Urban Art Box: an artistic celebration of the 30 years of presence of Shiseido in France

Urban Art Box, subtitled « Exposition artistique de Ginza à Saint-Germain des Prés » (Artistic exhibition of Ginza in Saint-Germain des Prés), has just ended. A little presentation for those who missed it.

Lip Art – 1967

Shiseido organized this exhibition for the 30th anniversary of the company’s setting up in France. The theme of the exhibit was “Windows art” of Ginza.
Some explanations:
Ginza is an area in Tokyo, the temple of shopping and Japanese style. Gin (money). Za (place). Aptly named, the district is compared to the 5th Avenue of New York. “Windows Art” is a historical initiative of Shiseido: an exhibit of visual art displayed in the ground-floor shopwindow of the building that is Shiseido’s original head office.
The exhibition in Saint-Germain des Prés was in two parts. Outside, 6 giant “boxes” of Plexiglas were each showing a work of art. Thus, 6 visual artists living in France and chosen by a board of well-known figures of art, sponsored by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, were invited to express a poetic evocation of beauty. The aim? To be the one who will produce a “Windows-Art” in Ginza!
Inside L’Hôtel de l’Industrie, the exhibition was completed by a display of 30 images of “Windows Art” from the 60’s to today.

Joyfully_2009.jpgJoyfully – 2009

Waterproof1983.jpgWaterproof – 1983

Visitors were encouraged to vote for their favorite artist, among the 6 works outside. Net surfers could also vote on the Internet site of the brand. The result will be unveiled this week.
One last information about the votes: each ballot paper left by visitors will give a credit to the operation managed by Shiseido for the benefit of La Fondation Hôpitaux de Paris des Hôpitaux de France, aiming at improving the living conditions of the elderly.
This may sound like a big mix to you?

Indeed. And yet, everything makes sense if one takes an interest in Shiseido’s universe.
Do we have, in France, a true perception of what this house represents? Not so sure… Shiseido’s extent is actually huge. This is an empire built by the Fukuhara dynasty. Probably the oldest cosmetics company in the world, in any case the biggest in Japan. The cosmetic brand comes with Shiseido Fine Chemicals, Shiseido Sodium Hyaluronate, Kirana Spa (a spa near Bali), and L’Osier, a French restaurant in Ginza.
In France, to name our country only, Shiseido has two production sites in Gien and in the Val de Loire and it holds 100% of Carita, Les Laboratoires Décléor and France BPI (Beauté Prestige International). In addition to its industrial and trading activities, Shiseido is at the origin of many actions in the world of art, in environmental protection (for example, the Shiseido Earth Care Project), for the respect of people (as illustrated by actions in favor of the elderly and corporate codes).
Though these activities seem very scattered, there is great logic in the whole empire. Everything comes from the great legacy of the House: the amazing story of the founders who were visionary, the cultural and technological mix. The Shiseido story is like a spider’s web slowly spun, the pattern of which can’t be revealed before it is completed.

Everything starts in the end of the 19th century. In 1868, Japan opens its frontiers. The Japanese are looking for modernity and discover the world’s innovations with urge and fear. In this context, Arinobu (Yushin) Fukuhara, a former chemist in chief in the Navy, builds an avant-garde project. In 1872, Ginza is destroyed by a great fire and then rebuilt with red bricks. It is given the nickname of “new London” because of its western style architecture. This year and in this area, Arinobu Fukuhara sets up the first occidental type drugstore. Thus, he separates medicine from care and offers an alternative to the traditional medicine. At that time, he is only 23!


In 1888, he launches the first toothpaste, once again a revolution.

And then he enters the cosmetics world in 1897, with the launch of Eudermine.

In 1900, he visits the World Fair and discovers Paris. The love for the French capital will be transmitted in the dynasty from generation to generation.
The second mainstay of the dynasty is his son, Shinzo Fukuhara. As a young adult, he loves art, painting and photography. But the death of one of his brothers and the illness of the other will make of him the only possible heir to the family company. His artistic calling is therefore frustrated. Yet, he does not turn his nose up at the family legacy. On the contrary, his life and work alone epitomize this Japanese admirable particularity to know how to match traditions (respect of the elders) and being opened onto the world, modernity, evolution.

So, he begins pharmacological studies, goes to the United States to study in Columbia University and then works – in particular in cosmetics – and manages all this extremely well.
In 1913, he treats himself to a break and stays in Paris. There, he makes many pictures and meets compatriot artists.Back to Tokyo and invested in the family business in 1914, he creates “Windows Art”. The idea? To offer passers-by a moment of visual pleasure, a work playing with aesthetic and cultural codes. He builds the shopwindow space so that people could admire the works from 3 different points of view. 3D display is born! He also installs permanent lighting so the display is visible at night. It is a “premiere” in Japan and Tokyo’s smart set comes there in the daytime and at night.
In 1916, he becomes President of Shiseido. He creates a cosmetics department and invites Japanese artists he had met in Paris to work for his creation board. In particular, he entrusts them with the conception and setting of Windows Art. This board will become the Design Department of Shiseido. Thus, basic research on art inside the company was born!
From 1919, in what would become his gallery, Shinzo Fukuhara installs displays of products. But when there is no product event, he begins to show artistic works. He interviews the applicants himself and takes the decision whether he will let the artist exhibit his work in the space or not. Today, this place is Shiseido’s Gallery, the oldest gallery in Japan. It has welcomed more than 3000 exhibits. From now on, the gallery will be in Shiseido’s building underground; with 5 meters of overhead height, this is a unique exhibition place for artists in Ginza.
But beyond scientific and technical research, beyond his passion for art and beauty, he neither forgets people nor his values. The Shiseido charter actually still draws its basics from the 5 Shiseido principles, dating from 1921: principles of dream search for consumers and of respect of all those they work with.

The 3rd and last great face of the dynasty is Yoshiharu Fukuhara. His personality is far different from his predecessors’. His major qualities would rather be empathy and ethics: the respect of employees, of clients, of the planet.
He established Shiseido in France in 1980. Back to Tokyo, he served as President of Shiseido between 1987 and 1997. As he takes office, he finds the company a little sluggish in administrative red tape. His well-being concern for everyone comes just at the right time. After Yushin – the visionary and founder – Shinzo – the bold aesthete – Yoshiharu is the story-teller of the company, according to the “Lettre Mensuelle” (Portraits croisés of April the 16th, 2005) – The Lettre Mensuelle is an edition from the French CCI in Japan. It is disconcerting to notice that it is exactly from this period that the illustrated history of the company (on the French and US sites) has become a lot more prosaic. But this may be the mere reflection of so mercenary our society.
Today, Yoshiharu Fukuhara is Honorary Chairman.

During the company’s life, the dynasty has then created many links between research, technology, art, aestheticism, respect… and France. After the discovery of its history, it is almost surprising to celebrate Shiseido France’s 30 years “only”. In his interview for Les Echos of September the 27th, 2010, Shinzo Maeda, the current President of Shiseido explains that France is only a small market for his cosmetics empire, but that it is also culturally important. And in the eyes of the Japanese, France is still the most beautiful place in the world for cosmetics and perfume.

Photos : Shiseido

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