This short story is about two beautiful Japanese women, a smart business man and a gramophone needle tin, where a puzzling ending lead me to discover its beginning.
In late 2017 I was delighted to find the "CLUB" gramophone needle tin (shown below) in Japan. It's appeal was immediate, adorned with two beautiful Japanese ladies wearing bold floral hair decorations. It took very little imagination to picture these beautiful tins for sale in a general store and how they might tempt buyers to choose them over their competitors. That said, the tin gave no clues as to its history in terms of where it came from in Japan and what might have been the catalyst for the the brand and design. At the time I was simply delighted with the visual appeal of the tin and from the style of the image and printing, guessed it was from the early 1900's.
Just a few months later I was at one of Japan's biggest antique fairs in Tokyo, hunting for treasure, when i spotted the familiar image of the two Japanese ladies on a packet of CLUB "Toilet Washing Powder" and a small round powder box of CLUB "Face Powder". "Sugoi!" I exclaimed, which is a Japanese expression of surprise. I immediately bought both items and set out to find their connection to my gramophone needle tin.
On this packet (above) we can see that the two Japanese ladies are modestly covered by the beautiful native Japanese bell-flower and the design has a distinctive art nouveau border, a style popular in the early 1900's.
The small cardboard compact (left), just 42mm in diameter, again features the twin beauties, albeit in much less detail, and is decorated with Japanese Camellia flowers.
The most important thing these two items tell us, is that they were made by a company called 'Nakayama Taiyodo', also known as the 'Imperial Toilet Club', in Osaka. The CLUB brand of toilet washing powder was released on the 3rd of April 1906 and quickly became their number one selling product.
It was around this time that the "Twin Beauties" trademark, as it came to be known, was adopted as the CLUB trademark. But who were these ladies? Were they real, or just the figment of the artists creative imagination?
The founder of the company was Mr Nakayama Taichi, who went on to become somewhat of a legendary businessman in Japan. He became famous for using innovative marketing methods, including newspapers, magazines,cars and aeroplanes, to advertise his rapidly growing CLUB range of cosmetics which included face powder and skin whitening creams that were lead free.
That solves the first part of our mystery and explains why a popular consumer item of the day, such as gramophone needles, would be branded the same as the biggest and fastest growing cosmetic brand in Japan. It was very clever of Mr Nakayama to cross-promote his goods in this way and his logo afforded the flexibility to do this.
CLUB cosmetics, as the company later became known, employed models and geisha, to promote its products. The photo below shows staff busily preparing cosmetics for sale, circa 1906.
The beautiful Marquise Maeda Namiko worked as a model for Club Araiko (cosmetics) in the early 1900's. In the photo below she is shown on the right, with Kuroda Sadako, also a lady of breeding. To me, not only do these ladies look similar, almost like twins, but they do bear a striking resemblance to the twin beauties on our CLUB gramophone needle tin. It would make perfect sense that a titled and beautiful model, already working for the company at the time, would be in inspiration for a trade mark such as this. Whilst I have not been able to find any definitive reference which confirms this as fact, I will let you make up your own mind.
To finish this short tale, I thought I would just share with you that the CLUB cosmetic company is still trading in Japan, 115 years since it began. Whilst it no longer makes gramophone needles, it does still sells its CLUB brand of cosmetics, including its 'toilet washing powder.' Amazingly, it still uses the 'twin beauty' logo but as you can below, the ladies have been given a very modern day makeover to make them look more 'global' and relevant to our time. Sugoi!