(This talk session with Masayoshi Nakajo was held on Dec 17, 2019. We are publishing this article with delay on May 29, 2020.)
When Shiseido Parlour in Ginza was renewed in November 2019, Masayoshi Nakajo designed the product packages exclusively sold at the Ginza shop at the age of 86. Mr.Nakajo is an active designer whose latest package designs carry adorable and exciting graphics such as red, blue and hound’s-tooth check around the concept of “Ginza 8-chome Story – starting a new history from Ginza 8-chome”
What is “chic”? What is sense beyond time? Sachiko Hamada, a Shiseido package designer who worked with Mr.Nakajo on the new package production asks him directly to explore answers to such questions, with other Shiseido designers who have been tremendously inspired by Mr.Nakajo (Ayumu Takahashi, Katsura Marubashi and Daisuke Takada).
-- While the past packages exclusive for Shiseido Parlour Ginza had been designed around theatre spotlights and stage curtains, the latest design is more ambiguous. In particular, hound’s-tooth check is quite impressive. Today, Hamada, a Shiseido Parlour designer, and other designers who have worked with Nakajo on Shiseido artwork are here to hear directly from Nakajo about the Shiseido design.
Nakajo: Nobody will talk honestly in front of me (laughs). I can’t use computer so I photocopy my hand-drawn designs, cut them out and paste with adhesive tape, with support from staff like Hamada.
Hamada: Mr.Nakajo faxes us his original drawing. Today, I brought his original drawing of a trial production stage.
Nakajo: First one was a box, wasn’t it? Cutting and pasting the color-copied drawing with scissors and adhesive tape. This black one was the very first design.
Hamada: In other original drawings, there were illustrations of kids and dogs.
Nakajo: The hound’s-tooth check, the main element of the design, came to my mind all of sudden. The concept of the project was “Ginza 8-chome Story” and Ginza has been my favorite town since I was a boy and the town is deeply connected with my memory of fashion.
I value fashion very much in life and I strongly believe that advertisements and packages should be ‘la mode’. When I was young, I used to read VOGUE and Harper’s Bazaar. I was never bothered to open any design or art magazines. So when I thought of fashion and tradition, hound’s-tooth check came up.
Hamada: Before selecting the hound’s-tooth check, various classic patterns and designs used in fashion, like Argyle pattern and plaid were also considered. Hound’s-tooth check was selected among those candidates. We sent many draft patterns to Mr.Nakajo and that’s how the design process started.
Takahashi: Shiseido Parlour has a long history with a sense of tradition. Yet, it has regularly updated the design every few years. What was the intention?
Nakajo: As the content and shoppers change, the frame (of the content) also needs to change otherwise it would look too old.
Hamada: Renewal of items exclusive to the Ginza store was decided due to significant update of the store interior. But some product packages remain the same for long time like CIGARES AUX AMANDES and the Hanatsubaki (flower camellia) biscuit tins.
Nakajo: While (Daisuke) Takada helped me on the renewal of wrapping paper, the inspiration of the original design came from the design of a book bought in Paris by the first president of Shiseido. Then the letters were added to make it into the first wrapping paper of Shiseido. The process of pasting karakusa pattern was difficult, especially the connecting part.
-- The symbol of “eight” on the box is also quite unique.
Nakajo: Yes. Because it’s exclusive to 8-chome.
Hamada: While streets and avenues are used in other countries, chome (or block) is used more in Japan. After giving some thought, we decided to take “chome” out and just keep “8”. Mr.Nakajo said it was based on the image of Ginza 8-chome being a hub of the world.
Nakajo: Did I say that? It’s pretty “Showa” and lame.
Marubashi: It is a classic design and it stands out quite well.
Hamada: But what surprised us after the production was that hound’s-tooth check became a huge trend this year (Note: Interview was done in December 2019). In fact, you see hound’s-tooth check in many fashion brands in Ginza. Mr.Nakajo anticipated it way before.
Nakajo: That’s the great thing about me. The idea comes from above. It’s revelation.
Takahashi: I think you see things very well. You say you are a fossil from the Showa era but actually you always observe things very carefully. I can tell you are quite sensitive and up to the information.
Nakajo: Really? I say it’s my instinct.
Takahashi: Has your instinct been always right?
Nakajo: Not sure. Sometimes wrong (laughs).
Hamada: While I worked with him, I witnessed the moments of the birth of artwork during a series of try and error. One day, the animal illustrations that had been there for a while since the beginning vanished all of sudden because the “pattern looked cheap”, he said.
During the process of color tone selection, he once chose a soft color from a color sample book but then decided to change to red when he got the proof later. He was so particular about color. Mr.Nakajo, do you happen to change the color of the package even now (laughs)?
Nakajo: Just a bit (laughs). But nothing critical. Katakana letters printed on the side is not fancy, right?
Hamada: He told us to “make it a bit fun and silly”. That’s why there is awkwardly wide space between letters.
Nakajo: You know, company-employed designers cannot do such a playful thing. It’s the privilege of a freelancer.
-- Mr.Nakajo, I read in your note that “chic” was the concept of the design. Usually, “chic” can evoke dark colors such as black or dark blue in people’s mind but you chose red instead.
Nakajo: Maybe this isn’t the case anymore but until some time ago, “chic” was more snobbish, pretentious and indecent. But now “chic” is considered as elegant, refined and stylish. It is the basis of fashion. It’s eternal beauty that Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent has. Unchanging sense that never ages.
The recent new stuff are just used up, wasted and they are nothing close to tradition. Continuity is critical to building a culture. Same goes for companies, brands and products.
-- Let’s hear from others about what they think of the latest design by Mr.Nakajo. Hamada, you’ve been working on the Shiseido Parlor project with Mr.Nakajo for a long time.
Hamada: It’s been 3 years since we started working in 2016. Shiseido Parlor is known for its impactful confectionary package design by Mr.Nakajo. It has been a significant challenge for many Shiseido Parlor designers to design that fits naturally and comfortably the powerful design of Mr.Nakajo. I always ask Mr.Nakajo immediately whenever I have something. Then he gives me comments like, “Maybe you want to put letters here”.
-- Has he always been calm and free-spirited like today?
Hamada: Yes. He really appreciates something like the “sense of imperfection”. I try to design things very neatly then Nakajo says my design is “sophisticated”
-- It’s not a compliment, I suppose?
Hamada: It’s an irony. I take it as “It’s not good because it’s intentionally too neat”. So, having a part that is unpolished is quite important, actually.
Takahashi: In the latest design, we see it very well in Katakana font.
Hamada: Usually you don’t put it like this, right?
(All designers nod)
-- Even if you drop it you will surely find it. (Laughs)
Takahashi: It has a taste as if the package has been used since foundation. Such traditional taste. It is new yet it makes you feel the history behind.
Hamada: Without these letters, the design would look too neat. Too modern.
Takahashi: By choosing the shape of the tin, Mr.Nakajo cleverly uses its old texture into the design.
Hamada: He was also quite meticulous about the detail of the shape, kept asking if there was any other design with sharper tip.
Depth of the side lid of the box was quite deep at first but he cut it shorter, saying he wanted to expose hound’s-tooth check of the body box more. It’s neater when the entire body box is covered but he intentionally made the side lid short.
-- It is like Chanel women’s clothes. The inner box of hound’s-tooth check is a skirt and the outer box is a jacket.
Hamada: It’s like showing the hem of your shirt just a bit from underneath. So stylish.
-- There’s a beauty of addition and subtraction.
Nakajo: “Mode” is important. There is always tradition and the reality of culture people have lived for many generations. There are houses, clothes and food.
Mode and fashion are born in those places. The core of mode and fashion are sense of living or sense of beauty.
Takahashi: If you have such sense strongly inside you and keep polishing it, then in any time of the era…
Nakajo: It’s unwavering. The generation of Issei Miyake was about breaking the past to move forward but it still stayed focused and never shaken because it had the mode in its fashion. That’s why it could always come back. Kenzo Takada is the same.
Takahashi: When I worked with Mr.Nakajo before, he said fashion is something that keeps changing and what’s considered trendy will soon outdated. But today, there is rather something unwavering element in fashion. I found it a new viewpoint and it was quite interesting to listen to him.
Nakajo: Surely, it changes like the flow of water. But it does not flow like a river it flows in a circle. When the time passes too fast maybe the old style comes back, I guess.
By the way, I am thinking that this is going to be my last project, you know.
Marubashi: You said the same thing in the last project, too. (Laughs modestly)
Nakajo: Did I? (Laughs) Well, it means I always put all of my efforts thinking this is going to be my last project, then. I consider myself a bit peculiar designer. I’ve been so lucky that all of my projects never involved any blockbuster products.
I joined Shiseido as a new university graduate and worked there for 3 years. After leaving the company I had no chance to work with Shiseido for a while but they called me back for the Hanatsubaki (flower camellia ) renewal project. That was 40 years ago. Once the Hanatsubaki project was close to an end then they called me for another project on Shiseido Parlor. I owe a lot to Shiseido.
-- It has been truly a long relationship. What is the uniqueness of Shiseido to you?
Nakajo: Well, I do everything with my own hands. But those in Shiseido today don’t do on their own, right? They leave the most important part to someone else. That’s why they never evolve.
Hamada: You suggest we should use our hands more. (Smiles modestly)
Nakajo: I struggle every day. It is such an interesting work you don’t want let others do it for you.
Marubashi: Because that’s what creates style, and you’re saying do not give your style to others.
Nakajo: That’s right. I’m greedy, you see.
Takahashi: The packages for The Ginza and for Parlour that you designed may be slightly different from the typical design of Shiseido, but I believe it is there in your design where Shiseido’s identity lies.
Mr.Nakajo’s design has a complexity that is difficult to categorize. When I joined Shiseido I was taught, simply put, to design and craft meticulously to pursue the finest details in designing. But when I worked with Mr.Nakajo, he told me not to do too precisely, which was totally opposite from what I had been told. (Laughs)
Nakajo: Did I say that?
Takahashi: You told me not to be too precise about the space between characters. You said it was uncool and that was totally opposite to what I had been doing. Quite shocking.
Nakajo: Of course. Don’t be a perfectionist otherwise people won’t like you. There has to be an unwavering element yet some openness for change.