How the Innovative Japanese Brand, UZ, is Rewriting the Rules of the Beauty Launch

Laura Regensdorf

The visual language of beauty marketing is ingrained by now: extreme close-ups of precision-painted lips; alluring portraits of familiar spokespeople; well-lit selfies regrammed on companies’ social channels. Coy seduction, the story goes, is the surest way to move makeup.

But Hiroshi Imamura isn’t buying it—and he doesn’t think a new generation of consumers is, either. “The role of cosmetics has become clearer for us: They can provide emotional value and make everyday life richer than ever,” says Imamura, the cofounder of UZ (pronounced oo-zoo), a forward-thinking beauty concept out of Japan that has positioned itself as a refreshing outlier. For its Stateside debut this past March, the brand released 13 rainbow-bright shades of liquid eyeliner, with an artisan-made brush tip from a centuries-old factory in the Kumano region of Japan—all at an accessible price of $16 each. The products stoked curiosity backstage at 3.1 Phillip Lim’s fall show, where makeup artist Diane Kendal painted ultrafine white stripes on models’ lids. The company’s tagline “Unframe the Beauty” garnered similar intrigue, splashed across billboards in SoHo, where a flagship retail store opened in June.

This month, UZ continues to build its renegade reputation with a collection of lip gloss christened not with a name but with a temperature: 38°C / 99°F. “I think each person has a 38-degree moment,” Imamura says of the idea to focus on the mercury point just above normal body heat—the glow you get upon emerging from a bath, or the natural blush that blooms on cheeks after you come inside from the cold. Just as unexpected are ingredients such as Multi Flora (a beneficial bacteria that promotes a healthy skin barrier on the lips) and Endmineral, used in Chinese medicine to boost circulation and incorporated here to encourage a subtle flush.

Jumping Joy, 2011, By Tierney Gearon, one of the artists featured in UZ's new campaign.
ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS

The same convention-defying logic guides the campaign, which features not a drop of product, not one famous face. Instead, UZ tapped 10 buzzed-about photographers to contribute curated images that convey a breadth of simmering emotion. Tyler Mitchell, whose Vogue cover of Beyoncé is headed to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., shared a quiet sidewalk scene of a couple in the blazing late afternoon. Chad Moore’s still life of neon foliage redefines the term hothouse flowers . “To me, beauty is what you feel inside—it’s like magic,” says Tierney Gearon, recalling the backstory of her own contribution: an exuberant snapshot of her young daughter and a friend catching air on a trampoline in the English countryside. “It captures this feeling in childhood when you have that incredibly free, happy spontaneity.”

The decision to repurpose private moments for the public arena illustrates a nonnormative approach that’s also reflected in the lip treatment’s tactile, clear packaging—icicle-like baubles that don’t resemble anything else on the market. From there, the suite of six sheer colors invites play. The shimmering gray is dubbed -4 for its cool-tone effect, while the fiery coral (+5) continues to dial up the metaphorical thermostat.

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Originally Appeared on Vogue