of knowledge – hosting them as we would a guest in our own homes.”

The brand recently introduced a new product that continues to represent what the brand is truly about: the Sublime Replenishing Night Masque, a lightweight gel cream that is meant for dull, dehydrated, and mature skin. The masque aims to provide the skin with maximum hydration, with a soft, non-greasy finish. According to Santos, the product is meant to be used on its own and twice a week — ideally just before a winding down activity and before going to bed.

As Aesop introduces its newest product, the brand’s chief customer officer reflects on Aesop’s decades-long stay in the skincare business, and how pushing the brand forward means sticking to what has always worked since 1987. The interview has been edited for brevity.

How different are people’s attitude towards skincare now, vs. when you first started Aesop?

We are positioned at the beginning of this history. When Aesop was founded [33 years ago], there were less than a handful of companies that were exploring elements from nature to be combined with man made ingredients. This sector of the skincare market has emerged with far greater power than anyone could have imagined, as the subject foretold a change in society and people’s perception of their vulnerability regarding food, ingredients and lifestyle.

The obsessive consciousness of self has really collided with botanical ingredients and a heightened perception of human fragility, leaving people desiring a relationship to botanical cosmetics in the belief that it’s kinder for their skin. We have chosen to never call ourselves natural, as we perceive an item such as a lemon or grass as natural, whole and unadulterated. We acquire extracts from nature for their efficacious qualities and combine them with man made ingredients to create superb quality products we describe as simply cosmetics.

We don’t categorize ourselves, nor are we interested in the label. In unregulated markets where a company can use 0.1% of an organic ingredient and call themselves an organic range, customers are already very vulnerable. The whole area of pure skincare infers enemies among ingredients that are completely unjustified. There is a point in life where people are actually looking for quality and performance, and what is selected to go into that formulation is how that is delivered.

Customers are now more discerning than ever. The impact of the pandemic on the beauty industry, there have been downturns, obviously, given that many people have lost their jobs and incomes, even if only temporarily. Otherwise, I would say that many customers are turning to online skin care advice and the ease of online purchasing. And that many people who have been working from home for some time are taking a little more time to look after their skin assiduously, partly because they have more time to spare, but also because it is one of the simple, everyday acts that can buoy the psyche as well as benefiting the skin.

The Aesop Manila store in Greenbelt 5. Photo courtesy of AESOP

What is your recommended use for your new Sublime Replenishing Night Masque, and what other Aesop products would you say complement it best?

We recommend twice a week use. While the ingredients will effect replenishing hydration irrespective of how long the masque is left on the skin — though ideally this will be at least thirty minutes — longer exposure will serve to enhance the benefits offered. For optimal results, we recommend allowing the product to remain on skin overnight. We suggest applying Sublime Replenishing Night Masque to face and neck shortly before bed, and tending to relaxing activities to wind down — whether that’s a YouTube yoga session, a comforting film or a good book.

Skin is best prepared for hydration when immaculately clean. After cleansing and toning, apply a generous amount of Sublime Replenishing Night Masque — approximately one teaspoon — and either leave for thirty minutes before rinsing off, or allow the product to remain on skin overnight.

Unlike some of our other formulations, Sublime Replenishing Night Masque is not recommended to be used blended or layered with other Aesop products: the formula is most effective as a standalone hydrating masque.

Aesop is one of the few brands in the world with such a timeless and well-known identity. With COVID-19 changing the way we interact and shop, how is Aesop moving with the times?

Throughout Aesop’s evolution, we have always maintained a fiercely independent, holistic approach, using rigorous science, responsible packaging and intelligent design to deliver products that are both highly effective and pleasurable to use. We have focused our efforts on the contents of the jar rather than elaborate presentation, celebrity endorsement or disingenuous promises. And we have spoken primarily to optimizing the skin’s health — regardless of a customer’s age or gender — emphasizing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle as well as effective care regimens. We have also encouraged acceptance of ageing and individuality as elements of a life well-lived, long before it became fashionable to do so.

None of that will change with the global pandemic. When it comes to engaging with our customers, we have maintained a commitment to service of the highest calibre, distinguished by honesty, warm hospitality and an extensive body of knowledge — hosting them as we would a guest in our own homes. We continue to treasure those relationships as we always have, and strive to meet our customer’s needs whatever the circumstances, ensuring that our stores are operating safely and adhering to the latest standards of hygiene and social distancing, and enabling our customers to access products and advice online where necessary.

Aesop stores are known for their thoughtful and aesthetically beautiful design. What does the brand plan on doing to bring that to consumers, even from their homes?

We operate with simple but strongly-held objectives — to treat our customers as guests; to find the right product for each person; to offer sensory refuge in a world of ever-increasing stimulation; and to provide space for conversation. There are, of course, elements of our in-store experience that cannot be neatly translated to the online space — our sink demonstrations are perhaps the most obvious example. But those objectives remain fundamentally the same across all our retail channels, whether physical or online, and our collaborations in culture will continue.

So where, for example, a consultant in-store might engage a customer in conversation about a particular film or restaurant, our digital presence might engage with cinema in a different way — a recommendation for weekend viewing made on Instagram; or a film made to celebrate the launch of a new product, available to enjoy on our website. The medium or geographic location may change, but the essence of who we are and how we do things is always consistent.

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Aesop is located at Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center Makati. For orders email aesop.greenbelt@wwi.ph.