THE ARCHITECTURE OF MEANING: AESOP

  ©Philipp Mainzer

©Philipp Mainzer

“I guess the reason I started my own beauty company was that I wasn’t patient enough to be a philosopher, nor tolerant enough to be an architect,” Aesop founder and creative director Dennis Paphitis once confessed. The son of Greek hairdressers started the company in 1987 from his hair salon in Armadale with a “quest to create a range of superlative products for the skin, hair and body”.

Today, Aesop is selling a lifestyle as much as a skincare brand and advocates the use of their products as part of a balanced life that includes a "healthy diet, sensible exercise, a moderate intake of red wine, and a regular dose of stimulating literature." Aesop is not a part of the beauty industry; rather, its product, service, and communication designs have been so cohesively aligned in expressing core, transcendent principles. As a product company, it has consistently demonstrated an approach of revealing value rather than trying to sell it. 

In addition to creating material value, contemporary brands face the challenge to create a meaning  for the objects they produce. Brands have historically utilized various forms of attractively-designed appearances to simulate differentiation and convey meanings, but if we look at Aesop, the brand operates at higher levels of philosophical principle. The entire experience of the brand reaches far beyond the visual facade it presents. Aesop has created an enduring brand with a real perspective and a strong and confident signature touch and aesthetic, where the latter can be understood in the literal sense of the word, meaning to feel and to sense something. 

Paphitis likes ideas and products that reveal themselves slowly, saying that he prefers "more whisper than scream, something that becomes part of our own personal universe." Technology increasingly robs us of the “mystical” in our lives, but not everything needs to be fast, available, and convenient. He pays great homage to his belief that all great brands must be built around a set of coherent principles that find expression in distinct and compelling ways. Beyond its external successes of industry-leading product quality, corporate ethics and design awards, Aesop’s internal unity in concept and values has established a highly valuable material and organizational imprint that few product brands resemble. The company is built around its consumers, as it only launches new products, when a genuine demand by its clients exist. 

Aesop truly understands value, and how to make people feel valued. They follow a holistic approach in a way they manifest the importance quality and value, which is a commonly associated domain pursued by philosophy. “From the beginning this brand decided that nobody should be ‘sold-to’, which means pushing products to customers and promising them those product will do whatever they wish.” Aesop consistently reveals value rather than uses salesmanship. The products themselves do all of the cajoling. 

Aesop's products are very personal; they touch the skin, literally and metaphorically. These products become a trusted friend and one that is not easily superseded. There is a kind of evolutionary discovery that happens as the connection deepens. The brand and products are certainly not for everyone, but those who understand its purpose, really feel like they have found their thing. "Our products fulfil a real need and we design these to be enjoyable and accessible," says Dennis Paphitis. 

Presenting new meanings to the world matters because it transcends beyond the material consumption of our society. Organizations that connect at a deeper, higher level of value reveal their inventive meanings, expressions, and visions for seeing the world with a better, clearer perspective, which goes in line with one of Aesop's featured quotes by Henry David Thoreau and reminds us: “The universe is wider than our views of it.”