It has been said that Japanese women are the most particular in the world when it comes to how they do their brow makeup. Since its creation, one brand has devoted itself to creating the perfect brow shade, giving women the chance to create a whole new look by changing only their brows. For the 13th volume of the Legend of Japanese Beauty, we're covering KATE, a leader in Japanese brow cosmetics.
"During Japan's Bubble Era, Japanese women copied the makeup looks from TV actresses, singers and models which were on big brand ads. That was Japanese women’s makeup manual at that time," explained Souichi Yamaguchi, brand manager for KATE.
But things started to change in 1995. "They say that was the biggest shift in makeup trends in the past 30 years," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(Souichi Yamaguchi, Self Brand Group, KATE Brand Manager at Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. )
"In 1995, the trend shifted away from following the manual makeup and broke free from the pre-existing rules, meaning people began to enjoy using makeup however they wanted. And the leading figure that movement was Namie Amuro," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
Fans of pop singer Namie Amuro, calling themselves "Amura-er," created a legitimate social phenomenon, pioneering trends like bleached reddish-blonde hair, slimming contoured makeup, and of course, thin eyebrows.
(Source: Kanebo Cosmetics, "Japanese Women and the Makeup Revolution." Check out the trendy thin brows from the late 90s!)
Japan’s “gyaru” sub-culture reached its peak between 1995 and 1999. The sharp, thin brows were main stream of the makeup trends that reflected their thoughts unaffected pride and individuality.
It was during this makeup revolution that Kanebo Cosmetics began developing its KATE brand.
"We focused on the concept of doing your own look your own way, or having a cool 'girl crush' that you look up to. We were basically following that cool, sleek cultural trend," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
When it comes to makeup, you can be yourself, for yourself, without being held back by anyone. "The KATE brand philosophy was summed up with the catch-phrase 'no more rules,'" said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(Cover of the KATE Brand Book)
Interestingly enough, the "NO MORE RULES" slogan is still going strong in 2018, even taking hold in countries outside of Japan. "When we do market surveys in other Asian countries, young people are like 'Oh, KATE? That's the NO MORE RULES one, right?' We were surprised, but we were really glad to hear it," said Makie Furuya, development director at KATE.
(Makie Furuya, Product Development Department, Makeup Group Manager at Kanebo cosmetics Inc. )
Considering the rapid changes in social structure experienced by young people in Asia after 1995, it makes sense that a slogan like "NO MORE RULES" would resonate.
Ever since the brand development stage, KATE has devoted most of its energy to the eyebrows.
"At KATE, we define the brows reflect our emotions. With the eyebrows, our facial expressions can change from sweet to cool. We developed the brand by thinking about the best ways to help people express their individuality through their brow look," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(From the KATE Brand Book)
Finally, in 1997, KATE made its long-awaited debut.
The first products to come out were eyebrow pencils, eyeliner pencils, eyebrow mascara, and mascara. All eyebrow and eye products, start to finish.
(First generation eyebrow pencil and eyeliner, released in 1997)
"An immediate proposal was an affordable, twist-up brow pencil to make it easy to create a sharp line. All five of the shades were variations of brown as well," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
Looking back at the paperwork from the time, it's true. There's no black! You would think that black would look great on Japanese women, especially for brows and eyeliner. It would have been a guaranteed hit, right? We focused on “only eyeliner and brow” which concept was a bit on the subdued side for a makeup brand.
"Yes, for the debut we went the less is more. [laughter] We intentionally narrowed down our product line. The decision to focus on brown shades was a kind of strategy. You could say that the focus on shadow and dimensionality has been the core of the KATE philosophy since day one," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
As Japan entered the 2000s, the brows shifted away from the skinny, sharp shape and towards an arched, natural look. The look that really took off during those years was known as "aisare-kei." Literally meaning "lovable," it was characterized by a girly, sweet style.
(Source: Kanebo Cosmetics, "Japanese Women and the Makeup Revolution." A softer, arched brow was the look in the early 2000s.)
"From 2000 to about 2002, everyone wanted soft, feminine brows. Right in the middle of that time, in spring of 2001, KATE released Eyebrow Pencil N. With a 1.5 mm pencil tip, it was ultra-thin, so you could fill in the brows drawing individual realistic hairs," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
Then, in the fall of 2001, the first generation of Designing Eyebrow made its debut appearance. The 3-color eyebrow palette helped to create a soft, three-dimensional brow look.
"The included spoolie brush combed the brows. By blending together the 3 shades of powder, users could create a soft finish no matter what their original brows were like. That eyebrow palette was heavily inspired by the trends at the time," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(First generation of Designing Eyebrow, released in 2001)
The second-generation version, Designing Eyebrow N, came out in 2005. The spoolie brush tip was replaced with a nose contouring brush. The new design made it easy to buff out the powder from the inside of the brows to the middle, while still allowing users to create a sharp taper at the outer corner of the brows.
(Second generation of Designing Eyebrow, released in 2005)
"Around 2005, the feminine makeup look started to run its course and a more three dimensional, contoured eye trend started to take off," said Mr. Yamaguchi. Eyeliner and dark eye shadow combined to create the ultra-trendy smokey look.
"To give the eyes more depth, we suggested that people also use the bottom color of the palette as a nose contour. The palette could be used to give the whole eye area a more dimensional look instead of just the brows," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
By creating more “shadows” around the brows, users found they could carve out a bold depth around the eyes. That eyebrow palette was the precursor to the Frame Create eye shadows that KATE has out now, allowing women to redefine their bone structure.
The Designing Eyebrow N palette was sold from 2005 until 2017, when it was redesigned. Still, during those 13 years on the market, it was a consistently popular, best-selling product. With great reviews on @cosme, it won second place in the eyebrow category of the 2009 Best Cosmetics Awards, and placed first in the 2010 award. Then in 2012, it was awarded a spot in the @cosme Hall of Fame!
How could a product go unchanged for 13 years, never have a big ad campaign, and still manage to sell well the whole time? You couldn't attribute that success to anything other than how easy Designing Eyebrow N was to use.
"As time moved on into the 2010s natural-looking makeup started to get more attention. ’Effortless' was a keyword for a lot of looks, with less emphasis on the brows and a more airy, light style," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(Source: Kanebo Cosmetics, "Japanese Women and the Makeup Revolution." The 2010s brought with them a more casual trend in makeup. Bold brows are in!)
Now the big trend was a bare-faced look with a hint of blush and natural, thicker brows. Still, Designing Eyebrow N blended in beautifully with the skin, creating a light, soft finish, allowing it to stay popular among the consumers.
"Since it was released, we had never done any special advertising for Designing Eyebrow N, but in 2015 we did our first campaign. We wanted to communicate a concept we call 'hori-mayu' in Japanese ['eye defining' in English], which is drawing a shadow line under the brows to emphasize the three dimensional look and create a more contoured, deeper eye area," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(KATE's "Eye Defining" campaign ad visual from 2015)
Shadows from eye shadow and contouring on the brow—by balancing those two factors, KATE hoped to allow users to remake their bone structure and deepen the area around the eyes, creating a "frame" for the eyes.
Since 2015, @cosme users have continued to leave positive reviews, commenting things like "I can mix the colors how I want to get the right shade," "My brows look natural and 3D," "I can use it to contour my nose as well as my brows." With all the amazing reviews, it just kept getting more popular.
Finally, in 2017, Designing Eyebrow N received its first upgrade, evolving into Designing Eyebrow 3D. As the name suggests, it was designed to give women a more three-dimensional, deeper eye look.
(Designing Eyebrow 3D, 2 shades, 1,100 yen each)
"The biggest change is actually the brush. We had always wanted to improve on it, ever since Designing Eyebrow N, so we changed the brush material from animal hair fiber to nylon bristles," said Ms. Furuya.
By changing the bristles to nylon, the brush feels softer, springier, and also holds the product better. But there was one thing they hadn't seen coming.
"With the powder as it was, the brush held onto the product a bit differently. So to find the best balance, we also had to reformulate the powder to allow it to work well with the brush. The colors had been long-time favorites, so we kept those the same, and we made them easier to blend," said Ms. Furuya.
When it comes to products that have been best-sellers for so long, sometimes there are things you just can't change. Making the product better is all about pursuing quality while keeping the best parts the same. That might be the one factor linking together all the products covered in the Legends of Japanese Beauty series.
"Japanese people have always paid a lot of attention to their eyebrow makeup, even compared to other cultures around the world," explained Mr. Yamaguchi. That's more than a 1,300-year history of eyebrow trends! During the millennia between the Nara period (710-794 AD) and the Edo era (1603-1868 AD), Japanese women shaved off their brows and drew on eyebrows in a style known as "hiki-mayu." Especially the "maro-mayu" style, in which the brows were drawn high on the forehead, was favored by noblewomen and remains one of the most recognizable makeup trends from ancient Japan. "One part of ancient Japanese culture was the use of the eyebrows to create a variety of expressions," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
The roots of this brow-centric culture lie in the aesthetic sensibilities unique to Japanese people.
"The eyebrows are a vital part of our facial expressions. These days, the trend is to have bolder, thicker brows that have depth and can express strong emotions, but during the so-called 'hiki-mayu' era, the aim was to create an air of elegance and sophistication by creating 'maro-mayu' eyebrows high up on the forehead and making it harder to show emotions. You know, there's a lot of meaning behind eyebrow makeup," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
There are a lot of people in Japan who call any colors used around the eyes as "eyeshadow," but is that right?
"That expression comes from the idea of enjoying color while playing with light and shadow. But in North America and Europe, it's often referred to as an 'eye color,' which I believe comes from the fact that Western eyes are naturally deeper-set, so they could apply colors to the eyelid rather than creating a shadow," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
Good to know!
With that historical and cultural background, it's easy to see how KATE ended up with such a focus on how they could use shadow and color to emphasize the eyes. No surprise that the brand's big break came with their eyeshadow products.
Released in 1999, Flash Crush launched KATE into a new level of popularity!
"It's an eyeshadow palette with 3 shades of shimmery glitter shadows. The pure white highlight and dark colors allows you create a sense of depth on the eyelid, while the shiny gel glitter gave the product an extra trendy boost," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(Flash Crush, released in 1999)
At the end of the millennium, 1999 was a year marked by an explosion of metallic, futuristic makeup trends. At the same time, the so-called "gyaru" sub-culture was at its peak in Japan. On every street, you could see women with bold, bright, glittery eye makeup. The success of Flash Crush catapulted KATE eyeshadow products into public awareness.
"In 2003, we released Gradical Eyes. With several shades in one color family, it allowed to create a naturally gradient finish and carve out more depth around the eyes. This was that first round of products that still make up the core of KATE eyeshadow concepts," said Mr. Yamaguchi.
(Gradical Eyes, released in 2003)
KATE's focus on shadow and dimensionality took a more refined form in 2014, when they came out with Brown Shade Eyes.
"With the product that brought the 'Frame Create' concept to life, we were really focusing on contouring the whole eye area, not just the eyelid," said Ms. Furuya.
"The leftmost beige shade is made with foundation powder technology," explained Ms. Furuya. Used as a nose contour, it helps create a sense of depth running from the bridge of the nose to the eye area. Brown Shade Eyes N, introduced in 2017, revealed a new trick to create more depth and contouring.
(L: First generation of Brown Shade Eyes, released in 2014. R: Current generation of Brown Shade Eyes N, 6 types, 1,200 yen each)
"We added a new bronzer and moved up to 5 shades in each palette instead of 4. The lower right color is made with the same foundation technology. The smokey shadow color and the glossy, shimmery bronzer help give the eyes a deeper look," said Ms. Furuya.
In 2015, KATE debuted a new product that carried on the brand's legacy of carefully designed shadow products: Double Eyelid Remake Liner. At first glance, it looks just like every other liner, but when you try it out... It's almost like washed out ink; there's no pigmentation!
"This is the only product that creates a sort of fake shadow around the corners of the eyes or under the water line, which helps make the eyes look larger," explained Ms. Furuya.
(Double Line Expert, released in 2018, 1 shade, 850 yen)
As it turns out, this product got its break on a certain cosplayer's social media. "No matter what character they're portraying, part of their appeal is probably how natural, yet three-dimensional their eye makeup looks," said Ms. Furuya.
Double Eyelid Remake Liner is also super popular on @cosme, and has even won the Best Cosmetics Award. In February of 2018, it was upgraded into Double Line Expert. Now, it's even a favorite of professional makeup artists thanks to its unique shadow quality.
The eyebrow pencil that has been a staple of the brand's lineup since its launch is now in its 20th year of pleasing users.
(Eyebrow Pencil A, released in 2018, 7 shades, 550 yen each)
"Since the second generation in 2001, we've emulated the ultra-thin 1.5mm tip design. At that diameter, it was really difficult to create a core that was easy to apply yet hard to break. It allows you to draw perfectly natural lines on the brows, but you'll notice on the back of your hand it's a bit hard. Enough to make you say 'Ow!' if you try [laughter]," said Ms. Furuya.
But it's precisely because of this hardness and narrow diameter that users can draw delicate lines one by one to fill in the brows, making it a favorite of consumers.
"The colors and unique feel have hardly changed since they debuted," said Ms. Furuya.
Having only 3 updates in 20 years and barely making any changes in the color lineup is pretty rare for a makeup product in an industry where chasing the latest trend is almost a requirement.
"There are a lot of diehard fans of KATE eyebrow products; some even know exactly which shade numbers are which. We get a lot of questions from people asking things like 'Where can I buy the shade BR-3?' So even when we update a product, we try not to make any big changes to the shades themselves," said Ms. Furuya.
From thick to thin, eyebrow trends are constantly fluctuating.
"On the other hand, there's never a change in the demand for something that will give women a natural way to emphasize their eyes. That 'natural shading' is something we've fixated on for 20 years now, and I think that's one reason for the enduring loyalty of KATE customers," explained Ms. Furuya.
Oh, and one more thing about Mr. Yamaguchi, the brand manager. His brows were so on point that our team couldn't help but stare during the interview. When we mentioned it at the end of our time there...
"Oh, you noticed? I was planning on bringing that up as my finishing touch, actually. [laughter] I normally don't do any makeup like this, but just adding some dimension to your brows can completely change how your whole face looks. I thought it might be nice if I could show how powerful brow contouring can be," explained Mr. Yamaguchi.
Then he showed us a before picture, without any brow makeup. Unfortunately we can't put it in this article, but we can definitely report that it was a very different look! Never underestimate the humble brow! Hats off to Mr. Yamaguchi putting his face on the line for the sake of the brand.
"KATE's development outside of Japan has been unexpectedly fast. In 1998, the year after the brand debuted, we launched in Taiwan," explained Takako Nasu, manager of overseas marketing at KATE. In 2000, the brand expanded to Korea, Hong Kong, and China. As of this year, they are available in 11 different markets around the world.
(Takako Nasu, Self Brand Group Manager at Kanebo Cosmetics Inc.)
"Although our sales numbers were growing at a good pace, conveying KATE's brand values to customers was really quite difficult," admits Ms. Nasu.
It was around 2012 that KATE really started to make an impact abroad.
"Individual fans were talking about us on social media and sharing those posts everywhere. Slowly, our people in Japan became aware of the building popularity," explained Ms. Nasu.
Then, in 2014, KATE started taking its overseas strategy to the next level.
(KATE global campaign advertising graphic from 2014)
The campaign slogan was "From TOKYO To The World," tying in with a large-scale, so-called "TOKYO campaign" in markets across Asia.
"We had advertising columns in major transit stations to promote KATE, billboards, wrap advertising on buses around cities. Everywhere you looked, the KATE brand identity was there," said Ms. Nasu.
(Station advertising pillars in Seoul, South Korea)
(Bus wrap advertising making the rounds in Hong Kong)
(Pop-up store in a Shanghai shopping mall)
It's pretty amazing to see cities all across Asia painting the town KATE, so to speak!
"We were trying to create an atmosphere that said 'Tokyo's cool makeup trends are here.' At the time, KATE still wasn't that well known, but we managed to boost our brand recognition with this campaign," said Ms. Nasu.
From 2010 to 2014, Ms. Nasu worked at a corporation in Taiwan, so we asked her what she knew about the brow trends in other Asian countries. "When I lived there, a lot of women had very natural brows," she said.
"In Japan, women start shaping their brows starting around high school. Or at least, I think there are a lot of women who start wearing makeup by university. But in other Asian countries, I feel like more women only start wearing makeup when they've graduated and entered the workforce," said Ms. Nasu.
So if they only start doing makeup after university... it follows that their eyebrows would tend to be on the natural side. Sounds like the perfect chance for plenty of women to get into brow makeup!
"That's right. [laughter] The idea that KATE eyebrows contour the face got people interested. Like, 'What's this Hori-mayu, eye defining brow stuff?' We actually had to translate the Japanese word 'Hori-mayu' into all of these different languages," said Ms. Nasu. So, how do you translate a word like "Hori-mayu" into another language?
・Traditional Chinese: 深瞳眉 (deep-pupil-eyebrow)
・Simplified Chinese: 骨感眉 (bone-impression-eyebrow)
English: eye defining eyebrow
Even for Japanese people, the Traditional Chinese translation of "deep pupil brows" sounds surprisingly cool! Part of KATE's popularity was its unique concept, but the other factor seemed to be the interest in KATE's 3-shade palette, since eyebrow pencils were more common at the time.
Just like in Japan, KATE stores overseas are also sold at so-called "self-service" retail locations.
One obstacle on the way to success was the fact that for Asian women who were new to doing brow makeup, it was hard to just walk into a shop and buy an unfamiliar product with 3 shades of powder.
"To help inexperienced customers who might think our product looked difficult to use, we distributed how-to pamphlets to be set up at retail locations," said Ms. Nasu.
Flipping through it, we couldn't help but notice that it looked just like an insert from a Japanese women's magazine! Everything you need to know about doing your brows, from what tools to use, what colors to put where, all in a detailed breakdown. With instructions from A to Z, it's a handy tool for anyone new to doing eyebrow makeup.
"The detailed step by step explanation is also something you would only see in a country like Japan, where eyebrow makeup is so developed. We made the content for the pamphlet here in Japan and had it printed locally in each country," said Ms. Nasu.
In 2015, they even released a Designing Eyebrow "overseas limited edition kit" to help get consumers to try out this kind of brow makeup.
In Japan, the limited edition kit included a spoolie brush and a sponge-tip applicator (lower right), but the overseas version came with some extras, like a brow comb and eyebrow mascara (lower left). The design also incorporated a bold red packaging.
(Left: Overseas limited edition kit sold in 2015. Right: Japanese version)
The kit was a success, which showed in a huge rise in KATE's brand recognition after 2015, all across Asia.
"In the last year or two, women in other Asian countries have developed the same level of brow makeup awareness that Japanese women have. A lot of women are still using their natural brows, but compared to before, there's a noticeable increase in the number of women whose brows are done perfectly. The Asian market for eyebrow products is gradually growing as well," said Ms. Nasu.
2017 brought KATE's second round of innovative international expansion, with another huge promotional campaign. Of course, 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the KATE brand.
"KATE has 20 years of history in Japan, and we chose the slogan 'BEAT' to evoke the idea that KATE is heart-pounding and exciting; then we held several different events to promote it," said Ms. Nasu.
(Influencer event in Thailand that was widely shared on social media)
(Crowds of people attending an event at a department store in China)
"That year was our 20th anniversary, so we created a 'brand book' to bring together KATE's philosophy and history. We even had it translated into English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, and Thai," said Ms. Nasu.
(Various translations of the Designing Eyebrow page from the KATE Brand Book)
"NO MORE RULES" — Your makeup, your way. Never back down. The brand book was used to help spread the bold, cool KATE philosophy with staff in worldwide.
"For example, the woman in this picture exemplifies KATE. What kind of woman is she, and where is she headed? In each overseas market, we went through all of those points in our semi-annual marketing meetings," said Ms. Nasu.
Communicating that brand identity was extremely important. "It leads to higher brand value," explained Ms. Nasu. As she told us, it creates a relationship between each store design and each product display.
(Thai store location. Uses the same chic, black-themed design as Japanese locations)
"We wanted to create stores and a brand identity that could rival the department store retail experience, even if it was a self-service store. That was only possible because we were able to communicate the KATE brand identity in each country," said Ms. Nasu.
"As we move forward, I hope we can help people all over the world learn the excitement of doing makeup and the possibility of recreating yourself with KATE products. Simply changing your eyebrows can change your whole face, and I hope more people will be able to experience the surprise and fun of doing it. If more women around the world discover makeup through KATE products, I'll really be happy," said Ms. Nasu.
Is KATE some woman's name? Which products are secret weapons of the pros? For our fourth chapter, we collected several interesting pieces of trivia. Stay tuned for some info about a project collaborating with another famous manufacturer!
At first glance, the brand name "KATE" seems like just a woman's name. Perhaps a famous model?
"When the brand made its debut, a lot of people asked us if we were inspired by the supermodel Kate Moss," said Tetsunosuke Hori, PR head for KATE.
(Left: Media Planning Group, KATE PR rep., Tetsunosuke Hori. Right: Self Brand Group, KATE Marketing rep., Yoshiaki Narishige at Kanebo Cosmetics Inc.)
"There wasn't actually a specific model or anything. It was a fictional woman's name that was supposed to express KATE's 'cool, sharp' brand identity," explained Mr. Hori.
When they were choosing the name, they paid close attention to the nuance of a name that would evoke bold, rule-breaking makeup that never gave in to others.
"I've heard they also took into account how well the name fit with the name of Kanebo Cosmetics. When you hear 'Kanebo Kate' together, it clicks into place and sticks in your head," said Mr. Hori.
We aren't able to share the other names they considered, but suffice it to say that "Kanebo Kate" definitely has a good ring to it. It's nice to see KATE and the slogan "No More Rules" finding more fans across the world!
When we asked which KATE product is the most popular, Mr. Hori pointed us back today's theme, the Designing Eyebrow series. Since its debut in 2001, the Designing Eyebrow series has sold 17,230,000 units. If you include overseas sales, it's over 22 million!
Another little fact? The Designing Eyebrow case is 141 millimeters long. If you lined up every single unit of Designing Eyebrow sold in Japan, it would stretch from Wakkanai at the tip of Hokkaido all the way to Naha, the capital of Okinawa. If you include the number sold abroad, it would just about reach the southern tip of Taiwan! Imagine seeing a line of Designing Eyebrow stretching from one end of the Japanese archipelago, across the sea, and all the way to the other end of Taiwan. What a sight!
When the brand first launched, the logo was just the word "KATE." Now, you can see the word "TOKYO" has been added. In the third chapter, we covered the brand's 2014 overseas expansion. As KATE Marketing rep. Yoshiaki Narishige explained, "We added the word 'TOKYO' because it symbolizes urban Japan."
"This is the kind of story I can only talk about now, but at the time, some people in the company thought that adding 'TOKYO' to the logo might annoy people from cities other than Tokyo," said Mr. Narishige. By thorough market survey, KATE went to its loyal fans to find out. "Our core fan-base across Japan gave us a lot of positive feedback, saying that they were happy that KATE was expanding abroad and representing Japan," said Mr. Narishige.
(Event in Myanmar. The KATE TOKYO logo is visible)
Thanks to that feedback, they were able to settle on the new KATE TOKYO logo. Today, the KATE TOKYO logo adorns products in Japan and abroad, helping cement the brand's image as a gateway to the Tokyo's cool, chic style.
Super Sharp Liner EX is famous for its ultra-fine line. This eyeliner brush pen was actually developed in collaboration with the well-established stationery brand Pentel!
(Super Sharp Liner EX, 3 shades, ¥1,100 each)
Pentel has a long history of top-notch technical skill when it comes to calligraphy brushes. "The brush tip is made of nylon, which is resilient and flexible, so it's especially good at drawing extremely fine lines," said Mr. Narishige.
For KATE, the question was how they could best use this Pentel brush for eyeliner. "To work with the brush tip, we went through a lot of trial and error while customizing the viscosity and pigmentation of the eyeliner liquid," explained Mr. Narishige.
Finally, they created Super Sharp Liner EX, which easily navigates tight turns to create price flicks and fine details. Apparently, it was also specially formulated to have enough pigmentation to create strong lines over eyeshadow.
We have one more piece of Super Sharp Liner EX trivia. Look closely at the body of the eyeliner pen and you're sure to notice the nonagon design.
"The nine-sided shape was born from the desire to make it easy to hold. Having a number of sides that is a multiple of three means that it can support the fingers from three points, which gives you more stability while you hold it. It's a really niche detail, but the developers were very particular about it," said Mr. Narishige.
One of the reasons why people love Super Sharp Eyeliner EX is that it is so easy to use, even complete eyeliner beginners can draw ultra-fine lines. The key to success is in the details, and this is the perfect example!
Right now, Designing Eyebrow 3D is available in 2 shades, BR-4 and BR-5. So if there are only 2 shades, doesn't it seem a little strange that the shade numbers start and end there?
"When the product came out in 2001, there were also shades 1, 2, and 3. Later, we were doing research to improve the shade range and finish, and we found that 4 and 5 were the closest to the brow colors of most Japanese women," explained Mr. Hori.
You might remember what we discussed in the second chapter. The colors of KATE eyebrow products have hardly changed since their debut, and that's not all that hasn't changed. "If we were to reformulate the line and come out with a new shade with the same color as the old BR-3, we would follow the same numbering scheme and call it BR-3," said Mr. Hori.
So that's how it works... But wouldn't it be easier to remember the shades from 1 after updating the line?
The KATE won't do that all comes back to the fact that its long-time users almost always know the shade number they've been using. "Incidentally, the pencil and powder brow products with the same shade numbers all have the same tone. Meaning if you see the number BR-4, you can use the pencil and powder types together and they'll blend together very naturally," added Mr. Hori.
KATE is an affordable brand, but it is common knowledge that many professional makeup artists love their products. So which products make the cut for the best of the best?
"The Super Sharp Liner series is popular, but one of our most-loved products on photography sets is the Secret Skin Maker Zero liquid foundation," said Mr. Hori.
(Secret Skin Maker Zero (Liquid) SPF18 PA++, 6 shades, 1,600 yen each)
The reason for its popularity? Its heavy and perfect coverage!
But isn't it a little strange for anyone, especially professional makeup artists, to prefer a product that goes on a little heavy since natural coverage is considered perfect?
"If you use a really sheer foundation and there are areas that you really want to cover, you have to layer on product. Then you end up with that cakey, thick look. That's why this product was developed to provide high coverage with a single layer, so it would cover flaws with one coat without heaviness," said Mr. Hori.
If you're going to use a thick foundation, it should be one that gives you instant coverage without looking cakey. Isn’t this the ultimate foundation? With a unique texture that only KATE can provide, it's no wonder the professionals have come to love it!
Before we wrap things up, let's get to a piece of news that KATE fans will want to hear! In the past, KATE has released limited edition products with features like leopard print cases, but Mr. Narishige told us that November of 2018 would see KATE releasing a special, limited edition palette to "commemorate 20 years of expertise and research into eyeshadows."
(Eye Shadow Mania 01, 10,000 yen. Available online November 1, 2018. Online pre-sale from July 17, 2018)
"These are 48 all-new shades, all made to complement brown shades. It has some shades in a matte finish, some with a fine shimmer, and some with chunkier glitter. We've learned a lot about pigmentation and powder technology through developing our eyeshadow products, and we've put all of that into this palette," said Mr. Hori.
As for size, the whole palette is about the size of a compact laptop computer. With a price of 10,000 yen, it's a first for the normally low-priced KATE. In the past people put a premium on limited edition products from KATE, so it would be so competitive to get this product!
"Just like KATE has always done by focusing on deepening and emphasizing the eyes, all of the colors blend together naturally to create more dimension and depth. We'll be happy if our fans enjoy what KATE has to offer," concluded Mr. Hori.
Marketing Department, Self Brand Group, KATE Brand Manager. He spent time in product development before starting his current position in 2012. His careful attention and devotion to KATE's brand identity and unique vision make him a central figure in carrying out the brand's strategy.
Product Development Department, Makeup Group Manager. After joining the company, she worked on product planning for both domestic and oversea markets, creating products that express the KATE brand identity. She is always open to hear consumer opinions, which helps her find ways to make interesting, unique products.
Self Brand Group Manager. She is in charge of KATE's overseas marketing. Before beginning her current position, she worked in international sales while living in Taiwan. She hopes to expand KATE's global presence and grow the brand's fan-base across the world.
Marketing Department, Self Brand Group, KATE marketing rep. After working in sales, he was transferred to the KATE team in 2014. His work involves sales promotions and creating retail location promotions, which help to communicate the unique KATE brand identity.
Media Planning Group, KATE PR rep. He joined the company in 2008 and worked as sales for Kanebo Cosmetics. His work in sales allowed him to build experience working in close contact with clients. This experience came in handy when he began working on advertising and PR for KATE in 2017. Since then, he has worked hard every day to help show the world what makes KATE's products so special.
Photography: Koharu Iwata
Interview/Text: Namiko Uno