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Shu Uemura, Cosmetics Brand Founder, 79

Shu Uemura, the celebrated Japanese makeup artist and founder of the Shu Uemura cosmetics brand, died of pneumonia Dec. 29. He was 79.

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Shu Uemura

Shu Uemura

Photo By WWD Staff

PARIS — Shu Uemura, the celebrated Japanese makeup artist and founder of the Shu Uemura cosmetics brand, died of pneumonia Dec. 29. He was 79.

A private funeral was held in Tokyo Jan. 4 and a memorial service is planned there for Jan. 31.

Uemura was a pioneering figure in modern makeup artistry, favoring an artistic approach to beauty. He promoted Japanese traditions and a brand philosophy that focused on healthy skin as the foundation for beautiful makeup.

"We are all extremely affected by this very sad news," said Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive officer of L'Oréal, in a statement Tuesday. The firm has had management control of the Shu Uemura brand since 2004. "Mr. Shu Uemura was an extraordinary individual with whom we had the great privilege of working with great passion and enthusiasm over a seven-year period."

Uemura, who built his brand around the idea of fusing science and the art of beauty, started his career in 1955 when he was hired as a makeup artist's assistant for the Hollywood film "Joe Butterfly." Recognition on the international stage came when he transformed Shirley MacLaine into a geisha for the 1964 movie "My Geisha."

Upon returning to Japan in 1965, Uemura founded Japan Make-up Inc., which imported American makeup into the country. In 1968, he created the concept of Mode Make-up, seasonal makeup collections, which come out twice a year. He summed up the brand's philosophy as: "Mode has the right to break rules."

In 1982, Japan Make-up changed its name to Shu Uemura and the following year Uemura opened his first boutique in Tokyo's Omotesando district. A store in Paris' Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood was inaugurated in 1986. From that year, he expanded the brand's international presence with boutique openings in New York, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Milan and London.

Typically modest, Uemura played down his role as one of the leaders of the modern makeup artist movement during an interview with WWD in 2003.

"I'm just one makeup artist — I think the current industry came about as a result of supply and demand," he said. "But to combine art and pleasing people — it is one of the highest forms of gratification."
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