The Chrysalis of shu uemura’s Sublime Artistry

by Susanah Cheok

It takes on many incarnations, but is guided by one key principle – to affirm and edify every woman’s individual beauty.

“If you think that you become more beautiful, you will actually become more beautiful. Admit your beauty because it invites more beauty,” said the late, great Japanese beauty maestro, Mr. Shu Uemura, who was well-known for many innovative firsts in the glamorous art and science of makeup, skincare, as well as their attending tool and techniques.

As the relevant modern grand dame shu uemura brand celebrates a spectacular re-positioning this year, the beauty virtuoso’s life work is given a fresh thrust in many areas. In broad strokes, the impetus is to further consolidate shu uemura’s – the founder’s and the brand’s – advocacy on Japanese femininity, finesse and sophistication, as well as self-expression and individualism – what the Japanese call WATASHI – in addition to style and exquisiteness.

One can’t discuss the repositioning of this beauty giantess, without first talking about shu uemura’s fabled beginning and spectacular growth. The brand started with a sensational bang, albeit far from Mr. Uemura’s home, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills in 1960, not long after Mr. Uemura’s debut as one of Hollywood’s most sought after film and television makeup artists in 1955 – for Hollywood greats such as Shirley MacLaine, Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra no less.

Even as a young makeup artist, Mr. Uemura’s belief had always been that great makeup depended on a good, well cared for complexion. In 1967, he developed and launched UNMASKED, the revolutionary oil cleanser that is known for leaving skin cleaner than soap, yet well hydrated and plump. At the time, it took the film set world by storm for how well it removed stage makeup and grime, leaving actors skin’s baby soft, glowing, and none the worse for wear even with the frequent putting on and taking off of makeup, and long, irregular filming hours.

Alas for America, Mr. Uemura returned to Tokyo in 1965 to open the Shu Uemura Makeup School. Hollywood’s loss was Tokyo’s gain. Mr. Shu Uemura then established Japan Make-up Inc. in 1967, and in 1983, opened his first boutique in the swish Omotesando District. In 1983, Mr. Shu Uemura also renamed his eponymous brand shu uemura Cosmetics.

Mr. Uemura was a great supporter of enhancing a person’s natural beauty, as opposed to artificially creating beauty with cosmetics. He propagated bringing out the best in every subject’s features, singularities et al, rather than concealing what the conventional world would consider imperfections and flaws. And everything that he created in the brand had the potential to beautify any and every woman, with finesse and femininity.


The subtle yet significant repositioning of the brand in 2019 solidifies its place as one that is smart, artistic, and progressive. From skincare to makeup, today, shu uemura still holds firmly to the unique selling points that were born out of Mr. Uemura’s passionate genius, qualities that the brand is known, loved and sought after for: Makeup artistry, Edgy chic and Tokyo flair – a beauty love triangle that is captured in product pillars that aren’t just abstract concepts, but authentic beauty inventions that achieve real results.

Far Beyond Cleansing

Mr. Shu Uemura held that “beautiful makeup starts with beautiful skin”. Echoing his personal sentiment, shu uemura the brand also believes that attaining healthy skin should be every woman’s first priority and her key to every sort of beauty beyond that. To that end, Mr. Shu Uemura developed the supreme cleansing oil designed for makeup lovers to enjoy makeup every day, and maintain youthful, beautiful skin.

One such is the cashmere-textured award-winning Ultime8 cleansing oil that’s infused with 8 exquisite oils, one of which includes the precious tsubaki oil from the minute Japanese island of Toshima – this has an incomparable affinity with skin’s sebum, which makes it protective and naturally hydrating.

Ultime8 leads the pack of shu uemura cleansing oils that have the power to dissolve skin oil, grime and pigments from the entire face, lips, eyelids and lashes included, yet is so gentle as to not strip the skin of its natural moisture. The superlative effectiveness of this emollient can be measured by how little effort it takes for it to lift – in one easy step – impurities and colour from one’s complexion, no tugging or friction-inducing rubbing required. True luxury is indeed an emollient like Ultime8 that cleanses, treats, and scents, with fresh herbs, rosemary blossoms and Provence aspic.

Unlimited Flawlessness

The key to doing justice to beautiful skin is enhancing it to become a lasting, flawless canvas. But how, without compromising texture, comfort, breathability and ease of application? Mr. Shu Uemura was way ahead of the coverage curve when he propounded that “I want to respond to every woman’s needs”, and he would be very proud of shu uemura’s 2019 state-of-the-art Unlimited Breathable Lasting Foundation, which is tailor-made with a wide range of precisely matched shades for each Asian skin tone.

This long-wear formula is the consummate foundation for also having a spreadable, stretchable texture that blends and moves with the skin, offering each face a semi-matte, weightless coverage. It enhances every complexion without being a suffocating mask and feels like next to nothing on the skin. That, in addition to being of SPF 24, and containing a unique Japanese organic rice extract that brightens dull complexions and protects it from UV damage.

You know that shu uemura’s Unlimited Breathable Lasting Foundation is a winner when the pros love it, pros like International Artistic Director, Uchiide, especially for its accurate colour-matching capabilities, thanks to its H (hue), V (value) and C (chroma) system, where:

  • hue indicates how warm or cool the complexion in question is;
  • value connotes how light or dark skin is; and
  • chroma calculates skin colour intensity.

You can’t get more measured coverage than that.

But Unlimited Breathable Lasting Foundation is only flawless canvas in a bottle without shu uemura’s Petal 55 Foundation Brush, every atelier artist’s secret to flawless foundation application.

This high-density brush, hand-made in Japan, has exactly 189,000 individual hairs for bristles to ensure streak- and pore-free results and coverage. Its distinctive petal shape was created to perfectly adapt to the undulations of every face – the wide sections over the cheeks, forehead and chin, as well as the narrow sections around the nose, eyes and other hard-to-reach areas. It’s also a breeze to wield, with four fingers gripping it, and the bristles caress the skin ever so gently for the experience to be pleasurable too.

Defining Beauty

Where precise makeup is concerned, Mr. Shu Uemura made sure he cut to the chase, with the Hard Formula eyebrow pencil, which really was inspired by the Ebony pencil from an art supply store. The storied past of Hard Formula dates back to the 1950s, when a young Mr. Shu Uemura started showcasing his talents as a makeup artist to Hollywood’s finest. It is said that he once spent 3 days on the job just sharpening eyebrow pencils – which he would eventually use on the actors – into the now-iconic naginata form, a shape inspired by a traditional Japanese sword, with point, edge and surface.

Hard Formula is also famously known to have the right pencil hardness for precise brow sculpting, and enough surface area for advanced colour-blending. The edge is used to draw precise thin-as-hair lines, the sides are for shading subtly or boldly, and the point is for filling in small gaps in brows. For these reasons, any shape and style of brows is possible with Hard Formula – natural, dramatic, to trendy.

Hard Formula’s versatility and efficiency go beyond shape, too. Its formula is a perfect mix of powder, wax and small amounts of semi-solid oil that, in combination, offer perfect hardness for precision, which is balanced with a powdery texture for blendability. Each Hard Formula pencil is made of cedar wood, which sharpens ever so smoothly. Six shades offer a myriad of effects, from everyday functional to fashionably edgy.

From its humble Hollywood beginnings, the shaping and sharpening of the iconic naginata-shaped Hard Formula eyebrow pencil is now a compulsory craft achievement for every shu uemura atelier artist. And in order to achieve this, “you need to completely free your mind and let your hands go through the motions, almost like being in a meditative state,” says International Artistic Director, Uchiide. This mesmerising Hard Formula sharpening service is also available at all shu uemura stores worldwide.

Pure Colour

Colour is synonymous with shu uemura. shu uemura’s new concept of colour, however, is vivid and intense rather than loud and brash. It’s about colour with depth, that’s rich in any texture, at once expressive and extraordinary.

shu uemura’s Rouge Unlimited Amplified lip colours lead the way in this arena. Just imagine matte colour that has sumptuous punch and isn’t flat and dull. This is cleverly achieved with a formula that’s infused with Japanese tsubaki oil, an extract from the Japanese camellia seed that offers luxurious comfort and moisture for the lips. The rich, high-octave Rouge Unlimited Amplified and Rouge Unlimited Amplified Matte are undoubtedly the new empowerment beauty statements to wear on your lips.

Here’s how each pocket rocket packs so much colour punch: with a highly-advanced mega-loaded pigment technology that incorporates high-tech pigments (crafted in Japan, in collaboration with leading Japanese ink manufacturers), with a special cushioning oil and powders that allow for smooth colour distribution – all of which result in a boosted, deeply intense colour revelation. Conversely, the revamped packaging for Rouge Unlimited Amplified remains timelessly Japanese – in red, white and black – yet sleek and artistic, and offers a generous 155 shades to suit every skin tone and preference. Black, white and red on the packaging, 3 beloved colours of Mr. Shu Uemura, also hark back to the core values of the brand: they embody rich simplicity (black), purity (white) and artistic expression (red).

For nearly 60 years, shu uemura has shared many standout secrets that have transformed the beauty world – from how women care for their skin, to how they enjoy the very best of colour, and what inspires them to pursue creativity in beauty. Beyond immaculate cleansing, flawless canvasses, fine tools for definition and colour, shu uemura is also about cool hero inventions such as the No. 10 Eyeshadow Brush that mimics Mr. Shu Uemura’s finger-tip, collaborative limited edition collectors’ collections, setting cutting-edge trends, and so much more.

It is about creative luxury that’s immutable yet versatile, timeless yet relevant. It is about living an extraordinary life of elevated beauty.

Images courtesy of shu uemura, artwork by Curatedition. More on shu uemura here.

Related links:

Shu Uemura Rouge Unlimited Amplified: Full Saturation

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