Coconut fiber string in Singapore, steel caps in Paris

A global and forever recognizable brand combined with local architectural references. So how does that work? Cosmetics brand Aesop shows how – in its stores.

If you stroll through the metropolises of the world and suddenly notice a cream dispenser attached to the facade of a building, you rub your eyes in amazement. Or you know the Aesop brand and know that you have just passed one of its 110 stores and are invited to try the high-priced products outside the store. The "Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm", made from tangerine peel, cedar wood and rosemary, is supposed to convince at first contact and turn a passer-by into a customer.

In the 28 years since its foundation in Melbourne, Aesop has become a global cosmetics group. This is accompanied by a brand presentation that can hardly be surpassed in its stringency - starting with the elegant and simple branding of the product range, the design of its own stores and countless quotations from great personalities that adorn the packaging as a tribute to the brand's namesake, the Greek mythical poet from the 6th century BC.

Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Aesop, showed great ambition in architecture and design from the very beginning and was strongly involved in local cultural scenes. "I dreaded the thought that Aesop would develop into a chain without a soul," Dennis Paphitis said in an interview years ago. He is convinced that there is a direct connection between exciting store concepts and the associated customer traffic. And so it was probably not only his cultural soul, but also his business sense that moved Paphitis to take the step of working with designers around the globe to develop an individual concept for each of the brand's stores.

Whether the designers are young and up-and-coming, renowned or world-famous, the stores they design for Aesop bear their own signature. The use of local materials and references to the culture and history of the surrounding area are at the forefront. On the one hand, the place and its tradition should be treated with respect, on the other hand, the essential characteristics of the brand should be recognisable and its DNA should be highlighted. Let's take a look at some of the stores.

In January this year Aesop opened its first store in the Hanseatic city on the ground floor of a listed building in the middle of the chic ABC quarter. Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen, based in Antwerp and known for his minimalist yet sensual use of light and natural materials, brought the space back to its origins by exposing walls and ceilings. According to Van Duysen, the sculptural washbasin made of chalkanthite, a light mineral rock, was inspired by medieval wells. Elements of blackened steel also echo the building's original cast-iron façade.

A total of 30 kilometres of coconut fibre cord hang from the ceiling. In 2009, Melbourne-based Studio March, which is normally used by Aesop to wrap gifts, quickly chose cord as the design basis for the cosmetics brand's first store in Singapore. Geography and climate influenced the design, as coconuts are typical for the humid tropical climate of the region and the cords are produced locally. A nice side effect: every breeze brings dynamism to the tightly knotted ceiling.

In the rooms of the 100th flagship store, vaulted structures from the 19th century were uncovered with the meticulousness of archaeologists at Prinsensgate in Oslo. The local, internationally active architectural firm Snøhetta was reminded of the traditional forms of Orthodox churches and monasteries and created ten vaults in matt plaster, which play with the light but also with the acoustics of the room. In Oslo, the indispensable water basin is made of fibre cement and takes up the shapes of the ceiling and, as always, stands at the centre of the monochrome sales room.

The Aesop branch of the Parisian architecture studio Ciguë, which opened in September 2011 in the Marais, is decorated with 427 steel bowls. They all originate from the Paris sewerage system, where they serve as caps for the sewage pipes. Now sometimes blackened, sometimes polished or simply untreated, they serve as consoles for the Australian brand's more than 90 skin, hair and body care products. But that's not all: Ciguë converted the caps of large pipes into wash basins.

The Torafu Architects team wanted to create a place of tranquility in the midst of the urban hustle and bustle in the heart of Kyoto. Metal pipes and light bulbs hang from the ceiling of the sales room, which were previously used by fishermen on their boats to catch squid. In front of the rough concrete walls, the simple lamps look like filigree jewels that emphasize the height of the store. The floor is made of Ōya stone, a material traditionally used in Japan to build houses.

In September 2011, Aesop opened its first own store in New York City, in a small room near the Bowery. It is an example of sustainable architecture: walls and sales counters are made of old issues of the New York Times. The local architect Jeremy Barbour's design was not only to pay respect to the written word, but also to show the structural qualities and possibilities of newsprint.

Australia, which is visually strongly influenced by agriculture, was the inspiration for the design of the shop in Adelaide, which opened in 2008. To protect the light-sensitive ingredients, the products have been sold in brown glass containers since Aesop was founded. One knows this from old pharmacy jars. The Australian architect Rodney Eggleston has exactly 7,560 such vessels hanging from the ceiling, for him a reference to the mass cultivation of plants in agriculture.