Harried workers scarper through the Bourke Street Mall, heads down, noticing neither groups of people staring nor the scene unfolding behind glass. In the windows of Myer Melbourne, one of the city’s leading department stores, the latest in Australian skincare company Aesop’s creative displays is coming to life.

Along a 50m length, four actors – dressed in white with grey aprons as if they have stepped out of a scene painted by a Dutch master – work with a flowing length of fabric, representing the skin. ‘It’s an abstract interpretation of the rituals that are important in caring for the skin,’ says head of creative Marsha Meredith of the piece, entitled Derma. ‘The key emphasis is on the nutrition and fortification of the skin.’

The performers play the part of a tailor, appraiser, conservator and curator. The tailor sits at a vintage Victor treadle sewing machine using it and a needle to stitch pieces of fabric together. In the window farthest away, the conservator carefully drapes the derma’s length. Each spare scene represents part of the skin’s life cycle. Every action is precise, perfected during two weeks of rehearsals with New York-based artist Iván Sikic. The accompanying soundscape is a combination of recorded bodily functions and the noises picked up by contact microphones within the window. When the conservator places a Petri dish of derma, a bottle, test tubes and tweezers on a metal bench, the noise clatters onto the street. The effect is surprisingly meditative.

Accompanying the performances, which take place for 90 minutes twice a day until 31 May, are smaller displays, a tribute to the cabinet of curiosities, viewed through small openings. ‘The four small windows each house something that’s meant to make us contemplate skin,’ says Carolyn Jackson, Aesop’s head of visual merchandising. ‘The snakeskin,’ she adds, standing before one, ‘represents the constant regeneration of skin.’

The unveiling of the window coincides with the Australian launch of Aesop’s latest product, 'Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Facial Hydrating Cream', and prefaces a project to be revealed in 2017. ‘The broader conversation that’s going to play out is about the impact of the environment of your skin,’ says Meredith, ‘and the role skincare takes in protecting you against environmental factors.’