SThe thermometer already shows 30 degrees in the morning. The air is humid and stuffy, the sun is glaring, and then there’s the traffic. You feel like a clammy rag, long for a parasol and age by the second. With every step, your respect for those women who, dressed to the nines and wearing subtle make-up, maintain their composure and flawless complexion in this climate grows. A summer day in Tokyo is a tough test for the skin. It’s enough to understand why Japan is considered the land of skincare experts, where paleness is the ideal and facial care is almost religious. In other words: it’s the best preparation for a visit to Clé de Peau Beauté.

Typical Japanese scenery

Typical Japanese scenery

Source: Gabriele Thiels

The brand belongs to Shiseido, which is a large cosmetics group in Japan, comparable to Beiersdorf or L’Oréal. Clé de Peau Beauté stands for luxury skin care. This is already signaled by the jars, which with their warm gold tones and faceted shapes are reminiscent of cut gemstones, the fine textures, the delicate scent, the clear system with which creams, lotions and serums correspond, and of course the prices. But above all, it is reflected in the claim that the care product already bears in its name: namely, to be nothing less than the “key to beautiful skin”. And because the brand fulfills this with scientific rigor, the entire industry and even dermatologists can benefit from its research, which has been published and has received numerous awards.

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But who knows? Clé de Peau Beauté, founded in Japan in 1982, a classic in the country and popular in Asia, was long known only to insiders in Europe and the USA – cosmetics for connoisseurs, so to speak. “Our US team told me: ‘Clé de peau Beauté is the best-kept secret,'” explains marketing manager Mizuki Hashimoto – and makes it clear that this must change. The brand is set to conquer the global market and has put its Japanese reserve aside to do so. This time, it is not simply putting its research results into the products, but is also celebrating them in a big way: with an event with guests from 18 countries and a huge, specially commissioned art installation.

For this, Clé de Peau invited us to the Shiseido Global Innovation Center in Tokyo’s neighboring city of Yokohama. The company’s research center – which is pleasantly air-conditioned – consists of top-secret laboratories and an even more open, light-flooded reception hall with high ceilings, exhibition area and the largest LED screen in the world (5 by 20 meters), on which you can really see every pore. The spectacle we are here for, on the other hand, is so small that it is only visible under the microscope: skin cells, only through stimuli – UV rays, CO2heat, cold – stimulated and stressed, return to a state of calm on their own.

The images prove the correctness of a hypothesis which, in short, is the essence of the brand. It states that skin cells function in a similar way to brain cells. They are able to absorb information from the outside, evaluate it as positive or negative and pass it on. By communicating with each other, they monitor themselves and can always return to their ideal state. The skin intuitively takes care of itself, can repair itself, protect itself – and literally radiates from within. Clé de Peau Beauté calls this innate system “skin intelligence” and all of the brand’s products aim to support it so that the skin looks young, fresh and smooth for a long time. For this purpose, there is a sophisticated active ingredient complex called the “skin empowering illuminator”, which is further developed with each new discovery and is contained in the highest concentration in the brand’s icon, the facial care product “La Creme”.

Dressed up: The brand’s showpiece

Dressed up: The brand’s showpiece

Source: Shiseido

Not imagining the skin as a surface, but asking how the cells work inside it, was a radically new approach in the industry over 40 years ago. He turned cosmetics into science, thereby harking back to the origins of the company, which was founded as a pharmaceutical company. Arinobu Fukuhara, former chief pharmacologist of the Japanese Navy, opened the country’s first Western-style pharmacy in 1872. “He wanted to supply the general public with good quality medicines,” explains Mizuki Hashimoto, “because so many expensive medicines were being sold in Japan at the time. It was clear to him that a product had to be efficient, and that required a scientific basis.” This also applied when Fukuhara’s son Shinzu took over the company in 1927 and turned it into a cosmetics manufacturer. “From the very beginning, there were two departments: the design department and the laboratory,” says Mizuki Hashimoto.

Why should they have let this concentrated know-how be taken away from them? Clé de Peau Beauté was founded at a time when Japanese women were becoming more independent thanks to a new law for equal opportunities and equal treatment in the workplace, had good jobs and their own money – and wanted to spend it, as the marketing director explains. Those looking for luxury looked to the West – but the company, disguised under a French name, offered luxury care products from its own country.

Today, the target group is international. Clé de Peau Beauté is sold in high-end concept stores and luxury department stores such as Harrods and KaDeWe. It has two brand ambassadors from Great Britain and the USA, actresses Ella Balinska and Diana Silvers, and has now even found a way to make the essence of the brand, “skin intelligence”, tangible. “Understanding the theory is one thing, but you should also be able to feel it. I believe that art makes that possible,” says Mizuki Hashimoto. It was a natural choice to use artificial intelligence (AI) for this, as it also independently selects, sorts and recalculates information – namely data.

Digital magic: With the help of artificial intelligence, media artist Refik Anadol created the installation “Unseen Intelligence”

Digital magic: With the help of artificial intelligence, media artist Refik Anadol created the installation “Unseen Intelligence”

Source: Shiseido

This is how the collaboration with Refik Anadol came about. The Turk with a studio in LA is currently probably the best-known AI tamer on the art scene; his digital animations have already been shown at the MoMa and the Centre Pompidou. They are created from huge amounts of data that are transformed by artificial neural networks into amorphous, constantly changing structures. Anadol created the installation “Unseen Intelligence” for Clé de Peau Beauté. For this, he used weather data from Tokyo, New York and London, including the indices for air pollution and UV exposure, which are harmful to the skin. He also used data obtained in laboratory tests that prove their improvement through the brand’s creams, serums and lotions. The work was presented in the center of Tokyo in the Roppongi nightlife district. And what first formed on the two huge screens into delicate veils in all the colors of the rainbow, then formed metallically shining waves in rose, gold and violet, wrinkles and bubbles, was overwhelming, relaxing and also gratifying. Like a small miracle. In and on the skin.