Aesop’s biggest shop in Europe has paid a fitting homage to James Bond and don’t be surprised if 007 himself slides down one of its unfurling clay pillars which apes the famous gun-barrel opening sequence of the spy thrillers. Certainly not a small feat of retail theatre by the Australian uber cool apothecary famous for its potions and lotions. “We wanted to make a statement,” says Marita the amiable assistant who welcomed WLT to its Duke of York Square outlet opened late in 2017. It has since been stopping pedestrians and shoppers in their tracks with awe-inducing gasps. Is it a spacecraft or a UFO?
A circular mirrored fountain is surrounded by a stainless steel sink on stilts custom-built in Milan. People have been coming in to marvel and pay compliments. “Many shoppers have been coming in to admire the architecture,” says Marita. And they are not doing a hard-sell, even offering mint tea to soothe the nerves.
The clay wonder was all conceived on terra firma by Norwegian architects Snøhetta, pronounced [ˈsnøːˌhɛtɑ] which began as a collaborative architectural and landscape workshop, and has remained true to its trans-disciplinary way of thinking since its inception. To further add to the ethereal ambience of the concept Snøhetta describes its practice as “a place that nobody is from, but anyone can go to”.
ICONIC BOND SETS LICENSED TO THRILL
And to think that it all started with that incongruous pillar which they wanted to eliminate from the shop’s internal layout. Banana Republic had once occupied the 108-square metre space before Snøhetta embarked on the task of transforming it from an identikit space into its present fusion of futuristic and classic design.
Situated on the fashionable King’s Road in Chelsea, west London, the architects say the store’s design was inspired by the contextual relevance of the location combined with an influence of futuristic elements. The result is an interior defined by its mud red colour palette, and stainless-steel elements.
An existing column was used as the starting point for the store’s layout. From this centralised column, 12 arches stretch towards the perimeter walls. This series of arches function as a key element in creating a sense of organisational hierarchy, establishing visual separators within the space. The arches are clad in a clay based plaster with a subtle gradient colour, ranging from a lighter base to a darker shade. Illumination from between the arches further emphasises the dramatic effect.
Expanding out from the centralised column, the circular sink establishes itself as the natural meeting point of the store. The sink, which is an integral part of all Aesop’s stores, appears as a hovering water mirror reflecting the light and colours of the ceiling. Made from polished stainless steel and glass fibre, the sink becomes a focal element, while simultaneously allowing for an optimised flow of people within the space.
The walls, ceiling, and arches are clad in a pink-pigmented clay based plaster, giving the space a royal rose-colour. The clay plaster was produced by Clayworks, and sourced from South West England. The colour palette is contrasted by extensive use of steel in the other custom elements of the store.
Snøhetta hopes its seventh conceptual design for Aesop “triggers the customer’s sense of curiosity”. Fasten your seat belts for take-off.
- Aesop, 22-24 Duke of York Square, King’s Road, London SW3 4LY