A 100-year Passion for Fragrance. An Exhibition of Perfume Bottles from across the Ages


A hybrid world that fuses the West and the East

-- The "Les Parfums Japonais - A Century of Perfume Design" exhibition is the fourth in the "BEAUTY CROSSING GINZA" project by Shiseido, which aims to spread and popularize culture originating from Ginza. Works have already been on display at the Shiseido Ginza Building ahead of the exhibition in November. What are the contents of the exhibition?

Marubashi: Shinzo Fukuhara, the first president of Shiseido, began making perfumes in the second half of the 1910s. His inspiration stemmed from his admiration for the culture of Europe, and particularly that of Paris. With a strong desire to raise perfumery to the level of an art, he launched the "Hanatsubaki" perfume in 1917. Since then, Shiseido has produced many original perfumes that represent a fusion with the cultures of the East. Fukuhara's concept of "products as art" has been passed down and utilized continuously for 100 years to the present day. The aim of this exhibition is to trace this trajectory.

Hori: From this century-long history, about 50 perfume bottles produced from the post-World War II era to the present day are currently on display at the Shiseido Ginza Building (scheduled to be on display until December 22).

-- Mr. Marubashi, you are in charge of the main visuals for this exhibition. You have adopted a very chic and graphical style, haven't you?

Marubashi: I decided to take the approach of an "Oriental" design, corresponding with the title "Japonais." Initially, I had wanted to depict a subtle and profound world using ink paintings, such as in Tohaku Hasegawa's Shorin-zu byobu (Pine Trees) (around the 16th century). However, such a design would become blurry and difficult to understand if it were to take the shape of a perfume bottle. When I considered that, the image of Eitoku Kano's Rakuchu rakugai zu (Scenes in and around the Capital) (from around the 16th century) came to mind. This painting was created in the style of a Yamato-e painting (classical decorative paintings of Japan) using the "suyari-gasumi" technique, which involves the use of golden clouds to illustrate scene transitions and depth. "Suyari-gasumi" is also a technique used to show different scenes that transcend time and space alongside one another, and I felt that it was the perfect technique for creating an expression for the messages conveyed through 100 years of perfume history in this exhibition.

-- So you applied the Yamato-e technique to the designs. The five perfume bottles that are visible among the "suyari-gasumi" appear to be pictures but also photographs.

Marubashi: The perfume bottles, photographed in a way that matches the flat worldview of Yamato-e, were deliberately taken against a backlight to make them look flat. I took the bold step of creating something that could be perceived as both a flat-plane picture and a three-dimensional photograph.

-- What did you pay particular attention to with regard to the use of colors?

Marubashi: I attempted to create an "Oriental" image through the combination of indigo-blue and gold. For the perfume bottles, I used stronger shades of black while harnessing the tones on the original bottles, in order to give them a sense of cohesive unity. By doing that, the respective elements with their unique shape characteristics were gradually consolidated into a single world.

Scene from "Les Parfums Japonais"
Main graphics for the exhibition designed by Katsura Marubashi
Materials on Eitoku Kano's Rakuchu rakugai zu (Scenes in and around the Capital) that were used as the reference for the graphics
The "Hanatsubaki" perfume, which was also the starting point for Shiseido's fragrance business (1917)

Uniquely characteristic perfumes grouped into five categories

-- Could you tell us more about the exhibition at Shiseido Ginza Building that commenced in September before the actual exhibition? Firstly, there is an installation in the display window on the first floor that employs water. This was made by the creative group plaplax, which is drawing attention for its works that include spatial performances in commercial and event spaces. There is movement in this installation, and one does not get tired of watching it.

Hori: We asked them to produce the work based on the theme "ripples of fragrance." In the exhibition in Shiseido Ginza Building, perfume bottles have been categorized according to five keywords - kanji characters that are all read as "Yuu" in the Japanese language: 悠 (the pursuit of the immortal), 優 (the refinement of kindness), 誘 (the charm of loquaciousness), 遊 (the call of wanderlust), 幽 (the mystique of the unknown). For this installation, the creators produced five types of water basins and created ripples based on the impressions of the respective words. Ripples with colors, ripples with energy - we want visitors to enjoy a wide range of expressions. As the display window interacts with natural light, the same ripples can be perceived differently at different times. This is a delicate exhibition that also draws links between Japan, with its four seasons, and the transition of time across the time span of 100 years.

-- On the second floor, there are photographs of the perfume bottles taken by Masato Kanazawa, a photographer from the Advertising & Design Department, alongside about 50 perfume bottles from across successive generations. Mr. Hori, you were responsible for the design of the exhibition space on the second floor. How did you select the exhibits from among the massive archive of items from the post-war period to the present day?

Hori: Just like on the first floor, the five keywords are used. I selected perfume bottles that match the respective words, based on comprehensive criteria such as the shape of the bottles, the images created by their fragrances, and their names. I created five display stands for each word, and arranged seven to 11 perfume bottles on each stand. However, rather than offering detailed explanations for each and every perfume, the exhibition invites visitors to gain a free sense of the images woven by the words and the perfume bottles.

-- All the designs of the display stands are different. They are characterized by the curved lines created on the tops of the display stands.

Hori: For this, I paid attention to their integration with the space. They are shaped in a way that creates the impression that the relief of the "BANBUTSU SHISEI" graphic depicted on the floor of the first floor entrance of the Shiseido Head Office Building, completed in 2013, has jumped out onto the second floor. Glossy black materials of the display stands reflect the shapes of the bottles.In this way, I sought to make it seem as though multiple bottles have emerged from the stands. With regard to the enclosure, I was inspired by what is known as "yukizuri," which are ropes attached to limbs of trees to protect them from heavy snow. This practice is used at Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa. Based on this, I have arranged the enclosure in curved shapes. Although it is typical to display valuable vintage perfume bottles in glass cases, it is possible in this exhibition to admire the bottles close-up rather than through a pane of glass.

"Ripples of fragrance" created by the creative group plaplax. Exhibited at the entrance on the first floor.
The respective "Yuu" exhibited along with short captions
The relief that extends across the entrance of the Shiseido Ginza Building
The enclosures for the display stands were inspired by "yukizuri" at Kenrokuen Garden.

New designs born from Shiseido's "products as art" philosophy

-- This is the first time that either of you have taken charge of a project related to perfume at Shiseido. What were some of the difficulties that you faced?

Marubashi: For example, when we are coming up with the campaign visual for a new product, we borrow a sample of the product, observe and sketch it from various angles, and explore how to capture our subject. However, all of the subjects for this project are the only ones of their kind left, making it impossible for us to examine the actual products carefully. This was the first time I had experienced something like this.

Hori: For me as well, the first time I was able to see the actual products in their respective layouts was during the set-up on the day before the exhibition opened. Of course, we knew what the numerical values of the sizes were beforehand, and had seen the actual products at the museum in Shizuoka (Shiseido Art House). However, we could only imagine what the final exhibition would look like as a whole when it was finished. The display of the actual products was a one-chance-only shot that we had to succeed in during the actual exhibition.

-- Incidentally, which perfume bottle did you find to be the most appealing?

Hori: That would be the bottle presented to the 2003 winner of the Hanatsubaki Award for Contemporary Poetry (a literature prize organized by Shiseido, in which special perfume bottles are presented to winners) in the category of "The pursuit of the immortal". It has horn-like protrusions spreading out right and left; rather than a perfume bottle, it was in the realm of an artistic object. The ingenious shape and its weight, which exceeds the imagination, create a strong presence that overturns the design concept of perfume bottles.

Marubashi: For me, it was the "Zen," released in 1964. I believe that the design, which represented a fusion of the essence of "Oriental" elements, was groundbreaking at the time. In addition, many perfume bottles created by the French artist Serge Lutens are wonderful works. They are truly works of art.

-- What impact do you think this project will have on future creations?

Hori: We have heard that when Mr. Fukuhara, the first president of Shiseido, was working on the creation of the "Hanatsubaki" perfume, because camellia (tsubaki) flowers have no fragrance, he imagined the fragrance through the word "Hanatsubaki." I was impressed by such unparalleled creativity. Since then, the spirit of Fukuhara has been passed down in Shiseido designs to the present day. I realized anew that I also hope to pass on that baton to future generations, which was an excellent source of motivation.

Marubashi: When I was young, I was not very interested in topics such as Japonism and Orientalism. However, just as I began to reaffirm the merits of folding screen pictures painted by Tohaku Hasegawa, I was approached for this project. It was the perfect timing for applying these concepts to my work. To begin with, the Japanese people have always excelled at employing "Oriental" design techniques. I hope to further improve my skills of expression, and reflect them in a graphic-related way in a style that is uniquely mine.

Created for the winner of the Hanatsubaki Award for Contemporary Poetry 2013
"Zen" launched for sale in 1964, with an added essence of the "Oriental"
In addition to the original bottles, photographs of the bottles are also on display.
Shiseido Creative Division
Katsura Marubashi (Graphics)
Keisuke Hori (Window display/Exhibition layout and design)
Masato Kanazawa
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