SINGAPORE - To the uninitiated, the rules adopted by Aesop staff border on the draconian. Guidelines are in place for seemingly every aspect of the cosmetics company, such as approved colour schemes for graphs generated by the finance department, a ban on branded food products in the office and stores, and rules on the type of music played in the office (top 40 hits are definitely no-nos - Aesop offices play the same soundtrack as their stores). OCD much? According to Aesop's general manager for Asia-Pacific, Nicholas Mulcahy, hardly.
It takes a village of like-minded, impeccably discerning talents to build a cult beauty brand. And this particular fabled village thrives on a philosophy of respect and good taste. "We are managed much like a professional kitchen," said Mr Mulcahy, who pulled open a drawer in the brand's new Suntec City store, unveiling the neatly-organised stationery to demonstrate the clutter-free environments advocated by HQ. "We remove inessential things - nobody shouts or screams, and we don't like mobile phones ringing loudly because we're in an open-concept space - to focus on what we need to do and be at our most creative. It's not about Big Brother control, it's about removing distractions."
Founded in 1986 in Melbourne, Australia, by salon owner Dennis Paphitis, the skincare brand now has over 50 signature stores across Australia, Asia, Europe, Asia and the US - a feat that was in no way achieved through flashy ad campaigns featuring supermodels or miracle potions for eternal youth.
"We are not for everybody," explained the Hong Kong-based Mr Mulcahy. "Where we do less well is where people are still in the grip of large company marketing, who buy XYZ moisturiser because everyone else is doing so.
"We don't think women can be reduced to pink and floral motifs, or think that she will look like the pretty woman in a store image after using a product."
Indeed, the modern apothecary aesthetics and clearly-labelled packaging adopted by Aesop conveys a certain understated luxury while getting straight to the point - selling products that work. Devotees swear by efficacious concoctions like the Parsley Seed range of facial skincare suitable for hydrating skin in our tropical weather, or bestsellers like the rich Resurrection Aromatique Hand Cream.
Over the years, the company has also launched whimsical items like Post-Poo Drop - an aromatic botanical bathroom deodoriser, as well as a slightly indulgent fabric cleanser, A.P.C Fine Fabric Care, developed in collaboration with the French fashion retailer.
"We don't really respond to customer feedback for product development," Mr Mulcahy candidly admitted. "There are plenty of other brands like big beverage companies that rely on crowd sourcing. But our R&D team has over 26 years of experience, and our job is to edit everything into the best combination possible."