The Karuizawa Geisha series was created to celebrate the skill, beauty and tradition of both the geisha and this great Japanese distillery, which closed in 2001 and was then demolished in 2016. The geishas are often misunderstood, their artistry misconstrued as the product of a bygone era, and these iconic labels, designed by Elixir Distillers creative director Raj Chavda, represent different aspects of what it means to be a geisha and the skills and fortitude required to become one.
The first bottles to showcase the character of Karuizawa distillery alongside the beauty of the geishas. They are the only bottles in the series to feature more than just a face on the labels, one shows the geisha elegantly poised with a parasol and the other hiding behind a decorative fan.
This second pair of whiskies in the Karuizawa Geisha range was launched at Whisky Show 2014. Each of the bottles features a mirror-image label of a fully-fledged geisha hiding behind her fan. This was the first pair in the Geisha series to feature the now iconic mirror-image labels.
Eyes closed, hair teased into the Shinobi style and adorned with flowers and decorative pins, the Golden Geishas depict a Maiko – a young geisha, still in training. Representing wealth, the golden colour of the labels reflects the prestige of Karuizawa distillery.
The emerald-green colour of these labels symbolises youth, vitality and eternity, while the sakura – cherry blossom – signifies love and the feminine mystique. The striking colour and ever-present blossom represent the beauty and skill of the geishas that continues to this day, as well as the enduring popularity that Karuizawa whiskies have found even after the distillery’s closure.
Murasaki – Japanese Imperial Purple – is a colour usually reserved for royalty and the highest ranking members of society, and here it is a nod to the innate majesty of the geisha. The labels themselves depict the beauty of the maiko on her way to becoming geisha.
The pearly-white background symbolises the growing wisdom of the maiko on her journey to becoming a geisha, while the soft pink sakura on her fan represent her femininity and beauty. Japanese folklore tells how pearls are formed from the tears of mermaids and water nymphs, illustrating the ethereal nature of both the geishas and Karuizawa.
"As part of the Karuizawa geisha’s journey, I was inspired by sapphire blue – a revered colour that is both synonymous with Japan’s oceans and said to be graced with divine power. I combined this with dragon detailing in the background to create the impression of subtle but unmistakeable strength, reflecting the wisdom and status geishas acquire."
"For the Ruby Karuizawa geisha series, I was inspired by the ruby gemstone itself, representing nobility, purity and passion. The intricate design detailing of the majestic crane – the bird of happiness – symbolises longevity and good fortune."
"For the final Karuizawa Geisha I have designed in this series, I was inspired by the precious metal platinum – one of the toughest and rarest natural materials, synonymous with purity, rarity and enduring strength. This is reflected in the design by the geisha holding the katana – a homage to the Onna-bugeisha, an impressive group of female Samurai."
The Karuizawa Geishas series is the creation of Elixir Distillers’ creative director Raj ‘Mr C’ Chavda, who used the labels to highlight the skill and prowess of Japanese distillers, while illuminating the skill and artistry of geisha. As the series comes to a close, Raj comments on the journey of the Karuizawa Geisha:
"A journey which started back over a decade ago, this was a truly unique opportunity. For me she is pure, she is graceful, she is wise and she is strong."