Misha Janette and I are sitting in the Peak Lounge of Park Hyatt Tokyo in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, home to the Shu Uemura office where Janette has been working since 2017. It’s Monday evening, she’s just knocked off work, and seems a little tired. “I need a glass of wine,” she says with a laugh. “You probably know more about me than I do.”
It’s easy to see why someone like Janette would be a little exhausted. She’s had a host of impressive titles throughout her 14-year fashion career, but her latest role as a creative consultant at Shu Uemura is a huge paradigm shift. “It’s intense,” she says of her new workload. “Right now it’s just me and one assistant, and then I’m hiring another girl, and it’s a lot. It’s so much fun. I would never have thought that I would be a part of a global brand. It’s owned by L’Oreal, it’s iconic. It’s been such a blast.”
She’s humble, but seeing Misha Janette sitting in a creatively powerful position at one of Japan’s most treasured beauty companies isn’t all that surprising. After 14 years trailblazing through the Tokyo fashion world, to say that Janette is ‘driven’ would be a scandalous understatement. The road to internationally renowned ‘influencer’ is not easy, and behind the glamorous clothes, perfectly made up photographs, and 56 thousand Instagram follower-count is an incredibly hard worker, who still manages to keep a sense of humor amidst the fatigue. Nowadays it’s not common for social media influencers to reveal their flaws or struggles, but it’s refreshing, and almost a relief, to hear Janette be open about her experiences. “I’m kind of able to make it look like everything was really great the whole way, but there were a lot of times where I was like, ‘I’ve gotta get on this private SenseiSagasu.com’ you know — it’s just like anything, it took time. It took time to get there,” she says. “I’ve always been really lucky. I’ve never hit rock bottom, I was never super desperate. I was always like the Japanese word giri giri (barely safe).”
Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Janette was given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Bunka Fashion College after graduating high school. To receive a full scholarship she had to quit her graphic design degree and spend three months studying to do the Japanese pre-calculus test without a calculator. Since they didn’t let the past test questions out of the Japanese Embassy, she had to drive six hours by car to Seattle with her father for six weeks straight. Fashion people aren’t generally known for their math skills, but she made it. “They saw that I was determined,” she says.
After arriving in Tokyo in 2004 she plunged straight into the fashion scene, using her Japanese language skills to network with people in the industry. Tactfully keeping the fact that she was studying under wraps, she took advantage of her foreigner mysticism to find opportunities. “If you’re a stylist, you are either brought over here because you were doing really well at home, or you’re an assistant to somebody and then you go independent. But because I was just this random girl who suddenly shows up on the scene, like, ‘I’m a stylist,’ they were probably like ‘who is this bitch?’” She laughs. “I faked it real good.”
Her distinctive style — colorful, bold, chaotic and fantastical in a way reminiscent of British eccentric and icon Isabella Blow — caught the attention of a slew of local fashion magazines, her connections multiplied and eventually she found herself styling local J-pop stars like Kumi Koda, CAPSULE and Olivia, dressing them in clothes made by her classmates at Bunka. It was a few years later, in wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2011 Fukushima earthquake, that Janette started her hugely successful blog Tokyo Fashion Diaries. At that time, the economy was “in a shambles,” she says. “Nobody wanted to give anyone work.” Blogging had just become ‘a thing,’ and Janette joined the first new wave of bloggers like Bryanboy, Susie Bubble and Man Repeller who were showing up in the front row at fashion week and shaking the industry to its core. Slowly but surely, her career started to take off.
Listing every one of Janette’s achievements in the years that followed would be impossible. She became fashion editor at The Japan Times, styled Nicki Minaj for her Japanese tour, designed Harajuku’s Kawaii Monster Cafe costumes, was an advisor on the government’s ‘Cool Japan’ committee board and formed countless high-profile partnerships, most recently appearing in a dazzling advertising campaign with Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo. In 2015 she achieved her dream of styling a fashion show in a global fashion city — she directed and styled the Desigual fashion show at New York Fashion Week. She also has her own show on NHK, “Tokyo Fashion Express,” which she still advises and hosts twice a month. Janette approached her career in a distinctly Western way, in her own words “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks,” and it wasn’t always accepted by her Japanese peers. “People would be like ‘so what are you doing now?’ or ‘what do you call yourself today?’ It’s the 21st century. You don’t need to be doing one thing if that’s not your calling,” she says. “I was always like, I wanna be known in fashion, I wanna be on the cover of a magazine, I wanna be an MC on my own TV show, I want to go to Paris Fashion Week and sit front row. I’ve accomplished those things. Am I the most famous person to ever accomplish those things? No, but I have accomplished those things.”
In spite of the naysayers, job-hopping allowed her to form one of her most important business connections with Shu Uemura, one of Japan’s most iconic brands, which she says she just “kind of fell into.” She was writing blogs for the company, which turned into giving them suggestions of models and photographers, then eventually taking photos of their product herself. “It just ended up growing into a relationship.” She would think of their collaborations as a “jam session” she says. “Let’s get the artists together, you know, release the artistry and see what they come up with.”
Now her role is to direct the visuals of Shu Uemura’s seasonal launch campaigns and curate its ever-important Instagram. In other words, she gives the brand her special influencer touch. It’s a certain magic needed to build an aesthetic that people around the world will obsess over. The thing that millions fall over themselves to achieve, that’s Janette’s everyday. “I just melt and smash lipsticks. I never thought I’d be doing something like this. It’s completely different from fashion styling, from journalism. How do I make crushed eye shadow look like calligraphy? That’s what I’m doing now,” she explains. “It’s a schedule, you know, it’s a puzzle. You have certain things, you want certain things, so you put it together into a puzzle to try and make the most interesting and visually appealing Instagram grid.” Of course if it were a simple task we would all be influencers, and she has had to put her own Instagram on hold to do it. “Once a week is terrible,” she says. “I need to get back into it.”
Those hungry for Misha Janette content shouldn’t despair, just scroll through the Shu Uemura Instagram account and you will find her there. The visuals are lush, rich, whimsical and totally addictive, and like Janette herself, they’re a little subversive too. They feature not just models of different races and skin tones, but also men. Call it a professional match made in heaven, an iconic brand with an iconic influencer. “I would say that Shu is me from the beginning. Because it’s very geometrical, it’s minimal but bold. It’s also the mix of east and west. It’s everything I love,” says Janette. “We’re working on building such a strong team and growing so much more.” Some of these big plans involve continuing to embrace diversity, unchartered territory for the majority of Japanese beauty brands. But for Janette, “inclusivity is huge. We need imperfections — not everyone has to be perfect. We love it when someone has crooked teeth.”
On the subject of embracing natural beauty and flaws, Janette’s hair is an obvious curiosity point. Through her career she became known for wigs, which she wore every day for six years. It was such a big part of her look that she even briefly ran her own wig business called Plumb. Then, suddenly, in 2017 she emerged on Instagram looking like a totally different person. The wig was gone, and so was all of her hair. It seemed like an extremely potent symbol. “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life,” said Coco Chanel. So I ask what the impetus was.
“I never really liked my own hair, was one thing. It was just kind of mousey. It was very thick, I could never get it to be stylish,” she says. “I aspired to be a dark vixen or a fantasy character and it just wasn’t going to happen with that hair.” She pauses for a beat before continuing. She says it was in Berlin (her “safe place”) that she first took off the wig. She’d been in a state of flux regarding her career, and it had started affecting her body.
“I was so stressed that I started to break out in hives and cysts all over my face. I didn’t know what was happening to me — for about a year, I was [only] in my house and the Shu office. And I didn’t want to go to any events, I didn’t wanna go to parties, I didn’t wanna go outside and I came to find out it was hormones. It was just the stress of changing my life,” she says. “The pressure really took a toll on me and I just wanted to hide — from being an influencer, from being on Instagram, from having a blog. So I kinda went and ran away to Berlin and was hiding there. I didn’t have to wear as much makeup, I didn’t have to wear the wig. I could just be a new person over there and introduce myself not as fashionista Misha Janette but as just Misha.” Then she adds with a shrug, “But it was also fashion. Fashion changed. It wasn’t all about crazy colors.”
The line between Misha Janette the person and Misha Janette the influencer is not always easy to discern. Her commitment to fashion, to her job and to her followers is clearly something that sometimes goes beyond her personal wants and needs. Still, even if natural beauty is just a passing trend, at least it provides some in the fashion industry with some kind of brief respite. It certainly looks great on Janette. On the whole, she says, the industry is changing in other positive ways. The ‘Miranda Priestly’ attitude is long gone, and now “you have to be nice,” she says. “That’s the new generation, people say like ‘oh, they’re snowflakes, they’re soft.’ No, we’re just trying to be better human beings, thank you very much.”
Misha Janette, too, continues to grow and evolve. Not just aesthetically, but professionally. She finally started her very own creative agency, Totteoki (“it means something special, something saved for later … I’ve just always really liked this concept”) with Shu Uemura as her top client, and is hoping to expand. “I am always looking for new talented staff to join my team… DM me!” She also finally seems ready to accept her status as a power-player in the industry. “I feel successful now, I have to say. Before I was known, but I wouldn’t consider myself successful. I think now I have the know-how, the business, the acumen to do what I want to do. And even if I left Shu or Shu left me, I would just go out and do something else for someone else, and I would be at peace with that.”