Face to Face

Shiseido and the Manufacture of Beauty, 1900–2000

September 15–October 28, 2000

Face to Face: Shiseido and the Manufacture of Beauty, 1900–2000

Makeup dates back to the beginnings of human time. From the first use of cosmetics for healing and protective purposes, makeup eventually evolved to more symbolic applications—such as religious ritual, adornment, and sign of sexual maturity. Now, at the threshold of the twenty-first century, makeup provides material evidence about how notions of beauty and identity have changed radically over the past hundred years. In Japan, as in the West, these changes are echoed in the production and use of cosmetics. Shiseido, Japan’s leading cosmetics company, provides a lens that brings into focus some of these amazing aesthetic and social changes.

Founded in 1872 as a Western-style pharmacy, Shiseido’s history parallels that of the commercial production of cosmetics, which began only in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Similarly, the development of the beauty industry’s mass-marketing tools—including product packaging, print advertisements, posters, and, later, television commercials—is epitomized in the company’s innovative designs. What sets Shiseido apart is its conscious promotion of a modern lifestyle: one in which the arts play an essential role.

Organized chronologically, the exhibition is divided into four parts: the Meiji era at the turn of the century, when Japan and the West came face to face; the years following the First World War, when Shiseido founded its renowned design department; the 1960s and ’70s, or Pop era; and the concluding section, featuring the period from 1965 to the present, which saw a revival of traditional Japanese ideals of beauty that helped fuel the postmodern trend toward global culture.

Meiji 1868–1912

The Meiji era was a time of radical change in Japan. During the preceding Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate had imposed an isolation that lasted more than 200 years. Once reinstated, the young Meiji emperor initiated a broad range of reforms encouraging commercial and social interactions with the West. Western ways, however, were not simply appropriated. Instead, enterprising businesses adapted Western technologies and customs to meet the needs of Japanese consumers. Shiseido, founded in 1872 by Arinobu Fukuhara, provides a fascinating example. Begun as a Western-style pharmacy dispensing European medicines instead of Chinese herbal remedies, the store was located in the Ginza in central Tokyo, a new business district destined to become Tokyo’s epicenter of fashion.

Shiseido began selling cosmetics in 1897. Traditional Japanese makeup colors had been red, black, and white while beauty rituals for women included shaved eyebrows, blackened teeth, and elaborate ornamented hairstyles. In both the East and the West, women’s roles underwent dramatic developments and makeup followed suit. With the adoption of Western-style dress, Japanese women began using modern cosmetics. Shiseido’s early products, notably toothpaste and skin powders, provided healthy alternatives to many homemade versions which often included limestone powders and lead.

The 1920s and ’30s

Both prosperity and turbulence characterize Japan in the 1920s and ’30s. Having sided with the Allies during the First World War, the Japanese found profitable markets in Europe. The Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, which leveled much of Tokyo, provided additional opportunities for modernization and urban growth. Western influences still dominated—especially in art and design and Art Nouveau continued to exert enormous appeal. Other European styles—French Art Deco, Italian Futurism, and Russian and German Constructivism—helped fuel the creative amalgam known as “Japanese Modern.” The new domains of commercial art (shōgyō bijutsu), and product design (shōgyō kōgei), were to yield unsurpassed innovations. Imbued with a purpose, art was considered integral to both daily life and the urban environment.

A new breed of individuals in tune with the West emerged, known as modan bōi and modan gāru—Japanese adaptations of “modern boy” and “modern girl”—soon shortened to mobo and moga. Shinzo Fukuhara, the son and heir of Shiseido’s founder, was a mobo who had studied in New York City. A talented photographer and art connoisseur, he established Shiseido’s first design department in 1917. He also initiated in-house publications featuring articles on modern lifestyle and culture alongside advertisements promoting exquisitely packaged cosmetics.

The 1960s and ’70s

After the Second World War, the American Occupation oversaw the drafting of Japan’s new constitution. It also established American lifestyle as an ideal to be emulated. In 1964 Japan proudly hosted the Olympics in Tokyo, a visible sign of its remarkable postwar economic recovery. In the following decades, American popular culture increasingly dominated Japanese society, which was becoming both more cosmopolitan and—as elsewhere—more youth-oriented.

Cosmetics provided one means for women to reinvent themselves, literally “making themselves up.” Red, black, and white—the traditional Japanese makeup colors—were joined by pinks and pastels. Pink was especially popular, both for its contemporary look and for its association with feminine values. Shiseido marketing campaigns—such as “Candy Tone” in 1961, “Cherry Pink” in 1965, and “Pink Pow Wow” in 1969—helped promote a new hip look.

By the late ’60s, Shiseido’s design department was world-renowned. Its ads displayed a wit and nonchalance akin to that of Pop Art. Its art directors and designers manipulated photographic images in unexpected ways, and new technological developments spurred them to employ unusual packaging materials. Shiseido’s television commercials were also on the cutting edge, coupling cinematic devices with up-to-date marketing techniques. Both ads and commercials depicted adventurous women who worked, enjoyed sports, and asserted themselves, while the subsequent hippie and psychedelic subcultures of the 1970s set the stage for a new era of fashion.

1965 to the present

By the mid-1960s, traditional Japanese concepts of beauty provided Shiseido designers with an alternative to Western ideals. Looking back at their own heritage, they found inspiration in the history of Japanese art and culture for their packaging and advertising designs. In 1964 Shiseido launched a Zen collection of perfumes whose packaging—based lacquerware—featured intricate patterns of gold leaves silhouetted against velvety black backgrounds. Another perfume, Suzuro, recalled suzuri, the ink stones used in calligraphy. Shiseido makeup lines collections such as Inoui, with its sleek minimalism, drew on Zen aesthetics. One model in particular, Sayoko Yamaguchi—the first to win international acclaim—embodied time-honored Japanese beauty tenets with her almond-shaped eyes, white complexion, and pitch-black hair.

In the 1980s, Shiseido began to develop products for young consumers, focusing on an aesthetic known as kawaii, which can be translated loosely as “cute,” and which, along with Japanese kitsch, has always coexisted with a more elegant, reductivist sensibility. Shiseido also engaged the French photographer and designer Serge Lutens to help devise a new global corporate image. Between 1981 and 1991 Lutens continued the Shiseido tradition of merging fine and commercial arts. By ’90s, Shiseido’s products and advertising responded to an increasingly diverse audience: many current Shiseido lines are unisex and multicultural. The relaunch of the Zen line for the new millennium signals a new effort to reassert Japanese aesthetics and values, and addresses contemporary longings for non-material or meditative inner peace.


Shiseido’s designers have often reached great heights of creativity in its publications. For example, the Shiseido pamphlets Gofujin Techō (Ladies’ Handbook, 1927) and Yosōi (Dressing Up, 1932), contain some of Japan’s first surrealist photomontages. Launched as Shiseido Geppo (Shiseido Monthly) in 1924, then renamed Shiseido Graph between 1933 and 1937, Shiseido’s in-house magazine is currently called Hanatsubaki, the Japanese term for the camellia flower in Shiseido’s logo. In continuous publication except for a brief hiatus during the Second World War, the magazine features articles on lifestyle and culture as well as beauty tips. Some of Shiseido Geppo’s covers reproduced photographs by Shinzo Fukuhara, the son and corporate heir of the company’s founder, and his brother, Roso, who were both talented artists. Shinzo’s interest in avant-garde art and photography—which is reflected in all of Shiseido’s products and advertising—was fundamental to shaping the company’s vision.

TV Commercials

Following the introduction of broadcast television into Japan in the early 1950s, Shiseido extended its promotional campaigns to the new medium. The television commercials on view here—dating from the 1960s to mid-1970s—display the careful attention to lifestyle issues also seen in Shiseido’s in-house journals, magazine advertisements, and posters. But in contrast with Shiseido’s print ads, which often promoted a highly stylized, artificial look, its TV commercials usually emphasized a more natural appearance. And while American cosmetics commercials of the same period tended to depict women engrossed in their own beauty or preparing for romance, Shiseido’s TV spots often presented situations involving girlfriends—girls or women talking on the phone or walking down the street together—reflecting the importance of peer approval in Japan. In the late 1960s Shiseido’s ads began to show women actively engaging in sports and being openly affectionate with men, breaking a longstanding Japanese taboo against public displays of affection. Often humorous and always ingenious, Shiseido’s television commercials have won many major awards.


The history of Eudermine, Shiseido’s skin lotion, reflects the company’s approach to makeup and lifestyle. First sold in 1893 and on the market ever since, Eudermine marked Shiseido’s move from pharmaceuticals into cosmetics production. Both its name—derived from the Greek words eu, for good, and derma for skin—and its Western-style formula were distinctive, as was its first container, an elaborate glass bottle tied with a red ribbon and bearing a flowery label in Western letters. In 1997 French designer Serge Lutens conceived its most up-to-date, and radical, incarnation—a sleek geometric flaçon labeled in a stylized Greek-inspired typeface.


Established in the Ginza district in Tokyo in 1872, Shiseido is today a global manufacturing and sales corporation in the fields of cosmetics, salons, pharmaceuticals, toiletries, and nutritional products. After inaugurating its global business with sales to Taiwan in 1957, Shiseido began marketing to Europe in 1963 and to the United States in 1965. In Japan, Shiseido has long been considered an important force in the arts through its product designs and advertisements—which were originally overseen by the company’s first president, Shinzo Fukuhara. Shiseido currently organizes exhibitions of contemporary art in two public galleries in Tokyo, and mounts permanent installations in the Shiseido Art House and the Shiseido Corporate Museum in Kategawa. It also publishes a monthly magazine of culture and fashion, called Hanatsubaki.

In the early 1980s, Shiseido began to expand its cultural presence through the sponsorship of exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Fondation Cartier in Paris, among others. It has also sponsored individual art projects such as How’s Your Feng Shui? by Cai Guo-Qiang, which was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial 2000. Shiseido’s innovations in art, design, and marketing have been the subject of major exhibitions at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York (1985), the Musée de la Publicité, Paris (1986), and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (1997).

Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara

Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara were sons of Arinobu Fukuhara, who founded Shiseido in 1872. As two quintessential mobo, or “modern boys”—the term coined for the sophisticated, up-to-date young men who frequented the fashionable Ginza district—they shared a passionate involvement with photography that helped to bring that art form into the mainstream of Japanese modernism.

The first Japanese artist to focus on Paris as his theme, Shinzo Fukuhara captured subjects such as park chairs, secondhand bookstores, billboards, and scenes under a bridge in his book of photographs taken in 1913, Paris et la Seine (Paris and the Seine), which was published in 1922. Shinzo organized the group Shashin Geijutsu-sha (The Photography of Art) in 1921, and in 1923 he proposed a theoretical framework for modern photography, the first to be published in Japan, in his essay The Light with Its Harmony. As successor to his father as head of Shiseido in 1915, Shinzo had relatively little time for making art, and many of his photographs were destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923; only a small number of his works survive.

Shinzo’s younger brother Roso Fukuhara, on the other hand, enjoyed the freedom to pursue his art full time and became one of the pioneers of modernism in Japanese photography. At a time when other Japanese photographers were imitating paintings, Roso used the camera to record scenes and objects—rooftops, a tin wall, a bare-branched tree in a lake—that previously had not been considered suitable for art. In 1924 he and Shinzo founded the Japan Photographic Society, which he served as Vice Chairman until 1948.

The exhibition Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara: Photographs by Modern Ginza Boys, 1913–1941 is on view at Sepia International, Inc., 148 West 24th Street, 11th Floor, New York City, from September 16 to October 14, 2000. For more information, call 212/645-9449 or visit www.sepia.org.


Starts Friday, Sep 15, 2000
Ends Saturday, Oct 28, 2000
Curator Lynn Gumpert
Organized by New York University Grey Art Gallery, Shiseido Co., Ltd.

Copyright Grey Art Gallery/Shiseido Co, Ltd. All images and video content are the property of Shiseido Co, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Exhibition Types: Japanese Art