While most people’s perception of makeup is to apply unnatural products to their skin to conceal imperfection, Shu Uemura believed “beautiful makeup starts with beautiful skin.”
An Early Start
Shu Uemura was a talented child who originally had no intention of becoming a makeup artist. In Japan, most makeup artists were female and there were no male makeup artists. When Uemura was 20 years old, he was in the hospital recovering from tuberculosis. According to Tatyana Shkityayeva, the Product Manager of shu uemura Canada, “He spent a lot of time reading while he was in hospital. At that time, he realized that he appreciated beauty and women so much.” Naturally, Uemura decided to pursue his career as a makeup artist to help women become more beautiful.
He entered Tokyo Beauty Academy as its ﬁrst male student and experienced his ﬁrst ﬁlm makeup in Joe’s Butterfly in 1957, which was partially produced in Japan. He then moved to Hollywood to break into the biggest ﬁlm business in the world. His ﬁrst break came in 1962 when he substituted for an ill makeup artist on the ﬁlm My Geisha, in which he transformed Shirley MacLaine into a Japanese geisha. As a result, Uemura received huge praise in the ﬁlm industry and soon became one of Hollywood’s favorite makeup artists.
Making A Name For Himself
Uemura established Japan Makeup Inc. in 1967, which later changed its ofﬁcial name to shu uemura cosmetics in 1983. Inspired by an oil-based makeup remover product used in the ﬁlm industry, he created his ﬁrst cleansing oil, called Unmask Cleansing Oil, in 1960. Shkityayeva explains, “Shu Uemura believed skin cannot purify itself. Cleansing oil can effectively remove makeup, as well as any other unwanted skin residue, leaving skin in natural balance.”
At the same time, Uemura is considered the first makeup artist who took makeup to the level of artwork. He started his Mode makeup collection in the 1960s; one of the most recognizable products being the handmade false eyelashes made of lace, feathers and many other unique materials.
Uemura passed away in December 2007 from pneumonia. Instead of the incense sticks and white chrysanthemums that are traditionally used, his funeral had candles in red glasses and red roses to say farewell to the person who appreciated beauty most in his life. After Uemura’s death, his apprentice Kakuyasu Uchiide replaced him as the International Artistic Director and continues on Shu Uemura’s journey of exploring the beautiful possibilities of the connection between nature, science and art.