Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Visiting Beautylish Headquarters // Chikuhodo Brushes // The Superior Quality of Japanese Brushes

If France is the first place you think of when searching for the world's best wine, allow Japan to be your first thought when you're in the market for makeup brushes.

Japanese makeup brushes are the best of the best, and the brand Chikuhodo is among those ranks. Based in Kumano, Japan, the company was founded in 1971 by master brush maker, Tesshu Takemori, who got his start making calligraphy brushes at age 18 to follow in his parents' footsteps. Today, Chikuhodo employs 100 people including 3 generations of Takemori family members. This New York Times article profiles Mr. Takemori and is a detailed portrait of the high level of craftsmanship that goes into a single Chikuhodo brush. 

A few weeks ago I took Beautylish headquarters up on their offer to see their brush inventory in person. Knowing that I was about to view some of the finest Japanese brushes on the market, I went with a plan in mind. I was to merely browse their Chikuhodo stock and stick to rounding out my collection of Wayne Goss (swoon!) brushes.

Wayne Goss brushes are sourced from the same region in Japan as Chikuhodo. Mr. Goss, the God of YouTube, has made his line of luxury brushes approachable by marketing them via his YouTube channel where he rose to internet fame. I gifted myself the Goss brushes last Christmas, and I so cherish them that I practically handle them with white gloves. They are kept in their own separate holder, away from my cheap and mid-range brushes. We're not worthy, Wayne. They were my first and only foray into serious brushes and since then have been the only luxury brushes I've allowed myself to purchase. If these Goss brushes were any indication of what Japanese brushes are like across the board, my pocketbook and I dared not explore further.

Because Chikuhodos are prized by serious makeup artists, are made by Japanese artisans with an impeccable eye for detail, and come with the promise of a flawless application, they were already calling a siren sound my ears were struggling to ignore. Of course, I failed miserably to ignore it once I arrived at Beautylish. Once I laid my hands on the superior quality of their line, I was forever changed. Ever since that day, no seemingly decent brush I've stroked has lived up to my expectations. I have recoiled in horror after touching brushes in Sephora. Brushes I've long lusted for, like the NARS Yachiyo, fail to compare to what I experienced that day at Beautylish. I fear this is going to become an even more expensive habit.

The display of brushes
Dear Santa, Bring them all.
(Front and top two with black handles - Wayne Goss; third from left with black handles - Z-Series; pink handles - Passion series, white handles - GSN series.)
Beautylish founder Nils set up a lovely display for me to peruse the best of their offerings. Laid out for me were the Wayne Goss line, as well as Chikuhodo's Z, GSN, and Passion series. If there were a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (minus snobby salespeople) moment for makeup, this was it. There I was, a comparatively cheap brush tramp, sitting in front of the Rodeo Drive of brushes in a personal shopping dream come true. I made a mental note to ditch the ELF brush I had hurriedly used to powder my nose that morning, as there would be no coming back from this moment.

To my delight, Trisha (the artist who did my makeup at the Charlotte Tilbury launch) was there to help me shop. Since the launch, I have been a frequent visitor to Trisha's YouTube channel, A Glittery Life. Though getting to know her via her channel is a one-sided relationship, she did recognize me. It was nice to have a familiar face there to help me, especially when that familiar face can help you navigate some seriously intimidating brushes.

Close up of GSN Series

Trisha likened the three series of Chikuhodo brushes before me to cars: the Z series are the Bentleys, the GSN your Jaguars, and the Passion series a Mercedes Benz. While Chikuhodo is a pricey brand, this analogy is a great reference point to indicate their price and quality. All are luxurious brushes of impeccable quality and are handmade. It takes about a week to make a single brush, and each one passes through the hands of several brush makers, each an expert at their place on the assembly line. While all are made from soft, natural animal hairs that are always hand picked and never cut, the GSN and Z series use animal hairs of an even softer grade than the Passion series. The culmination of this is with the Z series which is made entirely (less one brush) of gray squirrel, the softest (and priciest) hair available. This also makes it great for sensitive skin.  The Chikuhodo line has something for everyone looking to make an investment in their brush collection.

As I perused the brush smorgasbord, 2 in particular from the GSN series caught my eye: the GSN-2 Powder brush and the GSN-6 Liquid Foundation brush. While I'm generally not a fan of liquid foundation brushes, the GSN-6 stood out to me. Trisha noted that it is particularly useful for serum foundations. Where most foundation brushes are nothing more than a flat, flimsy paddle shape, the GSN-6 has more bristles giving it a sturdier feel and leading me to believe it will blend product with great ease. The GSN-2 Powder brush has to be one of the most beautiful powder brushes I've seen. Incredibly dense with a perfectly round shape, it looks to be the perfect buffing brush. Made from weasel and goat hair respectively, they are easily the softest brushes I've ever gotten my hands on. Because, weeks later, I can still do nothing but stare at these on my vanity, a review of their performance is forthcoming. Given all that goes into making these products though, I think it's safe to say I made a great investment.

In addition to being kind enough to let me come by the offices, Nils took the time to give me some great advice for my trip to NYC and some previews of what's to come on Beautylish. While I am of course sworn to secrecy about what is forthcoming, what I can say about one of the things I saw is that I've never in my life seen a beauty product quite this exquisite. Furthermore, you'll want to stay tuned to this blog in the new year, as something special might be going on! (And I just might get the guts to actually use the brushes I bought on my face.)

I still have love for my less expensive brushes, and some perform despite their price point. But since visiting Beautylish headquarters, my acquisition of the low-end (and even mid-range) brush has slowed considerably. Beware! Once you've tried a fine wine, it's pretty hard to go back to the boxed version.

Brushes on table

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just purchased my first set of chikuhodo brushes. My most expensive purchase, the Mk-2 is my all time FAVORITE brush EVER. LIke. I cannot compute when I have it out to play. The z-series is wonderful too. I'm totally lemming the z-9 even though the mk-2 is similiar.

I'm so jealous of your opportunity to go visit beautylish's headquarters! I shall live vicariously though you! The takumi series just released on the website... I'm excited for what other things are coming this year for this company!