Rows and rows of nondescript brown bottles bearing beige labels. No loud marketing gimmicks promising to clear your complexion or whiten your skin, the latter for its negative cultural associations. Few skincare-makers take this tack, but Aesop, unlike its competitors, likes to celebrate the cerebral, not the celebrity.

In fact, each of the Australian company’s standalone stores is distinct, designed to complement its unique setting. The walls of its Manhattan store are made of 400,000 pressed copies of The New York Times, and its new Singapore outlet at Suntec City is covered in grey felt inspired by the power suits worn by many in the central business district nearby.

“Fundamentally, it’s about building a rich, deep, complicated brand that sells,” says Aesop chief executive Michael O’Keefe. “Too many retailers just see design as a necessary evil, so they’re more comfortable with replicating a single design around the world. That could be good for brand recognition but it does nothing to connect with the local environment.”

This thoughtfulness extends beyond the store reflecting its neighbourhood. Quotes from personalities such as Isaac Newton and American professor John Kotter are found on everything from product packaging to the company’s business cards. Entire product ranges, too, are launched with a philosophical theme in mind.

The most recent, its 2013 Christmas gift kit, takes inspiration from the early 20th-century Italian futurism movement that embraced new ideas in governance, science and technology as the continent of Europe underwent industrialisation. On Sonority – the pack that takes its cue from music – a quote from Austrian composer Gustav Mahler reads: “It should be one’s sole endeavour to see everything afresh and create it anew.”

The brand is collaborating with the Guggenheim museum on a Futurism exhibition next year.

“We live in an era where people don’t need more stuff,” says O’Keefe. “So not only do you need to have great products, but it’s important, to connect with people at a deeper level.”