In the Makeup Chair of Shu Uemura

Posted by Lia Chang

Shu Uemura shares his legacy in the artistry of makeup and his Future Mode Makeup in New York.

With a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, Shu Uemura, dressed in a crisp suit of white linen shared his legacy in the artistry of makeup and his latest Mode Makeup with a select audience in the airy loft space of the Milk Studios in New York.

During this rare makeup demonstration, which he has performed in Tokyo and London, the charming and elegant makeup legend began the evenings performance in a lighthearted fashion, as the sun set on the Hudson River.

Ive been doing makeup since the late 50s, he said. Most of you were not on the planet yet when I started. Its been over 50 years. I would like to say with pride that I am the worlds oldest living makeup artist, but at heart Im the youngest makeup artist.

In the warm light of golden hour, he transformed the fresh canvas of his models face to an Asian one.

After applying the Water Perfect foundation with his fingers as a sculptor might; he dipped his brushes into the vivid hues of Mango, Lotus and Palm shadows from his Paradis collection to highlight her eyes; brushed Pink Hibiscus and Bird of Paradise along the apples of her cheeks and blotted her lips with a Salmon Pink lip rouge.

Calling attention to the importance of a strong brow, he filled in her eyebrows with feather strokes using the Hard Formula eye brow pencil in Seal Brown. A light dusting of the Bronze Luster powder provided a sun kissed glow.

This pioneering spirit was the first Japanese makeup artist to establish his own company under his own name- shu uemura cosmetics, inc in 1965.

Born on June 19, 1928, his flair for the dramatic began early on in his native Japan. As a student he immersed himself in art, painting, and music and appeared in stage plays. During WWII, he was enrolled at the prestigious Seijo School .

Raised in a family of business and bankers, he was aware his talents lay elsewhere. In his 20s, Shu Uemura considered an actors life, but knew his poor health as a youth would prevent him from being physically capable of living it. In pursuit of beauty in all its forms, he signed up at the Tokyo Beauty Academy , channeling his creative juices into working as a hairdresser. His natural progression was in a sort of performance of art.

He made inroads on the Hollywood scene in 1957 when Universal was in occupied Japan shooting Joe Butterfly . Shu Uemura hit his mark while working on Paramount s film My Geisha with Edward G. Robinson, by transforming Shirley MacLaine into a traditional looking Geisha complete with jet-black wig.

The young Uemura paid his dues in Hollywood along side makeup masters Frank Westmore, Web Overlander, Ben Lane, Gordon Bau and George Lane working with 1950s Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra and others.

While at Columbia Pictures , head makeup director Ben Lane introduced him to the cleansing oil called UnMask , an ideal product to remove the heavy stage makeup applied on the faces of starlets and screen idols for film. He obtained a license to import it and be the agent for the product in Japan. In 1960, he created his signature water-soluble beauty cleansing oil- a gentle cleanser for the skin which proved to be revolutionary.

Returning to Tokyo in 1964, he established the Shu Uemura Makeup Institute, his professional makeup artist studio to share his Hollywood experience and expertise with other artists interesting in learning about makeup techniques.

In 1968, he created his Mode makeup line, similar to the premise of fashion designers that unveil their Spring and Fall collections twice a year.

"When I started in the 50's, makeup was very thick. Ideas about it were very limited and restricted. I wanted to overcome that and follow what was going on in the fashion world at that point- Paco Rabbane and Courreges. I wanted to imitate what they were doing, overcoming barriers and limits that had been imposed upon makeup and makeup artists. There was a lot of optical art being developed, if you can have patterns in fabrics and clothing, why not the face?" he said.

In 1978, the Institute evolved to become the Shu Uemura Beauty College. Transformed in 1983 to Shu Uemura makeup, Inc., over 400 cosmetologists and makeup artists graduate each year from Japans largest student body of beauty education.

Realizing his dream in 1983, he opened his first Beauty Boutique in Tokyo. He proceeded on with his global expansion with boutiques in Hong Kong, Paris, West Hollywood, across Europe and the Middle East in the late 80's and early 90's.

In 1999, at Japans Muroto Cape in Kochi Prefecture, Shu Uemura opened the Muroto Factory Museum where he explored the effective use of 100% pure deep-sea water in cosmetics. This water travels around the world in the bottom layer of the ocean and only resurfaces in certain areas of the world-in Norway, Hawaii and at Japans Muroto Cape. The deep sea water has 60 types of minerals in it, comes from the depths of the ocean off Japans Cape Muroto and is pumped up right from the source and bottled as a series of hydrating deep-sea ocean water mineral sprays for the face, hair and the body. The deep-sea water is a key ingredient in his new Water Perfect foundation, and the Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery skincare series.

In November 2000, a strategic alliance was announced between the LOral Group and shu uemura cosmetics, inc. LOreal acquired a majority stake in the company in November 2003 and the shu uemura line of skincare, makeup brushes, compacts, cosmetic cases and the wide spectrum of makeup colors is available around the world. This Fall, shu uemura cosmetics, inc. established a presence in China at the Japanese department store Shanghai Mei Long Zhen Isetan , and in Beijing.

During Olympus Fashion Week for Spring 2005, shu uemura cosmetics, inc. was the backstage makeup sponsor for numerous designers including Richard Chai and the Gen Art's Fresh Faces in Fashion show, to support the next generation of fashion talent.

For his Future Mode fall collection, Mr. Uemura reinterprets the Courreges/Cardin 'space' look of the 1960s. His color palette features a metallic base - silver-black and reddish gold-black eye pencils, soft bright eye shadows in Asteroid Rose, Asteroid Orange, Satellite Blue and Satellite Purple shot with silver pearl and Lolishine lipsticks with a pearlescent finish in rose beige, pink beige and light brown.

AsianConnections Fashion and Beauty editor Lia Chang chatted with Mr. Uemura on the terrace of his suite at the W Hotel in New York on the morning prior to his evening makeup performance. Over a breakfast of sliced fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice, Mr. Uemura talked about his early years both in Hollywood and Japan, his definition of Asian Beauty, and why he equates makeup with love and affection.

Lia How do you define Asian Beauty?

Mr. Uemura When I was younger there was whole admiration and adoration for the Caucasian ideal emphasized and embodied by Hollywood. And perhaps it was the mentality of an occupied Japan. In the last ten years, I feel theres this whole new appreciation for Asian Beauty. Theres a whole element of warmth that draws people in, in Asian Beauty. When Eurocentric idealizes art- it demands adoration, clearly the beautiful one is on a pedestal. With Asian Beauty of all sorts, it approaches and actively draws the seeker in. It tenders its beauty into you as a gift. The Eurocentric one perhaps is colder and demands and insists on adoration.

Before when there was a much more Eurocentric, Hollywood emphasis on beauty, many Asian women spent a lot of money and time trying to get the double-lidded effect. And the eyeliner, the pulling back. Now without the fold is much more attractive. Beauty has to be found out from foreigners. You only appreciate your own when someone else tells you that what you have is beautiful. The Westerners are saying this kind of eye is so beautiful. Perhaps the Asian woman is appreciating herself even more.

Lia When you look at a face, what inspires you to give it the shu uemura finish?

Mr. Uemura I think I look at what that person conveys to me. I look first of all at the naked face. I look at what the person conveys to me in terms of her spirit. Then I see her highlights, the really remarkable points. And then maybe there are some points that might want to be de-emphasized. Its like someone who is a cook or a chef, you look at the ingredients that you have and then you work with it to develop it the best.

Lia What is the shu uemura signature look?

Mr. Uemura The healthy quality of the skin. And then I will look at the mood that that person conveys. The atmosphere. Within the Shu Uemura palette, there is the color called no makeup. Minimalism. Simplicity, keep it basic, keep it clean. Too much makeup is really unattractive.

Lia How is your art influenced by your culture?

Mr. Uemura Were going back 50 years now. When I was in the latter half of my 20s, before that I was an invalid and was not very active. When I was cured, I thought I have to pursue something. I have to make up for lost time. I thought very carefully about what I loved best. And it was beauty in all its forms. I come from a family of business people and bankers. I admired what they did, but knew my talents lay elsewhere, in the arts. At one point, I wanted to be an actor. Because I was invalid, I thought physically I wasnt capable of it. My natural progression was in a sort of performance of art, in front of people.

Lia What was it like to work in Hollywood?

Mr. Uemura I think I was obsessed. I was 27 or 28. It was very exciting. I was learning as I was working. And there were a lot of first time experiences, things that I had never seen before or heard about before. So it was an eye opening experience. And I was very young. All combined to make a very eventful time in my life.

Lia Was the Joe Butterfly Hollywood set in Japan the first you worked on as a makeup artist?

Mr. Uemura The Americans would arrive in Japan and do the filming, it was occupied Japan after all. At the time, it was difficult to take a Japanese crew or Japanese out of Japan to bring them to the United States.

Lia Were you already doing makeup in Japan?

Mr. Uemura I was a student at the Tokyo Beauty Academy and they were looking for makeup artists. They were hiring local talent, in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Most of the major makeup artists in Hollywood were male. A top makeup artist from Hollywood and he wanted an assistant. He requested a male assistant. In a class of 130 in the beauty school, I was the only man, the rest were all women. Why dont you have this young guy, hes one of our promising students. From beauty school, I went to working on None But the Brave , a war film directed by and starring Frank Sinatra. I spent two months with marines on a marine airbase. I did special effects, bloody scenes, so it wasnt pretty.

Lia So you were learning on the job?

Mr. Uemura Shooting filming was just so exciting, it didnt really matter what it was, and just being on the set was exciting. The director yells here we go, people tense up, he yells action, and they all start doing something totally unnatural. Then the director yells cut and they all relax.

Lia How did you develop your signature water-soluble Beauty Cleansing Oil?

Mr. Uemura When I was at Columbia Pictures , the head makeup director Ben Lane was very kind to me and taught me a lot. He introduced me to the best stuff in the world for getting off heavy makeup, a cleansing oil called Unmask . I brought the cleansing oil back to Japan. My friends really like it. We got a license to import it and be the agents for the product in Japan. When they agreed to let us manufacture the cleansing oil in Japan, thats when the development and improvements began.

Lia You make a lot of women happy.

Mr. Uemura Thats a really nice thing to say. Thats the best thing. Its important to make people happy. Its even more important to make women happy. I think makeup is about love, not to be sentimental, self-love and self-respect. I think makeup is all about affection. When you put on makeup, do your skincare, do your facials, go to a spa, people are touching you gently the way perhaps your mother touched you as a child, it is a form of affection. Its enormous love and gentleness. Perhaps what beauty is about, to inspire love, to receive love, to give love.

The shu uemura SoHo beauty boutique is located at 121 Greene Street, SoHo NYC, between Prince and Houston Streets. Open Mon.-Sat., 11am-7pm, Sun., 12pm-6pm. Call 212-979-5500. Nearest subway: N/R at Prince & Broadway. Check out the official website

If you are in New York, stop into the recently revamped flagship boutique in SoHo for the full shu uemura experience. Sit at your own professional makeup-lit vanity and experiment with the extensive range of shu uemura skincare and makeup laid out in the Color Playground installations within the boutique. The new Tokyo Lash Bar has over 20 styles of false eyelashes to suit your mood. Appointments are necessary for Atelier Makeup Studio services which feature private makeup lessons and skincare services, including the extrasensory massage experience combining 150 facial massage steps utilizing shu uemura's signature cleansing oil.