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  • Alexandra Venkova

Design Crushes-Aesop, KL

And no surprise here! I am obsessed, I know, or shall I say-truly and unconditionally in love, rather than simply crushing...

For those of you who don't know, I have been a huge huge fan on Aesop's store interiors and products for years now and it has been a long-lasting dream to visit all their stores around the globe. Having visited most of their serene locations in London and all the stores in Stockholm, obviously planning a trip around Malaysia's stores was the most natural thing to do.

For various reasons and the major Covid pandemic I only got the chance to meet these unique interior products of human's creativity, about eight months after my arrival. Oh boy, the wait was worth it! 5+1 stores in three days (five in Kuala Lumpur and one in George Town, Penang). So without further ado let me introduce you to:

Aesop KLCC

Lot C32, Concourse Floor Suria KLCC, 50088 Kuala Lumpur

‘Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Starting with an absolute threat and my personal favourite, Aesop KLCC is a unique mixture of glamour, authenticity, modernity and sophistication. The store, located in the very popular shopping centre right under the famous Petronas Twin Towers, was designed in collaboration with Melbourne architects Russell & George. The concept behind the design is - 'suffused with calm', or in another words-a calming counterpoint to the city’s urban energy. The store is a literate juxtaposition to the hectic commercial environment bustling and hustling in the rest of the flashy mall.

The architecture studio uses predominantly alabaster palette and soothing geometric detailing effects, underlining and amplifying the sense of tranquillity and serenity.

Entering the space, you can't help but feel lightness, a feeling much orchestrated by clever use of materials and finishes. A graphic pattern of stone floor tiles covers the floor and the sales counter, creating a smooth connection between horizontal and vertical elements of the design. What fascinated me the most was the glittering effect of the terrazzo tiles, reflecting the bright light, contributing to the whole heaven-like experience.

The walls, painted in pure white are covered by a vertical installation of fine metal tubes, also powder-coated white, that stretch from floor to ceiling. These, in turn, cast bands of light and shadow, adding a level of depth to the space. 

Speaking of juxtaposition, the space itself presents its customers with a fascinating element in the shape of a freestanding copper sink, placed skew-whiff in the centre. This extravagant counterpoint, with its tarnished richness, creates a beautiful texture and colour contrast to the eternal light while shining in all its glory.

Aesop Bangsar Village II

Upper Ground Floor, Lot UGF11, Bangsar Village II, 59100 Kuala Lumpur

‘Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject.’

Thomas Mann

Next comes Aesop Bangsar Village II, located in another boutique shopping mall (everything in Malaysia seems to run around shopping malls), covering over 110,000sqft of retail space. The shopping centre caters to high-income residents in the Telawi area, famous for its international inhabitants.

The concept focuses on the duality of Kuala Lumpur's nature-rich cultural heritage on one side, exciting global future on the other. The interior is executed by Melbourne-based studio Kerstin Thompson Architecture.

What's interesting about the store is that despite being placed in quite a contemporary shopping environment, it feels secluded and distant, almost like it belongs to a different, more 'organic/rural' place. The feeling might be suggested by the grid of wooden panels that wrap around the window display. The last, inspired by the wooden louvres used for passive ventilation in local Malaysian village homes – a simple protective measure employed in many tropical climates. Inside some of these panels sit horizontally, forming shelves for product display. Others are purposely built as decoration, tilted at various angles that create yet again shadow patterns against the walls.

But once again, what fascinated me the most about the store was the colour scheme. When I asked what inspired the soft salmon shade, the answer was the traditional Maley layered cake (and I love these layered cakes!)

The chromatic strategy is another reference to local sensibilities – the pastel shade is also found in washed-out façades and shopfronts throughout the city, and in culinary specialties such as Malay layer cake.

The colours cover the store throughout, and together with the warm glow of the lighting-create a very cosy atmosphere. At the same time, the gentle pink seems like an excellent opposition to the concrete floor and free-standing moulded cement counter in the centre.

Truly wonderful execution of a beautiful concept-connecting the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

Aesop Gardens

F225, The Gardens Mall, Lingkaran Syed Putra, Mid Valley City, 58000

‘Nature's music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.’

Mary Webb

Aesop Gardens felt very dear to me because it greatly reminded me of the stores I've visited in Stockholm. You can find a post about them too. Located in one of Kuala Lumpur’s favoured retail centres-The Gardens Mall (right next to Midvalley Mega Mall-I guess you can imagine the size of that thing!). This store is also designed in partnership with Melbourne-based architecture firm Russell & George.

Once inside you most definitely get the feels, the cosy and inviting feels. The space feels natural, and partly because of the warm neutral palette, which amplifies the sense of softness and lightness. The curvilinear elements of the interior (curvilinear shelving, walls and counter) might have contributed as well.

An Aesop store would not be complete without a little bit of tactile contrast. Opposing the softwood texture is a tarnished brass sink, sunken into a counter that seamlessly extends into a counter on one side, and steps down to a lozenge-shaped bench seat on the other.

A vintage Stilnovo pendant lamp is another sign of craftsmanship appreciation and celebration.

Aesop Pavilion

Lot 3.03.00, Level 3, Pavilion Shopping Mall 168 Jalan, Bukit Bintang Street, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur

‘Spirits live insphered / In regions mild of calm and serene air.’

John Milton

Very near KLCC, Aesop Pavilion is located in... well you guessed it another shopping mall. This time in the popular and dynamic Bukit Bintang district. This very special interior is work of Aesop's in-house team (please hire me, Amen!) and was inspired by the relaxed (or chillaxed, as I'd like to call it) domesticity of Malay culture and architecture.

Space flows led by soft curves and airy volumes. The reason behind the organic curvature of the walls is the awe to the ancient liwan, a deep entrance patio which provides shelter from intense heat, often open to the outside. The walls are clad in fine-grain plaster reminiscent of colonial masonry, and also holding an uninterrupted shelving system that displays the brand's products while encouraging customers to explore.

Other significant elements are the joinery is fabricated in local timber, Nyotah, as well as the, must metal finish-an untreated copper panelling, tapware and wash plane. To add a final touch, Peter Zumthor's pendant lamp casts a soft glow, referencing the luminance of a still, tropical moon.

So, so poetic!

Aesop 1Utama

1 Utama Shopping Centre, Lot G346, Ground, Lebuh Bandar Utama, 47800 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Last but not least comes Aesop 1Utama. Located in Utama shopping centre (yes, a retail store located simply on a street do not work in this country...) has such a dramatic solid industrial presence, yet at the same time once again it feels very dear and much connected to the local culture.

The store is designed in collaboration with FARM studio and explores the possibilities of galvanised corrugated metal sheets, harking back to the nineteenth-century Malaysian tin trade.

The impressive thing about the interior is the Densely stacked sheets, supported by hidden metal rods and spacers, only to form a fine-grained shelving system, with its unique patterns. 

Another material that completes the brutalist picture is cast concrete, which acts as a counterpoint, as the vertically ribbed walls repeat the effect of the furrowed tin. The rectangular counter and the basin and test product display also in concrete. 

A modest yet striking interior, which shows how one can make incredible things by combining a little bit of creativity and the simple materials that surround us in our daily life. 

Special thanks to all the Aesop staff, that is always friendly and so so happy to tell me more about their special and unique interiors. thanks to Aesop for their creative writing as well, never cease to disappoint and always explain all aspects of design so delicately, so profoundly!


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