“There’s no right way to be beautiful”: What Yasuo Yoshikawa wants to convey through his new brand, UNMIX

Cosmetic brand creator Yasuo Yoshikawa is releasing his long-awaited new brand, UNMIX. After 10 years as a cosmetic brand creator at CHICCA, which unfortunately came to an end in 2019, what does he hope to convey through his new brand? We asked Yoshikawa, who has temporarily returned to Japan from New York, why he’s daring to kick off his brand with a red lipstick in a time when masks are essential, and what he wants to convey to women today.

――It’s been two years since you left your role as cosmetic brand creator at CHICCA in March 2019. Why did you decide to launch a new brand at this time?

Yasuo Yoshikawa: I’d actually been on schedule to have the brand debut in autumn of last year, but I postponed it by about six months. With this new brand, I’d decided from the beginning that I wanted to start out with a single lipstick. But after I made the call that it’d be difficult to kick off during the coronavirus, I decided to launch on April 1st. Even now, there’s no sign that things will return to normal with the coronavirus. But I went through some life and attitude changes in the past six months, so now, I think, “This could be a good opportunity. Now is exactly the right time to start.”

――Why did you decide to launch now, even with the risk from coronavirus?

Yasuo: Indeed, since the end of last year, when I’ve talked to my loved ones, they were really concerned. (laughs) After deciding to postpone the launch last fall, I thought that the widespread use of the vaccine would be the solution to the launch, but in Japan, that’s still yet to be seen. On the other hand, I started reflecting on how I was feeling in the moment, and I started to think that it’s more important to deal with the present than an unforeseeable future. I think a lot of people have grown in this extended period of self-restraint because they’ve had more time to face themselves and think about their existence. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the self-care movement had sort of already started, but with more time to self-reflect, I think that trend has accelerated. I decided, if that’s the case, now is the time.

Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you need to emphasize your eyes.

――In Japan, we’re seeing more “mask makeup” which emphasizes the eyes.

Yasuo: This is obvious, but if your mouth is hidden by a mask, only your eyes are visible. People’s eyes are already emphasized as is, so if they make their eye makeup even bolder, it only makes them look scary. I want people to know that they should appreciate their own charm instead of emphasizing their eye makeup. It’s okay for people to wear the same eye makeup as they did before; it’s more important that they care for themselves by carefully doing their makeup. 

――Why did you kick off your brand with a red lipstick?

Yasuo: Since we started wearing masks, we don’t see mouths anymore—but what does that mean? The mouth is the only part of the face where you can get a sense of someone’s complexion. Our complexions are vibrant, they’re a sense of vitality or energy. After a year of living with our mouths hidden by masks, I have a renewed feeling that the lips are a really attractive part of our faces. Conversely, since masks have become essential when we go out, don’t you think that the moment we remove our masks has become very dramatic? Lipstick makes lips just a little bit nicer for that dramatic moment. That’s what makeup that brings out your beauty is about. I want people to remember how that feels again.

What UNMIX offers is a red that faintly brings out your complexion, adding a bit of vibrance. It’s a red that doesn’t have a clear border, so you don’t have to worry about it being ruined even if it comes into contact with your mask a bit. So first, I want people to ditch the idea that lipstick isn’t necessary because only their eyes are visible with masks. Just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t mean you have to change yourself for it. The mask isn’t the star of the show—you are.

Dullness creates sexiness

――After red, you’ll release pink in May, orange in June, and fig in July. Could you tell me more about this color selection?

Yasuo: The first color to go on sale, Red Rose, is a dull blood color, inspired by the dark blood red of veins. In the same way, because Pink Sapphire and Sunset Orange incorporate dullness, it settles nicely on your lips, that’s what’s great about dullness. Dullness is something that mixes the red of blood, the yellow of skin, the blue from veins, and the brown contours of skin. Everyone tends to be attracted to bright, vibrant colors, but all colors are more appealing when color and dullness are balanced, and the dullness is what makes it sexy.

The UNMIX lipstick has a texture that allows the color of the lips to show through. I’m particular about the ultrathin film, which utilizes the skin’s dullness so even the brightest colors blend in with the skin and look good on everyone. Many people dislike the word “dullness” because they interpret it as negative, but with our first product, Red Rose, I want to convey that it’s actually something positive and important. 

――Why are you releasing products without taking the season into account?

Yasuo: One might say that September is autumn, but that’s really only for the fashion and beauty industry. In reality, the late summer heat is so bad that your everyday consumer may not even recognize it as autumn. Instead of releasing a collection according to that season’s trends, I want to make every single lipstick carefully so it emphasizes everyone’s individual beauty. But I do think that the changing of the seasons is beautiful, so I’d like to convey that atmosphere as well.

――You’re also involved in the packaging design. What’s the concept behind that?

Yasuo: I tried to make the logo and packaging as simple as possible. I imagined something that wouldn’t get in the way in people’s rooms or bags, something that fits in with people’s homes and belongings. White packaging for lipstick might be uncommon, but it’s for the same reason that my room is white: because white shows colors neutrally. It also gives off an impression of purity, and I like something as close as possible to the environment in which I created these colors.

All of the products are skincare with amazing makeup effects

――What are your plans for the future?

Yasuo: After lipstick, I’m thinking eye makeup, foundation, and eventually, a full lineup that includes skincare. But I won’t divide the products into separate categories like skincare, base makeup, and point makeup [Japanese phrase for makeup for specific parts of the face]. Considering a woman’s 24-hour day, the surface of the skin should be in similar conditions whether it’s noon or night. That’s why I make sure that the products we use for nighttime skincare, as well as those for daytime makeup, contain plenty of hydrating ingredients and feel moisturizing. There are also moisturizing oils such as jojoba seed oil and avocado oil in the lipstick, so I want people to use it as lip care. With the products we’ll release going forward, I want the people who use them to think of the products as skincare with amazing makeup effects. 

――You go back and forth between Japan and New York. Are there any differences in the attitude towards beauty?

Yasuo: One isn’t better than the other when it comes to makeup, but both tend to use heavy makeup because they’re influenced by makeup ads. The only difference is the attitude towards foundation. In Japan, when women graduate high school and are taught how to apply makeup, they start by applying foundation. But abroad, most young people don’t wear foundation unless they’re having skin problems. That’s because there’s an ingrained value that it’s best to have beautiful bare skin, based on the idea that skin is beautiful. It’s really a shame that in Japan, even though people are blessed with beautiful skin, putting on foundation when they go out is already a given. 

When there’s a new actress in her teens, people say, “That girl is so pure,” but perhaps we should talk more concretely about what we mean by pure. Not hiding your natural traits is connected to that purity, so if you put on heavy foundation and look like something you’re not, obviously, that purity disappears. That’s why it becomes, “That girl is so pure, and I’m not, because I’m old.”

The thing I most want to convey through UNMIX’s visuals is that skin is beautiful. That’s why the visuals are untouched, so you can see peach fuzz and skin textures. The message I want to convey is that you’re beautiful as you are. You can go out into the world as you are.

We need to support women and their natural beauty

――Sometimes, I see promotions that feed people’s insecurities. What do you think about that?

Yasuo: I believe that no two people in the world are the same. Personality, age, skin color, facial structure, and body types are all different. But the moment you hold up one kind of beauty and say, “This is right,” all other kinds of beauty feel the pressure. If we think about why people are all born differently, we’ll realize that there’s no right way to be beautiful and no one kind of beauty to aspire to. If there’s anything we can do to help women, it’s to support them and their natural beauty, and it’s really important not to erase their individuality. I think it’s easy to explain and sell makeup that makes you look a certain way, but the times have changed. So I want people who are offering products to be more deliberate, because if they aren’t, people can’t become happy. That’s what I want to honor at UNMIX.

――Recently, the feminist movement has been growing. What role can makeup and beauty play? 

Yasuo: Beauty involves touching and caring for your own skin, so it’s easy for the way you feel about yourself to come out. That’s why I want people to know that the time spent doing skincare or makeup is important. As long as you’re alive, whether you’re a man or a woman, things will happen that make you feel bad. In order for people to protect themselves, I want them to be self-aware and honor themselves. I think more than the big changes, the everyday things are what’s actually important. 

――Lastly, what does beauty mean to you?

Yasuo: With my work, I’m given a theme and then do women’s makeup accordingly, but I always think of it as a session with that woman. My job isn’t to make them put on a mask to fit the theme, but to link the theme with the woman’s natural beauty. I’ve put makeup on thousands of women, from top models to ordinary women, but everyone has their own charm. When I’m able to express a woman’s natural beauty within the theme, I’ve succeeded. When that charm is erased, I’ve failed. As a professional, it’s okay to make adjustments, but it’s not okay to erase someone’s individual charm. That’s something I can unequivocally say about the expression of beauty.

Yasuo Yoshikawa
Yasuo Yoshikawa is a makeup artist born in 1959 in Niigata Prefecture. In 1983, he began his career as a makeup artist. In 1995, he relocated to the US. From 2008 to March 2019, he served as a cosmetic brand creator for CHICCA. He is currently based in New York, working as a top makeup artist in fashion, advertising, and celebrity portraits. Additionally, he started his own beauty blog, unmixlove, where he conducts interviews and writes. He has also written several books on beauty.

Translation Aya Apton

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Yoshie Kawahara

Yoshie Kawahara is a graduate of the Fashion Merchandising program at Bunka Fashion College. After working in sales promotion, PR, and shop development at Vivre, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. In the field of lingerie, she has been regularly reporting on the overseas lingerie market for more than 15 years and has contributed to fashion and specialty magazines with the latest information. In beauty and health, she has written many practical guides to nail fashion and natural therapies such as aromatherapy. She is also a certified aromatherapy advisor for the Aroma Environment Association of Japan.