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The Shiseido Culture: Design, Fashion and Marketing

Sponsored by Japanese Company Histories Interest Group (Shashi Group)
Sunday, March 24, 2013 10:15 am – 12:15 pm, Session# 357
Manchester Grand Hyatt / Madeline D
San Diego, CA

Abstract of Panel:
Shiseido Cosmetics Company commemorated 140 years anniversary in 2012. The company has built originality that is worthy of being called the Shiseido Culture with its excellent business sense and design and becomes world renowned brand. The company has cultivated and re-edit and continually communicate the Shiseido Culture within and outside of the company and it makes contributions to society through design and marketing. The company has also considers the Shiseido Culture and its history to be an important management asset and has published more than 60 titles of Shashi, or company history books, and publications related to design and advertisement since 1957. For researchers who study art history, cultural history and business history, these publications are very important primary resources. This panel invites four researchers to discuss how the Shiseido Culture have had effects on history of design and advertisements in Japan, relationship between imperial Japan and women’s fashion, and Japanese marketing in colonies.

Chair: Gennifer Weisenfeld, Duke University

Paper 1. Rebecca Nickerson, Ph.D., Independent Scholar
Designing Women: Miss Shiseido, Tanaka Chiyo, and the Making of Imperial Style in Japan

Abstract This paper analyzes how Komai Reiko—the first “Miss Shiseido”—and Tanaka Chiyo—“Japan’s first fashion designer”—shaped modern ideals of femininity and transformed women’s cosmetic and fashion practices in 1930s Japan. In 1933, Shiseido recruited Komai to work as a full-time consultant to launch the company’s “Miss Shiseido” marketing campaign, designed to bring Shiseido’s image of feminine beauty directly to consumers through beauty demonstrations. A prominent advocate for working women’s rights, Komai accepted Shiseido’s offer precisely because she knew it would increase her visibility as an example of the progressive Japanese woman—she subsequently gained fame as a beauty expert who was at once a wife, mother, and successful, working woman. In 1932, Tanaka began her career at Kanebo, where she taught women how to use the company’s textiles to make Western-style clothes and quickly became a leading expert on women’s fashion. Like Komai, Tanaka balanced her career with her duties as a wife and mother and she fiercely disagreed with the notion that Japanese women should wear kimono for the sake of the nation or Japanese tradition, arguing instead that women deserved the right to choose clothes that suited their modern lifestyles. Komai and Tanaka did not identify themselves as feminists, but their careers enabled them to challenge traditional feminine norms and empower Japanese women to act as subjects with the capacity to shape ideals of femininity through their consumption practices and the choices they made in assembling their appearance.

Paper 2. Annika A. Culver, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Shiseido’s ‘Empire of Beauty’: Marketing Japanese Modernity in Manchukuo, 1932-1945

During the 1931-45 Japanese occupation of northeast China, Japanese businesses, including Shiseidô, extended their reach into Manchukuo, where the Japanese modernity they sold communicated success and prosperity under imperial Japan's auspices. In 1931, the company's first outlet opened in Dairen, and by 1937, its Mobile Beauty Salons traversed the Japanese empire with "Miss Shiseidô" representatives passing through Manchurian cities. Throughout the colonies, Shiseidô expanded a view of Japanese women's flawless white skin, along with their willingness to embrace modern, scientific rational practices to improve domestic life. The company's vision of imperial beauty for the continent emphasized a harmonious melding of Japanese science and Chinese tradition, beginning with the Blue Bird line (seichô in Japanese, qingniao in Chinese) of soaps, detergents, and toothpaste made by Mitsui for "Manchurian" customers and exported to Manchukuo after 1932. Shiseidô targeted marketing strategies specifically to colonial Japanese and “Manchurian” consumers, with Blue Bird's signature yellow boxes featuring Japanese script instead of English to communicate Japanese modernity. In 1940, after the company built its own Manchukuo-based factory, Japanese-born Manchurian Film Association star Ri Kôran even posed for cosmetics posters as the archetypal Chinese modern girl with bobbed, permed hair. Shiseidô’s unique modernist visual culture sold images of an empire of beauty, where women consumers on the continent helped support an emerging politics of national identity in their product choices. The company's intersection of modernist advertising and national propaganda reveals the multifaceted interests of organizations like Shiseidô involved in marketing the Japanese empire and its appealing modernity.

Paper 3. Gennifer Weisenfeld, Duke University
Shiseido and Transwar Design: The Case of Yamana Ayao

Renowned designer and art director, Yamana Ayao (1897-1980) worked for Shiseido on and off from 1929 until 1969. When he first joined the Shiseido design division, critics humorously asked, “Will Yamana become Shiseido-ized or will Shiseido become Yamana-ized?” They quickly came to the conclusion that Shiseido was Yamana-ized, as the designer’s distinctive style became synonymous with Shiseido advertising all the way through the early postwar period. While the war often stands as an insurmountable divide that seemingly severs cultural developments in Japan right at mid century, the transwar continuities can be more striking than the ruptures. This divide is particularly apparent in the history of design, despite the fact that advertising and propaganda production seamlessly traded places through the war, and the same roster of professional designers and advertising specialists who worked throughout the 1930s and 40s reconstituted the design world immediately after the end of the Occupation. As a founding member of the important advertising design associations: the Tokyo Advertising Art Association (1931), Nippon Kōbō (1933), and the influential Japan Advertising Artists Club (1951), and as a key designer for Shiseido and many major corporations into the postwar period, Yamana’s enormous contribution to the public visual sphere across the twentieth century is indisputable. Thus, his work for Shiseido provides a valuable opportunity to explore often neglected transwar connections, illuminating how postwar design and advertising was built on a deep foundation of practice and a professional network developed in the prewar and wartime periods.

Discussant: Sarah Frederick, Boston University

Organizer and contact parson: Hiroyuki N. Good,, University of Pittsburgh