Get to know Koharu Sugawara, Japan’s top dancer and Shiseido’s new global ambassador

Get to know Koharu Sugawara, Japan’s top dancer and Shiseido’s new global ambassador


Text: Angelyn Kwek

If you haven’t heard of Koharu Sugawara until now, be prepared to see her everywhere because the Japanese dancer is poised to take the beauty world by storm as the new face of Shiseido Ultimune

For a product to go from debut to Holy Grail typically takes a good long while, but in only four short years Shiseido has achieved cult status with its Ultimune Concentrate. And the stats don't lie: One bottle flies off the shelf every 13 seconds. Pretty telling of its efficacy, no? Even local actress Fann Wong has professed to be a true blue fan of the serum and the entire lineup of the Ultimune series (she was the face of the range when it first launched).

Fast forward to 2018 and Shiseido has come back even stronger than before with a re-launch of this brand bestseller, plus a fresh face to front an empowering campaign titled #StrongSouls. Meet Koharu Sugawara, Japanese native, international dancer and choreographer, and the new global Ultimune ambassador. At only 26-years-old, Sugawara has already established herself as an icon in dance with her original style, having started dancing at a young age before moving to LA to pursue her career. Her rise through the ranks uncannily parallels Ultimune's meteoric success, making Sugawara a perfect fit as brand rep.

To inaugurate her coming onboard the Shiseido family and to celebrate the re-innovation of Ultimune — which builds on 25 years of research to deliver a new, potent formula that revitalises and bolster skin's defense — a pre-launch retail exclusive saw Changi Airport's terminal one departure hall decorated in red for the occasion. Termed the 'Red Vibe Street' where travellers can drop by to explore the universe of Ultimune (and pick up some limited edition goodies while they're at it), Sugawara was there in the flesh to usher in this exciting new chapter. Buro managed to snag some time with the lady of the hour, and the unapologetically candid ambassador clued us in on her skincare routine, conquering sexism in the dance industry, and what it means to be a modern woman of strength.

Shiseido Red Vibe Street

Tell us a bit more about your role as Shiseido's global ambassador, and what the journey has been like so far.
Today is actually day one! I felt weird, like a different person, when I came into the airport this morning and saw the big picture of myself at the departure hall and at the Shiseido booth. I'm thinking, 'who is this girl'? It doesn't feel real to see myself up there. My first thought was to tell my mum (laughs).

What is the message behind the #StrongSouls campaign, and what are you hoping to communicate across to the audience?
For me, the idea behind Ultimune is that it's not just a product, and putting it on doesn't mean you'll automatically become beautiful. That's only external. It's about looking inside to find your inner self — your strong soul. It's about everyone gathering together, and from within we bring out the collective power of our souls. Because when we gather together, we become greater than we are; in our solidarity we have passion and we have smiles and by sharing in that beauty, we become strong.

Can you share with us how you incorporate Shiseido Ultimune in your daily skincare regime?
I usually practice first before I hit the shower. Then I start with toner, followed by Ultimune, moisturiser, and sunscreen. I do this morning and night. I don't carry it with me when I travel though, as the bottle is too big to bring onboard but as soon as I get to my hotel, I will apply it to revive my skin.

The new Shiseido Ultimune Concentrate

What is your definition of a strong woman? Who do you look up to that has inspired you to be where you are today?
It's my family, of course. Because they taught me how to live life, and they're my inspiration. At the same time, I'm also my own inspiration. I look up to myself — that's most important. Because if I look up to someone else wishing I could be him or her, that's kind of an impossiblity as I'm not that person. I'm me, so I should aspire to be the best version of myself.

As a female dancer, are the challenges or stigma you have faced in your field of work? How have you overcome them?
I face them all the time! Ever since I was young, I felt I always had to break barriers. When people think of dancers, it's always as backup for the artist. I don't like that [way of thinking], because dance can be anything. And because I have dance, I can communicate with many people — not by using beautiful languages but with my actions. If I do a happy dance, you can feel the joy. And if I dance sorrowfully, you can feel the sadness. You will feel the emotions, so dance can be many messages.

With that said though, people in the industry are always deciding your roles for you. They have this image of what you should be [as a dancer]. I don't like that, so I'm always trying to break that wall. I'm proud to show the world that I'm here today [as Shiseido's ambassador] and I can tell everyone that I, as a dancer, made it.

Conversely, what are some of your proudest achievements as a dancer? Who have you choreographed for that was particularly memorable for you?
Three years ago, I choreographed for Stevie Wonder and that was huge for me. It was for a commercial for the Japanese fan company TDK, and it was a really amazing experience. Another memorable experience was when I was really young, and I got the chance to work with Rihanna. I was 18 at the time; I went for the audition, it was okay, and then there I was. There have been many famous artists whom I've worked with, so I'm really honoured. 

Koharu Sugawara, Shiseido's new Ultimune ambassador