- Ms. Matsushita, we understand that you were born outside of Japan.
Yes, I was born in New York, where my father was working at the time. When I was nine, we moved to Toronto, where I was the only Japanese person at my elementary school. I didn't fit in and spent the entire year feeling very much alone. My imagination and a love for making things were the tools that saved me from loneliness as a small child. I drew pictures and comics and used the computer to create little magazines with articles about fictional stories for my family to read. I liked making up stories and pictures in my head and creating things with my hands.
- Why did you choose to study at the Faculty of Letters at Keio University?
I was looking for somewhere to go to college when I came across the Department of Aesthetics and Science of Arts at Keio's Faculty of Letters. It's not a very common major, which made choosing Keio a no-brainer for me.
I found my classes to be even more interesting than I expected, and I studied hard, even obtaining my curatorial license before graduating.
But art was only a hobby for me at the time. I never thought it would connect to a career in the future. I wanted to work at Fujitsu because the human resources manager seemed to accept me for who I was in the interview. Something they said really resonated with me: "Good work can only happen when it is good for the world, for others, and for yourself." Fortunately, they offered me a position, and I spent the next four years working as a representative in charge of expanding supercomputer sales abroad. I traveled all over the world on business and was blessed with great colleagues and clients. I found the work itself very rewarding. But as I worked day and night, I realized how work was taking up most of my time in life. That's when I gradually began to think that I would simply live a happier life if I could do something I truly loved for work. After that, I started looking into my passions and how I could translate them into a career. At the time, I had a beauty blog, which I wrote in my free time, and since I loved everything cosmetics, I became interested in exploring a career as a makeup artist.
I immediately decided to join a one-day makeup workshop at a beauty school in Tokyo. That was my very first experience applying makeup to someone other than myself, and I was fascinated by the idea that there were makeup techniques that I could learn and acquire as a skill. In that moment, I sensed an immense artistry in the act of making someone beautiful, which had a profound impact on me. I felt that bringing people happiness through makeup might bring me happiness, too. I was convinced that a career as a makeup artist would fulfill those three goals that inspired me before—good for the world, for others, and for myself. And that's how I decided to pursue my passion for makeup.
- So, that's when you took your first steps as a fledgling makeup artist.
Yes, during my last year at Fujitsu, I attended a weekend hair and makeup course offered by a vocational school to learn the basics of makeup. After leaving Fujitsu, I decided to move to New York, where most of the big shoots and fashion shows take place, to hone my skills and gain experience since I was a slow starter in the industry compared to others. I attended the Make Up For Ever Academy for six months and learned a wide range of makeup-related techniques, including beauty/fashion, special effects makeup, and body painting. I reached out to various photographers in the area and did many test shoots to build up my portfolio. When my portfolio got to a certain level, I started contacting artists I admired, showed them my work, and asked them to hire me as an assistant. I also shared a lot of work with friends I made at makeup school and took on plenty of freelance work. I wanted to gain as much experience as possible, so aside from working as a makeup artist on fashion shoots, I was doing private house calls, too. The people I met ranged from their teens to their seventies, all from diverse backgrounds and with different skin conditions, concerns, and makeup preferences. It was a great learning experience that helped me improve my skills greatly. In 2017, I joined an artist management agency in New York and expanded my career in fashion/beauty editorials, commercials, and fashion shows.
- So did you have a smooth transition into your career as a makeup artist after going to the US?
No, not at all. For the first two years or so, I struggled with loneliness because I didn't know anyone in New York. I was homesick and felt overwhelmed by the ability of the people around me. I had a really tough time. But eventually, I made close friends in the industry and began to enjoy my work more. After I signed with my agency, I struggled again to put aside my "assistant" mentality as I worked hard to establish my own unique style.
- Are there any memorable jobs that helped you establish your style as an artist?
If I had to choose one, it would have to be one of my experiences as the lead makeup artist at a big show like New York Fashion Week, where I was in charge of the makeup team. The experience of organizing a team of so many people, which included models and staff, in such a chaotic environment gave me a sense of confidence and accomplishment. Working backstage for New York, Milan, and Paris Fashion Week has definitely played a big part in my makeup career.
I've had opportunities to do makeup for famous people, which is, of course, wonderful, but I also get a lot of inspiration from the crew on fashion shoots, including photographers, stylists, and hair stylists. Crews often change from shoot to shoot, so I suppose one of the allures of this job is that you get to meet so many wonderful people through your work.
- Can you tell us what sets you apart as a makeup artist?
I think I'm the type of person who values subtlety. One small detail can make a big difference in the final look. I try to understand and work closely with my clients to figure out the best way to visualize/express their brand story and concepts. Meeting the client's needs and bringing out the best results is a priority, of course, but at the same time, I always strive to create beautiful makeup that excites me, down to every little detail. I never compromise on the quality of the makeup I deliver.
- You've been based in Tokyo since 2021.
My husband got a job in Tokyo, and I felt it was perfect timing since I was always interested in the fashion industry in Tokyo. After returning to Japan, I joined a Tokyo-based agency and began participating in shoots for fashion magazines and brands for women in their 20s and 30s, as well as commercial shoots for foreign brands, taking advantage of my English skills. In addition to photo shoots, I've also started doing some beauty seminars as well as teaching at beauty school. In June 2022, I had the honor of coming back to Hiyoshi Campus as a guest speaker to give a lecture titled "Makeup in the Age of COVID-19" as a welcoming event for first-years at Keio. During my talk, I learned that many Keio students are concerned about their appearance. Nowadays many of the photos we see on social media have been photoshopped, and people are used to applying filters on their faces. I feel that many people have subconsciously lost confidence in themselves after being exposed to so many idealized and edited images on a daily basis. By doing makeup on people from various backgrounds and being exposed to the diverse aesthetics of beauty, I learned that beauty standards could be infinite. I want people to realize that everyone has their own unique beauty, and as a makeup artist, I would love to help bring that beauty out. As part of these efforts, I've recently been keen on giving private lessons and sharing beauty tips on social media. I left my Tokyo agency in November and have been freelancing on my own. I don't feel alive unless I'm constantly moving forward, so I am willing to take on new challenges in makeup in the future.
- Could you say a few final words to current students?
"Never let your emotions die!" This was something my professor/mentor told me when I graduated from Keio, and I still cherish his words today. When we get busy with life, I think we become numb to so many things, even overlooking the things we love—the things that truly move us. But when you come across something that touches your heart, please cherish and nurture those feelings and never let them drift away. That's how I found my current calling as a makeup artist, and I still remember that excitement and passion I felt when I found my dream job. It's been a decade since then, and that passion has always motivated me to keep moving forward. I strongly believe that the time and effort you put in today will help and support your future self in every way.
- Thank you for your time.
Risako Matsushita graduated from the Department of Aesthetics and Art History at Keio University's Faculty of Letters in 2010. After graduating from university, Matsushita worked for four years as a sales representative for Japanese electronics giant Fujitsu Limited. She left Fujitsu to pursue a career as a makeup artist, moving to New York to train as an assistant before finding success as a freelance makeup artist. Her profession has taken her to the forefront of fashion and beauty, working for brands such as Coach, Marc Jacobs, and Marni and on photo shoots for top fashion magazines such as Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and Marie Claire. In 2021, she moved back to Tokyo, where she continues to grow her career in a variety of areas, including lectures, makeup lessons, and social media campaigns.