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A Makeup Artist Recalls an Unexpected Client Named Hillary

Yasuo Yoshikawa took an assignment and stepped into a world of politics.

TOKYO — Since moving to New York in 1995, Japanese makeup artist Yasuo Yoshikawa has worked with numerous big-name celebrities and supermodels. So it didn’t really come as much of a surprise to him when, in 2003, he was contacted by the photographer Albert Watson to do makeup for a “top secret” subject for a Time Magazine cover. It wasn’t until the morning of the shoot, which took place in Washington, D.C., that Yoshikawa learned the subject would be then-Senator Hillary Clinton.

He was told the identity of his subject by the photographer and given five or six pictures of Clinton as they took the train to the shoot.

“She had been working all morning, and she only had a short window for the Time shoot, so we set up photography, makeup and hair stations in the room we were given. I didn’t know in what state her makeup would be when she arrived, but we were sure she would be wearing makeup. And we only had a total of between 30 and 60 minutes to finish everything before she had to go to her next appointment. I had worked with the photographer many times before and knew he would get a great shot, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

“At that time she was already famous, and there were already rumors that she was on course to run for president. She’s a very capable woman, and she’s also naturally very beautiful. I thought it was a shame that she was being called both beautiful and intimidating.  I decided to play up her natural beauty. She has a naturally feminine face and is a classic beauty.

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“I expected her to be wearing powder foundation, which can make thinner, mature skin look quite dry. And that’s exactly how she arrived, with very dry skin and matte lipstick. So all I did was just make her foundation as light as possible to take away the powdery effect, applied very subtle eyeshadow and brow pencil, and used some lip gloss instead of the matte lipstick. I just made everything look as natural as possible.”

Shortly after this, Yoshikawa received a call from Clinton’s office, asking him to do her makeup for a number of other photo shoots and television appearances.

“The next time I met her was when she was going on a morning television program, only about a week or so after the first time we met. It was about five in the morning and she arrived bare-faced. She’s an extremely nice person, and she asked me very kindly to do all of her makeup starting from nothing, since the last time I had basically just done touch-ups. I had always had this image that she was a severe person, but I really felt her kindness.”

“So because she had dry skin, that day I started her makeup from skin care. Using an oil-based foundation, I gave her a natural, dewy look. She’s naturally beautiful, so just by correcting the dryness she became exceedingly beautiful.

“Powdery makeup looks very obvious on the skin, and I think it can cause some people to be kind of depressed. So instead of making her skin look like makeup, I made it look like natural, dewy skin, but flawless.

Yoshikawa would go on to work with Clinton several more times in the space of about a year, including doing her makeup for a Richard Avedon portrait that appeared in the New Yorker, and the profile photo shot by Bryan Adams that was later used by graphic designer Tony Puryear in her official campaign poster. In part, these experiences inspired Yoshikawa to start the makeup line Chicca, owned by Japanese cosmetics company Kanebo. Released in 2008, its original concept was targeting mature women (mainly in their 60s), although it was rebranded to appeal to a wider customer base in 2011.

Today, Chicca still sells oil-based foundation, similar to the one that Yoshikawa had used with Clinton over a decade ago. During a demonstration in Tokyo to launch the brand’s spring collection, he instructed journalists to apply it as thinly as possible, using about one-third the amount they would normally use. His makeup philosophy is to conceal imperfections while leaving the skin looking moisturized and as natural as possible.

Yoshikawa hasn’t seen Clinton since late 2003, but he once worked with another prominent female politician, Yuriko Koike. After over two decades in Japan’s House of Representatives, she became Tokyo’s first female governor in July.

“Often in Japan when a politician resigns there’s a press conference, and at times like those everyone wears all-black clothes, and the women have very severe brows—they look very different. But it’s not necessary to do things like that with makeup. When you say something important from the heart, you don’t need much makeup. You don’t need to change your personality. You should respect your own way of thinking and way of living.

“If people say you should smile more, you can do that, but you will gradually be losing your own sense of self, and you’ll start looking fake. When women become famous, they’re always told things like this. If they’re pretty, they’re told they’re too pretty. If they’re sexy, they’re too sexy. But I think [Clinton] should just be true to herself. She has a beautiful smile, so rather than smiling when people say she should smile more, she should just smile when she wants to. And when she needs to say something important, she has to wear a serious expression. I think men and women are the same as human beings. She shouldn’t listen to what people say [about her looks]. Her job is in government, so as long as she can govern, I think people will trust her.”