This year the iconic Japanese cosmetics company Shu Uemura celebrates the 30 year anniversary of the opening of their maiden boutique in Tokyo – Shu Uemura Cosmetics. So how did one man from Japan turn a passion for make-up into a global cosmetics brand favoured by industry professionals? Who is this man that completely revolutionised the cosmetics industry and brought the eyelash curler into our lives and into every girl's handbag?
Shu Uemura was born in Japan in 1928. With a passion for hair and make-up from a young age, he followed his dreams and attended the Tokyo Beauty Academy - the only man in his 130 pupil class. He gained experience working in film make-up in Tokyo on the set of 'Joe Butterfly' in 1957 and this inspired him to leave Tokyo in the late 1950's to pursue his career in America.
The move paid off and in 1962 he got his first break in the industry, working on the set of the Hollywood film 'My Geisha'. It was his task to transform actress Shirley MacLaine, who is Caucasian, into a Japanese woman. The film makers, cast, and in particular Shirley MacLaine were so impressed with his work that word began to spread and he soon found himself a favourite make-up artist to Hollywood's elite, working with stars including Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball.
In 1960 things were going so well for Shu Uemura that he decided to launch his first cosmetic product and made history by introducing the first oil-based cleanser to Japan, his 'Unmask' cleansing oil. Whilst in Hollywood he had come across an amazing facial cleanser called 'Magic Oil'. It restored the skin of actress's, needed after being exposed to harsh conditions like heavy make-up, bright lighting and long hours. This inspired him and he decided to make his own collection. The secret to Shu Uemura cleansing oil is protecting the skin's moisture balance while removing makeup and impurities. Blending rich botanical oils, including avocado and jojoba, with natural phyto ingredients the oil was a breakthrough in natural skin cleansing.
All of Shu Uemura's cleansing oils are formulated using the unique hpo (high performance oil) system, a complex combination of three distinct oils that trap the lipophilic residue of stubborn waxes and oils found in waterproof mascara, foundation and lip colour. Once emulsified by water, the cleansing oil encapsulates hydrophilic residue, such as dirt and sweat and gently lifts both types of impurities from the pores. The oil was a huge success and remains an iconic product that is used all over the world – with one being sold every 7 seconds!.
His success continued in 1964 with the opening of the 'Shu Uemura Beauty School' in Japan and he went on to open his cosmetics company 'Japan Makeup' in 1967, opening his first store in Tokyo's fashionable Omotesando district. In 1983 he changed the name of the company to 'Shu Uemura Cosmetics'.
The next step for Shu Uemura was his makeup collection, 'flaggy'. It was a revolutionary concept in make-up artistry and earned him acclaim as the first man who brought make-up to a state of art. The make- up is designed for the screen and consequently lasts longer on the skin, is more highly pigmented and has a superb finish. A favourite brand of many top make-up artists today.
The 1970's saw the opening of JM laboratories Inc, and initiated an in-house production of his skincare products.
The 80's in Japan saw a rapidly growing economy and a huge demand for western products. Shu Uemura Cosmetic's became a major player both in Japan and internationally.
Shu Uemura sold his share of the company to L'Oreal in 2004, remaining the creative director.
In 2005 Shu Uemura launched 'Tokyo Lash Bars'. He experimented with lashes and made them in voluptuous lengths, colours and with sparkling crystals, even making a diamond version for Madonna. Each lash is handcrafted by dedicated artists and his false lashes are among the most trusted by professionals.
He sadly died of pneumonia in Tokyo on December 29, 2007 but L'Oreal are making sure his legend lives on and women will be benefiting from his expertise for decades to come. The company now makes approximately $100 Million dollars a year globally and has stores throughout the world. The brand continues to expand rapidly and in 2007 Shu Uemura launched their anti-aging range and in 2007 branched into hair-care with a collection of luxury hair-care products.
Now with perfumes, handmade makeup and hair brushes and the legendary eyelash curler, Shu Uemura caters to all your cosmetic needs. Their eye lash curler has won many awards and was even mentioned in the 2006 film 'The Devil Wears Prada'.
To celebrate Shu Uemura's anniversary and pay tribute to their iconic cleansing oil, they have released five limited edition products which come in specially designed packages by artist Tsuyoshi Hirano
I have only recently been introduced to this brand through a recommendation by a friend. I purchased some of their hair products and was immediately impressed. The packaging struck me straight away. Sleek, sophisticated and stylish with an oriental flair. They looked so beautiful it was hard to open them but I was delighted to find the products lived up to the packaging. The bottles are beautiful colours of green and purpled with elegant curves and simplistic in a way the Japanese do so well. My favourite products are the Shu Uemura Art of Hair – Moisture Velvet Nourishing Treatment Mask, which left my hair feeling nourished, soft and with incredible shine. A rival to my usual Kérastase Masque Intense. My other favourite is their 'Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Oil' which is a great hair oil with the key ingredient of Camellie Oil. I use this on damp hair before blow-drying and also as a finishing oil afterwards on dry hair. It really works to prevent frizz, moisturise my hair and has a fresh, subtle floral smell. Most importantly it's non-greasy and doesn't weigh down my fine hair. Definitely a keeper! I'm looking forward to trying out their make-up and skin care ranges and will definitely be getting my hands on a limited edition bottle of the facial cleansing oil before it sells out.
Available to buy at - www.shuuemura.co.uk
Written by Rose Humble