Wednesday 5 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 5/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Under the skin

Aesop has been sold to French beauty giant L’Oréal by its current Brazilian proprietors Natura&Co (owners of The Body Shop and Avon) for €2.3bn. That’s a tidy sum for a business founded in 1987 by Dennis Paphitis, then owner of a Melbourne hair salon. Also impressive are Aesop’s robust annual sales of €490m. That’s a lot of Coriander Seed Body Cleanser being squirted in showers around the world.

Aesop is part of a small cohort of brands that manage to grow to become big corporations without most customers noticing. With some 400 locations, the firm still comes across as something that you discovered: local, low-key, a bit of an independent, even when in places such as London, you can barely turn a corner without finding yourself outside one of its dimly lit shops.

This has been achieved via the modesty of its packaging (the designs of the brown plastic containers with medicinal labels don’t date), the sharp policing of its brand values and because, instead of rolling out a single shop concept, it has sought to work with architects to create retail spaces that surprise and feel rooted in their neighbourhoods.

Aesop is offering what we can call “unique ubiquity”. And it’s not alone. Appealing to a similar demographic, there’s Soho House (with more than 200,000 members) and Birkenstock (now part of LVMH). All three are vast businesses that can pass off as special and egalitarian. That’s some trick for a private members’ club, let alone a €45 bottle of shampoo.

There’s a good lesson here for all brands: if you keep the essence of the business safe, protect core values and have a founder protagonist in your story (Paphitis at Aesop; Nick Jones at Soho House; the Alex and Christian Birkenstock brothers), you can become a multi-billion-euro business. And look good while you’re doing it.

Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor in chief. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / China & Europe

Balancing act

Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, are touching down in China today for a three-day trip aimed at reducing Russia’s influence on Xi Jinping. Macron, who often appears more comfortable playing the international statesman than dealing with domestic issues, is hoping to warn China against providing military aid to Moscow and might also discuss climate change. Just a few weeks after Xi met Vladimir Putin, Macron may believe that he can talk China into convincing Russia to de-escalate its war in Ukraine. The presence of Von der Leyen (pictured, on right, with Macron) is an attempt to show added European solidarity but could prove a liability: last week she urged EU countries to “de-risk” from over-dependence on China, so she could be in for a frosty reception in Beijing. It remains to be seen whether Xi will warm to Macron’s charm offensive.

Image: Reuters

Politics / Senegal

Long goodbye

Senegal celebrated the 63rd anniversary of its independence yesterday amid rising political tensions. There is speculation that the country’s president, Macky Sall, will seek to run for a third term in next year’s elections, despite the current two-term limit.

Sall (pictured), who stoked controversy when he met Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally on her African tour in January, appeared on television on the eve of the independence celebrations. He said that he was open to dialogue for “a Senegal of peace, stability and national cohesion”, though he made no reference to the elections. “I was in the country when Sall led protests against his predecessor’s decision to run for a constitutionally questionable third term, so it will be disappointing if he attempts to run for another,” Lewis Lukens, a former US ambassador to Senegal, tells The Monocle Minute. “Senegal has traditionally been West Africa’s most democratic and stable country.”

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Switzerland

Making up for lost time

As demand – and prices – for luxury watches continues to rise, so too do high-end robberies, with thieves targeting rare timepieces that can be sold at a premium on the secondhand market. Audemars Piguet, whose popular Royal Oak model is a big draw, is responding by offering a two-year guarantee to replace, refund or repair stolen or damaged watches that were bought from 2022 onwards. The initiative is spearheaded by CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, who will be leaving the business later this year.

During his tenure, strengthening brand-client relations through such one-of-a-kind services has been top of the agenda. And it’s paying off; last year the Swiss brand surpassed longtime rival Patek Philippe in revenue. Audemars Piguet’s move is an industry first but the wider watch world has begun acknowledging the threat of watch-related crime. Last week, Cartier owner Richemont debuted a digital platform where clients can register their collections using serial numbers and report stolen items to help police track them faster. A timely move, we say.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Taiwan

Cat power

After a three-year hiatus, Taiwanese airline EVA Air has brought back its Hello Kitty planes, featuring a livery of Japan’s favourite anthropomorphised cat. Expect an assault of kitsch, with the cabins’ drab greys and whites swapped for pastel-pink tones and cute feline branding. “You need to make a special effort to book one of these flights, as I did when I took one to Taipei,” says Monocle’s transport correspondent, Gabriel Leigh.

“The aviation community is thrilled to see the return of the idea and so are business travellers, who clearly love the fun before big meetings,” adds Leigh. Before the pandemic the flights drew crowds of passengers obsessed with all things kawaii (cute). This time the planes, which service routes including Taipei to Bali and Chicago, have not been promoted by a huge advertising campaign. Instead, the relaunch was quietly announced on a pink-hued website. Cute or what?

Image: Getty Images

Monocle Radio / The Global Countdown

Spain special

Monocle Radio’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco takes a look at the rich history of Spanish pop music, from Julio Iglesias to Rosalía.

Monocle Films / Athens

Meet Europe’s first chief heat officer

Athens is the hottest capital city in mainland Europe and temperatures continue to rise. That’s why Eleni Myrivili was appointed as the city’s – and continent’s – first chief heat officer last summer. We meet her on Philoppapou hill to hear about how urban design can help to build resilience against rising temperatures.


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