Retail in Asia


Inside the world of Aesop: How Aesop’s global head of design approaches crafting immersive retail experiences

Marianne Lardilleux

In the ever-evolving landscape of retail design, few brands have captured the essence of harmonious aesthetics and immersive experiences as successfully as Aesop.

The Australian-born company, known for its skincare and exceptional store environments, has gained recognition for its thoughtful retail design philosophy.

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Retail in Asia delves into the world of Aesop’s stores and its retail design philosophy with Marianne Lardilleux, the brand’s global head of design.

Prior to joining Aesop, Lardilleux’s career in retail design commenced in 2010 at Louis Vuitton before transferring to Celine in 2012. In 2016, Aesop beckoned, and Lardilleux played an instrumental role in overseeing the rapid expansion of Aesop’s retail portfolio across the United States and Canada.

Lardilleux speaks with Retail in Asia ahead of a keynote speech at the Knowledge of Design Week (KODW) event in Hong Kong on June 26, where Lardilleux is set to further discuss Aesop’s approach to design. 

Retail in Asia: Could you tell us about your remit at Aesop, and a bit about your background before joining Aesop?

Marianne Lardilleux: Prior to joining Aesop, I started my retail design career at Louis Vuitton in 2010. Within the LVMH  group, I then transferred to Celine in 2012, where I spearheaded the implementation of the brand’s  new store design concept, starting with the Mount Street Flagship in London. 

In 2016, I joined Aesop, acting as the store design manager for the Americas. It was here where I rebuilt the regional store design team, assisting in overseeing the rapid expansion of Aesop’s retail  portfolio across the US and Canada. Now, I’m the global head of design at Aesop. 

Aesop Hong Kong
Aesop’s Hollywood Road, Hong Kong store. Source: Aesop
Retail in Asia: How do you describe the design identity of Aesop stores in general? What makes each location unique, and what customer touchpoints are you most interested in? 

Lardilleux: Our priority is to serve the needs of our customers by choosing sites that are convenient to them.  Within this imperative, we consider not only well-trodden paths but also locations that carry the  promise of fresh discovery or revival. 

The way we approach retail is to provide a moment for our customer that is outside of their busy life. To offer some intimacy is very important. 

All our stores are different but all the same. You will have the same experience, as there are two  codes in the Aesop signature. The first is products; there is an abundance of them in every store, and  all products share the same design.

The next is experience, which includes four pillars — the first is  the smell — you can really recognise our smell when you pass by and, when you enter, you know  you’re in Aesop. The next is the sink — we have sinks in every one of our stores for beautiful  demonstrations. Then, it’s the tea and then the sitting area. 

Retail in Asia: Can you share with us what makes some of your stores in Asia special? 

Lardilleux: In each of our stores around the world, we aim to marry a locally relevant design vocabulary— drawing material and conceptual inspiration from each location — with an underlying aesthetic and  attitudinal consistency. 

With the Aesop Hollywood store [in Hong Kong], our in-house architects mingled the pulsating rhythm of the  metropolis with the serenity of nature, generating a harmonious interplay of materials, light and  texture. 

Source: Aesop

Paying homage to Hong Kong’s tiling tradition, the store’s primary characteristic is its custom white  tiles that connect the space to its urban environment and signify resilience in the context of a humid  climate. 

Intricate, suspended brass structures are juxtaposed against the tiles — an homage to the local  construction method of bamboo scaffolding. Reminiscent of the hue of bamboo, brass was chosen in  its raw form so that it would react with the humid environment, develop a patina and take on an almost living appearance. 

The Fashion Walk [Causeway Bay] store is a space that explores craftsmanship and materials that resonate with the  architects’ memories of growing up in Hong Kong, establishing a comforting and hospitable  atmosphere while carving out a sense of intrigue and enveloping retreat. 

Source: Aesop

Created in partnership between our in-house design team and long-standing collaborators MLKK  Studio, the architects encountered “dead stock” reminiscent of a cloudy pattern board— a household  furniture finishing product that was ubiquitous in 1970s and 1980s Hong Kong.

The floor of Aesop Fashion Walk is thus a tribute to this culturally significant material: the reclaimed veneer was broken  down into small shards which were then assembled into a floor mosaic that holds the history of local  manufacturing while also welcoming new feet.

Source: Aesop
Retail in Asia: Aesop also recently opened its first store in Beijing, Aesop WF Central House 19. How did you approach that milestone in terms of retail design? 

Lardilleux: In this project, we have transformed a siheyuan—a traditional Chinese courtyard residence—into a  unique Aesop Home.

The courtyard is a particularly significant feature that few Aesop boutiques have,  and one that we believe creates an inviting semi-outdoor space that visitors will want to linger in,  enjoying the serene interplay of shadow and breeze.  

SEE ALSO: Aesop unveils its first flagship boutique in Thailand

Inspired by the ancient Beijing practice of creating shaded, communal spaces for respite from the  summer heat, we reimagined the classic pergola as a retractable structure draped in waterproof  canvas and crimson xiangyunsha tea silk. Surrounding the courtyard, seating upholstered with  xiangyunsha encircles recycled stone basins reminiscent of traditional goldfish basins, complemented  by a wonton-stall inspired tea station.  

Another distinctive element of our Beijing store is the discrete rooms that allow for a certain  separation of experiences, creating more private and immersive encounters with our products.

Aesop WF Central House 19 in Beijing. Source: Aesop

For example, the east wing is transformed into a Sensorium that opens an intriguing portal into the art of  fragrance. Curious noses can enjoy a series of unique olfactory experiences, from discovering the  aromatic fables of Aesop’s Eaux de Parfum at the two Fragrance Armoires to imbuing items of  clothing with their preferred scent in the two infusion chambers. The west wing houses a tranquil  ensuite where in-depth individual consultations can occur, undisturbed. Step-bed-like structures with  basins set against bamboo bead curtains ensure privacy and serenity.  

Source: Aesop

While one Aesop store will often look and feel markedly different from the next, at least on the  surface, our design ethos is consistent around the globe. This is because each seeks to fit  harmoniously within the local context, and express respect for the unique locales we have been  granted to inhabit. We are unswerving in our interest in the architectural expression of domesticity,  and the way a person’s physical surrounds can affect their health and ability to flourish.  

The integration of brand philosophy and local culture was seamless in this instance.  

Retail in Asia: What’s next for Aesop in terms of evolving retail design? How important is brick and mortar to  your retail strategy? 

Lardilleux: Aesop is devoted to the enriching of everyday life, domestic spaces, and a slowing down, a  contemplative restfulness.  

Whether situated on a street or within a retail centre, each Aesop space is unique in its design,  offering respite from what is often a crowded, hurried and noisy retail environment. However, the differences between the surrounds and our interiors are often more pronounced in large complexes. 

With all Aesop spaces, we aim to add something of quality and value to the locale, and to deliver exceptional service through our consultants’ gracious hospitality and extensive product knowledge. 

SEE ALSO: VF Corp CCO Martino Guerrini talks Southeast Asia expansion, GMG partnership

Retail in Asia: Can you share a bit about what you will discuss at Knowledge of Design Week? 

Lardilleux: At Knowledge of Design Week, I will be giving a keynote speech on Aesop’s approach to design, why it matters to us deeply, and how our design ethos are applied globally while connecting to the context  of the locale. Furthermore, I’ll also be participating in a panel discussion with Kwanho from MLKK  Studio to delve further into Aesop’s design process and relationship with local architects and partners in Asia.