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Who’s your favorite beauty star? Chelsea Crockett? Dulce Candy? Michelle Phan? Okay, the list could go on and on forever — and it’s probably too hard to choose — but in 1930s Japan, the same answer echoed on everyone’s lips: Miss Shiseido.

Roughly 50 years before home computers existed (let alone YouTube!), the geniuses at Shiseido had the idea that beauty tutorials could double as entertainment. They put up ads requesting “women from respectable families,” and eventually chose nine young women who would receive a rigorous education not only in cosmetic application and skin care — but also in fine art, literature, music, nutrition, and even drama. All of this training was put to use when the women performed plays in shops and halls around the country.

Their original hallmark production, “Theater of Beauty,” featured the women playing sisters — each act focused on one of them giving the others a beauty tutorial. At the end of each performance, the actresses would emerge from the stage to give audience members personalized beauty recommendations and help them understand how to apply certain products.

But the Miss Shiseido reps were far more than simply publicity machines — they became beauty and fashion icons for women around the country, with fans flocking to their appearances to take a peek at their idols in hopes that some of their glamour and worldliness might rub off on them. After a brief hiatus of the Miss Shiseido program during World War II, the campaign was revived to even greater fanfare. One year, in fact, when only 15 spots were available, over 1,300 women applied to be Miss Shiseido.

Over the years, as Shiseido has expanded and become a multinational company, the theatrical Miss Shiseido program has shifted and made way for more modern beauty consultants and specialists who run their counters and shops.

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

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