Takao Ando (Gendai-koubou Representative) × Ryuji Nakamura (Architect) × Yoji Nobuto (Chief Creative Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) Window Displays and Future Shiseido Designs
This is an interview series in which creators at Shiseido discuss the idea of “beauty” with other designers and professionals active in their individual fields. In 2016, which marks the 100th anniversary of Shiseido’s Advertising and Design Department, guests appearing in this series will consider the conception of beauty to be pursued in future Shiseido designs. This issue presents a conversation on window displays, something on which Shiseido has placed great importance throughout the company’s history. Today’s guests are Ryuji Nakamura, an up-and-coming architect, and Takao Ando of Gendai-koubou, a leading expert in the world of window displays. Since 2013, both guests have been involved in the creation of the New Year’s window display at the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building from their own specialist positions in the areas of design and construction. Yoji Nobuto of Shiseido, who is responsible for the creative direction of the company’s window displays, joins the talk. The charm of such displays, valuable specifically because they continue to change, is likely to become key for Shiseido as it moves towards its next 100 years.
First-class architect Ryuiji Nakamura was born in Nagano Prefecture in 1972. He completed a Master’s Program at the Graduate School of the Tokyo University of the Arts, and following work experience at Jun Aoki & Associates established Ryuji Nakamura & Associates, Co., Ltd. in 2004. His major works include “Atmosphere” (New National Theatre, Tokyo, scenery for the opera “Le Grand Macabre”) and “Cornfield” (The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, “Where is Architecture? Seven Installations by Japanese Architects”). In 2007 he received The Great Indoors Award in the Netherlands, and in 2008 he was awarded the Outstanding Performance award at the Kumamoto Art Polis Kumamoto Station West Exit Square Competition.
Born in Tokyo in 1947, Takao Ando currently serves as the representative for Gendai-koubou. Gendai-koubou was established in 1958 by the sculptor Takeshi Ando, best known as the creator of the famous statue of the faithful dog Hachiko located in Shibuya. The company has undertaken the production and construction of window displays for the Mikimoto Main Store and the Shiseido Head Office. Takao Ando took over Gendai-koubou in 1993, and has since successively produced window displays that can best be described as artisanal. He has worked on displays for a number of well-established stores, including Ginza Yoshinoya (1998-2014) and the Tiffany Flagship Store (1996-1997), and is currently engaged in works for Sun Motoyama (1996-), Hermès Japon (1997-), and other clients.
Yoji Nobuto was born in Tokyo in 1966. Completing a graduate program in the Department of Design at the Graduate School of the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1992, he joined Shiseido the same year. He serves as the Chief Creative Director and Chief of Creative Section 1, the Advertising and Design Department, and is also a part-time lecturer at the Product Design Department of Tama Art University. Mr. Nobuto has taken part in the creative direction of the “Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building” and also in product design for “SHISEIDO MEN” and “Karakusa Eau de Parfum.”
--First of all, could you give us a brief history of Shiseido’s window displays?
Nobuto Shiseido first began working on window displays in earnest exactly 100 years ago. In 1916, a large display window was installed at the headquarters of the Shiseido Cosmetics Division that the company’s first president Shinzo Fukuhara had constructed at the corner of Ginza 7-chome (the current location of SHISEIDO THE GINZA). At the time, it was the only window display in Japan to use embedded footlights. 1916 was also the year that the Design Department, predecessor to the Shiseido Advertising and Design Department, was born.
Nakamura I have heard that at the time the president himself also sometimes engaged in the creation of the window displays, along with the people of the Design Department. He must have regarded the design of the window displays as important work, worthy of much time and effort.
Nobuto Shiseido began as a pharmacy, and later started producing cosmetics. The name of the company originates from “至哉坤元 萬物資生” (a passage in the classic work of Chinese literature “I Ching,” meaning roughly “Praise the virtue of the great Earth, which nurtures new life and brings forth new values”). Therefore even from its early days Shiseido must have had a desire to “propose holistic beauty.” It was from there that cultural creation activities such as the opening of the Gallery and the Parlour were born. For Shiseido its window displays are part of these cultural activities, not just a medium for advertising. I believe that it is precisely because of this that the practice has continued until today, despite periods of interruption due to disasters including the Great Kanto Earthquake and damage from the war.
-- Gendai-koubou, now led by Mr. Ando, was established by his father, the creator of the “Faithful Dog Hachiko” statue in Shibuya. As a construction company specializing in window displays, Gendai-koubou has continued to work on Shiseido’s window displays since the 1960s.
Ando Initially Gendai-koubou engaged in nearly all the window display work for the Shiseido Head Office, and it has also been in charge of the construction of displays for SHISEIDO THE GINZA, the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building, and other company buildings. Ginza, where Shiseido first started its business, is a place where many display windows are created and compete with each other, ever since the area was a brick town built during the Meiji era. So, window displays are a part of the culture of Shiseido, and at the same time it can also be said that they are a part of the culture of Ginza.A window display in 1936
-- How did Shiseido’s window displays decorate the town from 1960-70??
Nobuto First off, Shiseido invited in Takamichi Ito, a sculptor known for his unique style of “kinetic sculpture,” from outside the company, and this led them to produce many works that attracted great public attention. Apparently it started when Eiko Ishioka (an art director who later won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design) joined the Shiseido Advertising and Design Department, and contacted her friend, Mr. Ito.
-- I think that the works, which utilized large-scale mobiles, gave people the impression of a contemporary art installation.
Nakamura I find some of the representations to be quite architectural, for instance the piece “Shiseido Summer Cosmetics” (1966), in which metal rods would overlap upon each other while drawing a spiral. It has a constructive sense, and makes you consider its relation to the “Metabolism” movement that became an important trend in the Japanese architectural world during the period in which the work was created.
Nobuto It is an interesting opinion, considering the relationship to the era. Speaking of which, I assume that the window display in which countless spheres were hung to create the three-dimensional letters of the words “Lip art” (1967) was inspired at least partly by pop art and trends in the art world at that time. That work was designed by Kizuku Toyama, who was then a member of the Shiseido Advertising and Design Department. It was around that time that the trend of bringing in and nurturing human resources who were good at three-dimensional design, including the production of window displays, started to become much stronger.
Ando Mr. Ito had his own studio, which conducted its own independent activities from the proposal of ideas to the actual construction. That was one reason why we, Gendai-koubou, initially worked mainly on displays planned by the internal designers at Shiseido, such as Mr. Toyama. I particularly remember his work “pink pop” (1968). It was a kinetic display featuring balls in a dark red reminiscent of lipstick traveling up and down inside transparent tubes.
Nakamura If it was made today, the piece would likely be controlled using a computer, but how was it achieved at the time?
Ando Actually, for each set of balls and tubes, we prepared hair dryers of the same number, and then just blew the balls up from below (laughs). We always experienced trial and error like this on the production site, and I feel there was an atmosphere of generously accepting the creators’ spirit of experiment, in a good way.
Nobuto There were also representations that made us feel a sense of movement within a static world, where it was almost as if time had stopped. For example, “Morning skin” (1973, Designer: Masao Ohta), in which a life-size image of a woman passed through a wall.
Ando With Hiroshi Tanaka, who was an internal designer at Shiseido and was heavily involved in the birth of the present Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building, I had the impression that he was particularly skilled at expressing a larger object by using smaller objects. I remember how he would effectively incorporate familiar but surprising materials such as konpeito candies and lantern plants into a piece.
Nobuto In window displays for apparel companies, a mannequin dressed in the latest products can usually take the leading role, but unlike clothing, most cosmetics are tiny. However, trial and error allowed us to make various advancements.
Nakamura I feel that many of Shiseido’s window displays are different from simply pushing the products to the front.
Nobuto I think so, too. For example, the window display to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Shiseido’s lipsticks did not focus on the products of any specific brands, but instead lined up countless traditional dyed bingata cloths in many different colors to express the diversity of the beauty of women, which does not lose color. Since the latter half of the 1990s in particular, rather than associating window displays with product promotion, an awareness has developed of the medium as a means for setting up a representative theme appropriate, to the current era and society, on the basis of the unique culture of the cosmetics and the company. In 2001 a display was produced by using an aerial image of the urban scenery of Ginza, with the newly-completed Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building at the center. The work was intended to represent the current corporate theme of “togetherness.”“Shiseido Summer Cosmetics” Shiseido Parlour (1966) “Lip Art” Head Office (1967) “pink pop” (1968) Head Office “Deep Red” (2009) “Projection of Ginza City” (2001)
-- Mr. Nakamura has worked on window displays at the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building since 2013. I believe that there are many unique aspects to your special style of architecture. How do you approach your work?
Nakamura The display space of the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building comprises of two quite large windows (H5m × W2m × D1.5m) on Ginza Street and Hanatsubaki Street. For this space, I work in the same way as I would at a job for the design of a building, meaning that I work by thinking of the window as a construction site, considering the various ways in which the work could be built in relation to the shape of the space and its relationship to its surroundings. For example, by using the entire space of the large windows and by hanging thin ribbons all the way around, I consider how the design will affect the sense of size for both windows, or how will it be perceived when viewed both from a distance and from nearby. While working, in my mind I am considering things like this.
Nobuto This “large window” display is a challenging work. Mr. Nakamura comes up with ideas that go beyond the window alone, and can transform the entire building. It’s very attractive. In addition, Mr. Nakamura designs in a very detailed and elaborate manner. For example, his work “necklaces” in 2015 contained 125 extremely fine wires, threaded with beads of 1.5 mm in diameter, which were then hung from the ceiling. Slight differences in the ways in which the wires were hung changed the arc and impression that was drawn, and I was amazed when I learned from the plans that he had even calculated the subtle expressions of the curves.
Ando From the construction side of things, working with Mr. Nakamura often provides us with challenges that we have never experienced before. However, that is exactly what makes it rewarding. For instance, handling tiny beads in such a large quantity is a huge task, just for the work of threading them on the wires alone (laughs). But Mr. Nakamura even gave us an estimate of the hours required for the construction.
Nakamura I assumed that I would be refused if I simply ordered you to construct it without taking your working hours into account (laughs). But if we specify in too much detail, that might take away that crucial feeling of satisfaction that comes from saying, “Let’s show them how we can make it happen!”
Ando No, we were actually quite thankful to you for that. However, working on the site also involves difficulties that do not appear on the plan. Since the construction is in the end performed by people, with regards to concentration and accuracy it will not go exactly as planned. When this happens, we manage to solve the issue along the way by finding industrial machinery that can be used for that sort of work. It is part of our job to explore solutions that can enable us to make ideas take shape in accordance with realistic conditions.
Nakamura The Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building window display has another special feature. In a normal window display we can see the completed space from one direction only, which is from the outside. Interestingly, though, these large display spaces function as a “window” connecting both the outside and inside. In other words, viewing the display from outside of the building allows you to see the atmosphere of the building’s interior through the display, while when viewing the display from the inside of the building you can see a slice of the urban landscape. As windows are the most important elements of buildings, in terms of utilizing that specific setting, I feel that the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building offers a very interesting window display space.
Ando That is true. However, only a few people who have designed a display for this space have been aware of such a relation between the inside and the outside of the building. I feel that this is a perspective unique to Mr. Nakamura.“necklaces” (2015) “necklaces” (2015)
-- In 2016, the New Year’s window display, created by Mr. Nakamura, that decorates the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building features the theme of “Voyage.” Large sheets of plywood overlap precisely at their contact point with the window frame, supporting each other in a beautiful and delicate balance. More than ever before, I feel that this work is a conception unique to Mr. Nakamura as an architect.
Nakamura This time, based on the theme of “Voyage,” I created the representation with “road” as the keyword. The starting point that led me to this answer was that, to me, travel is a “landscape.” A “landscape” can be interpreted as mountains, streets, water surfaces, and so on, and I hope that this display looks like various different types of “landscapes” depending on the perspectives of the people who view it.
-- The plywood, which must be heavy, overlaps to create a dynamic and light impression. Nails or joining equipment are not used in the display at all?
Nakamura No. Speaking of the details, a hold for the boards has in fact been made by installing metal fittings, taking advantage of the cavity to install the wiring rail for the lighting on the sidewall of the window. The design also takes into account situations in which unexpected force might be applied, such as earthquakes. Having said that, basically the piece has been made to “appear” as though it is a complete work made using only the plywood and the window frame. The plywood placed towards the bottom will bend more significantly due to the weight they bear, but the curves that result (which are not arbitrary) give representation to that fact. I find that quite appealing.
Ando The piece this time involved simple installation work, but what was important was the precision with which it was assembled at the site. We went through trial and error many times by carrying out simulations at the workshop in advance. We arrived at the building after the end of business hours at the end of the year, and completed the work by the following morning. As the New Year’s display in particular is an important milestone work, I like to take a proper approach to it.
Nobuto Our hope is that, through the window displays, people’s attention will be drawn to things that can only be done or seen by coming to that place. We expect that the piece this time will realize precisely that point.“Voyage” (2016) “Voyage” (2016) Taking advantage of the cavity to install the wiring rail for the lighting
-- Finally, we would like to hear your thoughts on window displays overall.
Ando Usually a window display changes its contents rapidly every few months. Although it can be regarded as ephemeral, there is a freshness, beauty, and fun to it precisely because it changes along with the seasons and the times. From our perspective, a window display is also attractive in that we can be experimental, because it is not a long-term display, and is on view only for a limited time.
Nakamura Normally architecture is supposed to be extremely strong and hard in order to achieve a high safety factor. While it is still necessary to consider aspects like durability and earthquake resistance, in a space such as a limited-time window display, where one is allowed to consider these factors in a more simple way, I feel that the essence of “things” themselves becomes more evident. For example, the tenderness and beauty of a board bending expresses a moment when both tension and relaxation appear simultaneously. This is, to me, the charm of window displays. It means that “I can take time to face the piece,” which I think is also significant in terms of engaging with a work of architecture.
Nobuto I understand a window display as an expression of “time.” It has the ability to let us feel the transition of one season to the next while still in an urban setting. I think such an ability makes it possible to provide lifeblood and invigoration to the city. Recently, taking on the theme of “communication,” the display at the Shiseido Ginza Building has attempted to incorporate ideas that allow people to connect through the use of the internet, and collaborations within multiple spheres. The 2016 New Year’s display “sensation of skin” is intended to allow people to feel the sensations of “generating resilience,” “improvement,” and “raising up” provided by skincare by visualizing these feelings with the use of 18 moving objects. The display was produced by TASKO Inc., a company active in the creation of unique stage settings and machinery.
Nakamura The culture of displays will continue to be passed down, while taking on various shapes. This may be somewhat similar to the “relation between paper books and electronic media,” which has recently become a popular topic of conversation. New media such as e-books certainly have advantages that did not previously exist. However, paper books have not disappeared, as people were initially concerned, but have in some aspects become more valuable, I believe.
Ando What is important is the “place” that continues to inherit assets from its predecessors, and the existence of people who can put these assets into practice. It is a fact that this process will not be completed if one of the pieces is missing. Having said this, I suppose that more and more new possibilities will arise along with the changing of the times. Like this interview, I think that the culture of window displays will expand through the internet.
Nobuto I see your point. Of course, window displays should be an activity that can profit both the company and society. To that end, what I consider important is to pursue representations that “exist only there,” and to make them known to as many people as possible. I hope that the value of the uniqueness of these displays will potentially become a hub for humans and information. I will continue to consider what I can do to achieve this dream. I hope to continue cooperating with both of you going forward. Thank you both for your time today.“sensation of skin” (2016)
Published in February 2016