Suzanne Santos of Aesop On How to Find Your Sense of Self

"Life in a workplace can be far more manageable if you do so."
Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate Suzanne Santos

If you walk into a luxuriously decorated home or have an opportunity to peruse the makeup bag of a stylish friend, you’ll likely see an Aesop product inside. Now, take a look at the person who owns said adobe or product. What kind of person are they? Twee or hard-edged? A minimalist or maximalist? Is she a heels or flats kind of woman? Can you imagine them even using an Aesop product? Chances are, you’ll say yes.

Aesop’s appeal and how it has maintained cultural cache for 36 years across a variety of style tribes and personalities can be distilled to one thing. Each of their products from its skincare to home range is non-intrusive in design and by being so, it helps its customers “find their sense of self with products that help them to be themselves.” says Suzanne Santos, the brand’s chief customer officer and spokesperson. That is, however, not to say that the products only have superficial appeal because as Santos mentions in the interview below, “Aesop products are always born of science.”

Here, she talks about the Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate (the brand’s version of an all-weather-friendly product), how the brand considers its customers’ needs, and how to find a sense of self even during stressful times.

Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate Suzanne Santos

Hello Suzanne, how are you? Some editors and I were speaking about how using Aesop products makes us happy so I would like to ask, what’s the happiest you’ve been so far this year?
Well, you’re asking an Australian and you know that we have our holidays in January. There was a lot of work to do last year and I only had a week off so having three weeks off to go to the beach was glorious. Heat makes me happy.

How do you cope with this workload then?
I think that as you travel through life, you find a way to stay calm and that’s a powerful mechanism to develop. Part of learning to naturally engage that mechanism is by listening and observing the people around you. Also, you need to keep your mind invigorated by things other than work and add a strong degree of consciousness around how you live your life.

It’s about doing things beyond a physical sense and deciding what you’re doing for yourself. It’s not about being indulgent but instead, thinking about what makes the machine that is your body work properly. It helps you to feel calmer.

I think only a few people enjoy having responsibilities and they thrive on having tasks to complete. The rest of us go through life having responsibilities that weigh us down and create tension. You have to learn to breathe and understand what each of them means instead of avoiding them.

I want to add too that humans have so many shared emotions and we lose them when we’re trying to find a sense of self. As long as you know that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing, you can genuinely look to others to hold you up and in turn, do the same for them. Life in a workplace can be far more manageable if you do so.

Moving on to the Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate, what is the proposition for it because it seems like it has the Asian customer in mind with its almost water-like texture.
That’s a very good question and you have in part answered it. The Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate was formulated for skin that has been challenged by the environment. There are so many cities around the world and at any given time, they have high levels of humidity in the summer just like how Singapore does all year round.

The product was developed based on our understanding of a customer that wants a product that does more than just hydrating the skin. If you ever get to visit our labs, our R&D Director Samy Hamada will explain that the product is the envelopment of our 36-year history. It takes all the elements of what we know people want and a sense of what they don’t for their skin before combining it with what we think we could do more like the inclusion of efficacious ingredients that effect change on the skin.

I use the product like a “backdrop” for our skin and so many Aesopians as we call the people who work in our office do the same. We use it in the winter and feel confident that it’ll protect our skin or in summer when we mix it with other products.

How do you decide then what customers around the world want?
If you’re in a company and set out to appease customers by releasing things that you think they want, you won’t succeed. Leadership in a brand is about creating what you know is right, what will impact an individuals’ life and what they presumably have not thought about. For example, we didn’t invent deodorant but we took a very banal product and made it exceptional by taking away aluminium in its formula.

For the B Triple C Facial Balancing Gel, its texture took us years to perfect as the aloe vera and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate had to be protected within its formula. However, when you take off its lid and you feel it coming “alive” on the skin, that’s what you pay for. You’ve paid for these qualities of R&D, efficaciousness, and sensorial appeal instead of someone telling you that you need the product.

However, I have to mention that no one plans the aroma of an Aesop product except for the fragrances. The aroma of a product in a skincare or body care product is formed after the choice of ingredients is decided which has nothing to do with whether or not people will like the smell.

How does the birth of an Aesop product actually start?
I think that Aesop products are always born of science because science itself is very alluring. It’s also born of a desire to give customers a highly functional and creative product that allows them to use it in different ways to reach a realm of unmatched sophistication in their lives.

To explain what I mean, I guess what sophistication means to me is how you work with a number of different thoughts like what you’ve academically learnt or experienced in life that you have educated yourself to consider. This gives you a point of view that isn’t based on tunnel vision.

How involved were you with the process of formulating the Aesop Lucent Facial Concentrate down to the copy describing what it does?
I would not say that I was involved with the actual formulation but only with the trials upon the products’ creation. I worked on it with the labs and with my other colleagues. For the copy, it was done by our copy writers and the label was written a long time ago before it was released. The reason for that is that the product has already been registered and for it to be done so at a global level for sales, is a very time-consuming process.

With regards to how it has been said that you can use the product on its own if you have combination or oily skin, how truly hydrating is the product?
The product works as a humectant where it sits on the surface of the skin and traps the moisture that it naturally produces. You can see and feel a visible difference post-application so that’s tangible. It also has deep hydrating qualities (Editor’s Note: It has niacinamide that hydrates and supports the barrier along with rose petal essential oil that balances moisture levels) and that is surprising for most customers because when they think of hydration, they think of cream-like textures.

Out of curiousity, do you ever find yourself getting impatient with the development of a product? 
I’m actually impatient right now as we speak because we have a product that is housed in a jar but it’s proving difficult to find a lid that works for it. Going back to your second question, I find that I have to stay calm and find a way to get through this. To that end, you have to understand the contexes of what can’t be achieved and understand that the length it takes to do something isn’t purposely elongated by the people producing it. Things naturally take time so you have to listen, watch, and be patient.

What wonderful products can we expect next from the brand to come later this year?
We’ll continue to evolve our skincare and also, Aesop Home as there is a lot of response to it because there are no cliches in their designs. It’s an area where there is a very tender approach from the customers when it comes to these products.

We’re also evolving our fragrances because each of their aromas has defined our brand as one that produces fragrances that trigger the brain in a positive and happy way. People clamour for that experience. These fragrances also help our customers figure out a sense of who they are and it’s this sense of self that they carry on with them throughout the day. What they spray on themselves helps to define who they want to be.

You spend the most time in a day attending to yourself so what is the care you would like to give to yourself? For me, it’s about having things that are emblematic to you and have quality to them.