Melbourne-based hair and skincare company Aesop, known for its dedicated following and impeccable store design, is opening a flagship DC location in Georgetown Thursday. The 900-square foot space at 3275 M Street, Northwest, will follow in the brand’s tradition of hiring an architect, often local, to individually design and develop each of its stores. Many of the spaces end up feeling more like art installations than commercial retail spaces.
The M Street location, for example, will take its inspiration from the neighborhood of Georgetown itself. Architect Jeremy Barbour of New York-based firm Tacklebox designed the space to highlight southern pine, a material popularly used to construct tobacco barns during the 19th century. In a nod to Georgetown’s history as a port city with a once-thriving tobacco trade, Barbour has cut a stash of 100-year old pine into 25,000 batons in order to line the entire eastern wall of the store in undulating waves of wood.
For Barbour, who grew up in Virginia, the Georgetown project has a bit of a special draw. “I have fond memories from childhood of exploring tobacco barns. I love the patina and the rich materiality of those old structures.”
You’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of Aesop. Even though the line is set to hit its 30-year anniversary this February, the brand tends to keep a low profile, with stripped-down packaging, minimalist design, and a pharmaceutical approach to its products. You won’t find the company touting anti-aging creams (it doesn’t believe in them) or pushing targeted Facebook ads (it doesn’t, as a rule, advertise), or pursuing celebrity endorsements. But what has caused a clamor over the brand, besides a cult fanbase for the product formula, is the company’s aesthetic. Pinterest enthusiasts could easily while away a day or two on the company’s webpage Taxonomy of Design.
Georgetown isn’t Aesop’s first DC location—an Aesop store opened at the Shay this past September, this one designed by architect David Jameson. The Aesop at the Shay also draws on its neighborhood’s history, citing jazz as an inspiration for the dreamy parchment paper panels and brass shelving lined with signature amber-hued apothecary bottles. Like all Aesop stores, a sink features prominently, so guests can test popular products like Camellia Nut Facial Cream or Geranium Leaf Body Scrub. As with architects the stores also like to use different artists regularly. This year the packaging for their holiday kits is designed by Norwegian artist Bendik Kaltenborn. Each is inspired by a prominent naturalist—say Minakata Kumagusu or John Muir—and labelled with poetic flair. A Minakata Kumagusu-themed body care kit is branded “The Constant Gardener;” the Muir-inspired nourishing haircare trio “The Impassioned Wanderer.”
The Georgetown flagship promises to continue in this vein. For what will be Aesop’s 37th location stateside, the company returned to the architect of their very first US brick and mortar in Barbour. In 2011, he launched the Aesop brand in the US in a not-so-subtle fashion: by constructing a kiosk in Grand Central Station consisting of over 1000 stacked and torn copies of the New York Times. Across the top read a Walt Whitman quote asking passersby to “Be curious, not judgmental.” Starting Thursday, holiday shoppers will be able to do just that at Barbour’s pine-walled iteration in Georgetown.
Update: A prior version of this article stated the Aesop Georgetown location would be opening Wednesday. The store is now set to open on Thursday.