Behind the Brand: The History Behind the Camellia Flower

camellia flower

The Japanese word for the beautiful camellia flower is “Tsubaki” or 椿 . This evocative bloom is often used in spiritual and religious ceremonies, and is thought to symbolize the divine, as well as heralding spring and new beginnings. Bold, beautiful, graceful and undeniably feminine, no wonder the camellia flower forms the iconic Shiseido logo. We go behind the scenes to investigate the history of the Shiseido camellia and its potent symbolism.

What is a camellia?

Camellias are evergreen shrubs with glossy green leaves and beautifully bold, yet feminine, flowers that measure up to 5 or 6 inches. The shrubs typically reach heights of 5 to 15 feet and their blooms are rose-like, with plants producing a combination of single and double blooms. Their color palette ranges from red to purple, pink, yellow and white, with plenty of pretty variations.

Termed “Hana Tsubaki” in Japanese, camellia is the common and scientific name given to these elegant flowers. Named after the botanist and Czech Jesuit priest, Father Georg Joseph Kamel (or Camellus) who worked in the Far East, camellias were given their official name in 1753, when the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, standardized plant names. Somewhat ironically, Kamel didn’t work on camellias, so the name is something of a misnomer, albeit a beautiful one!

The Shiseido camellia

After Shiseido launched its very first scent, Hanatsubaki (literally “the camellia flower”), the popularity of this mesmerizing flower perfume inspired the company to use the camellia as its official logo. In 1915, Shinzo Fukuhara, the son of founder, Arinobu, became the first president of Shiseido. Before joining the family business, Shinzo had studied art in Europe, and was deeply influenced and moved by the beauty and symmetry of Art Nouveau.

As an artist and photographer, Shinzo created the original iconic symbol of the company, featuring a camellia flower with two blooms. At the time, this was revolutionary, both within and outside the cosmetics industry, as most brands in Japan didn’t have logos – these symbols were usually used as family crests.

Today, apart from a few subtle adjustments made over the years, the Shiseido logo remains the same. The camellia continues to stand as an enduring symbol of Shiseido’s pledge to authentic beauty and elegant simplicity, of the sort found in nature and in art.

The first Shiseido perfume

Hanatsubaki launched in Japan in 1917. The flower perfume was created in the image of the camellia blossom, which in actual fact has very little fragrance of its own. Shiseido’s Hanatsubaki boasted a scent that was heavy and sweet, in many ways a typical Asian fragrance of the time, but with its own unique notes. The bottle combined Japanese and Modernist design, and the top of the stopper was decorated with engraved flowers. This iconic fragrance became the origin of all subsequent Shiseido perfumes.

The camellia is an eduring symnbol of Shiseido’s pledge to authentic beauty and elegant simplicity


History of the camellia flower

Tsubaki is native to Japan and China. It has been part of Far Eastern cultures for centuries, with the Chinese recording the cultivation of camellias as early as 2737 BC. The plants grow in the shade of mountain forests and are known to herald the coming of spring. These gorgeous blooms did not reach Europe until 18th century, and were found in North America just before the turn of 20th century.

Red camellias represent love, passion and desire

A wealth of benefits

It’s not only because of their beautiful flowers that camellias have been grown for thousands of years, but also thanks to the healing and culinary properties of their leaves and seeds. Tea is produced from the dried-out leaves and petals of certain species of camellias, which are used to make most green and black teas. Green tea in particular is, of course, known for its cholesterol-lowering and metabolism-boosting antioxidants. Camellia seeds have also long been used to create a luxurious tea oil, which is often used to add a subtly fragrant flavor to traditional Oriental cooking. Other varieties of camellias are helpful for treating bacterial infections, heart disease and asthma, while camellia oil is also used to sharpen knives and other kitchen blades.

Camellia symbolic meanings

As well as representing the coming of spring in ancient Japanese culture, the beautiful camellia flower has traditionally been given meanings ranging from desire, affection and admiration, to long-lasting devotion and eternal love. Here’s a mini guide to what the different colors mean:

Red camellias = love, passion and deep desire.

Pink camellias = longing. They are often given or sent to show someone that they are missed. Combining pink and red camellias is a symbol of romantic love.

White camellias = purity, the love between a mother and child, or mourning when used as funeral flowers. They also symbolize adoration and are frequently given to someone who is well-liked. When a white camellia is presented to a man, it’s thought to bring good luck.