Applying skin care is a sensorial experience: we want products that feel silky or rich, that cosset or refresh, that slip or stick, that lie heavily or seem to float away. The uncontested expert at this is Japanese brand Shiseido, known for its mastery of emulsions, powders, gels, balms, and everything in between.
While historically Shiseido’s makeup has been no slouch—in its over 140-year history, the company introduced staples like stick makeup and cake foundation—Jill Scalamandre, president Global Development Shiseido, admits it’s gotten “a little dusty”.
So this year, the brand has brought everything it knows about the beauty experience to makeup, revamping its colours collection into four textures—inks, dews, powders, and gels—marketed with the slogan, “Visible feels invisible.” “We developed these new products because of research that indicates women don’t like the feel of makeup on skin, but they like the look,” explains Scalamandre.
The 21-strong, 124-shade range is colours and tools only—no foundation or concealer. Star products include Kajal InkArtist pencil, an eyeliner/shadow/brow colour that’s intensely pigmented. As well as the standard blacks and browns, it comes in jewel tones, a particular favourite of Vincent Oquendo, North America colour artist for Shiseido Makeup. “It is perfect for a winged eyeliner look, whether it’s a sapphire, ruby, or emerald,” he says.
“Japanese beauty has a heritage. There’s an appreciation for the products—it’s not about how many you put on, but what you put on.”
In the dews category, there’s Aura Dew highlighter. “It gives a kind of dancing light to the face—a pure pearl, not that kind of large fake glitter that looks vulgar,” says Scalamandre. For powders, there’s ModernMatte Powder Lipstick, which creates the matte look without being heavy or drying. The standout from the gels category is VisionAiry Gel Lipstick, which gives a fresh sensation on application thanks to its high water content, but delivers full, impactful colour. All-new packaging is architectural, slim, and inspired by fukusa, the Japanese textile used as gift wrapping in addition to its use to purify instruments during a tea ceremony.
The revamp is partly designed to attract younger followers, which is why the brand has partnered with four influencers for the makeup relaunch: dancer and Crazy Rich Asians actor Sonoya Mizuno, multimedia artist Yi Zhou, singer-songwriter Banks, and makeup artist Kara Yoshimoto Bua. Their Instagram reach is relatively modest—just over a million followers altogether—but it’s not about numbers. The brand has chosen women with strong connections to Japan, a genuine affinity with Shiseido, and serious artistic chops. “These days there are so many platforms to tell stories directly to consumers, so our goal is really to create beautiful storytelling that envelops the Japanese culture and point of view,” says Scalamandre.
Many millennials are still in thrall to the Korean beauty phenomenon. “Japanese beauty is very different. It’s more prestige, where K beauty is fun and in the moment,” says Scalamandre. “Japanese beauty has a heritage. There’s an appreciation for the products—it’s not about how many you put on, but what you put on.”
While the Japanese element is vital—Scalamandre speaks of the company’s desire to “gift Japan to the world”—the products themselves were developed in New York. “The U.S. is the largest makeup market in the world, so if you get it right here, you get it right,” she says.
What can we expect next? Within the next 12 months, Shiseido will be rolling out augmented reality technology that incorporates artificial intelligence, so you can try on colours, detect your perfect foundation shade, and even receive personalized product recommendations. Truly, dusty no more.
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