I remember when Shiseido cosmetics first came into my consciousness. After college, my friend Lauren, who was always much hipper than my shabby chic self, extolled the wonders of Shiseido foundation. My California-centric mind could wrap itself around makeup from France, but from Japan, I wasn’t so sure. That is until I tried Shiseido’s undereye concealer, a two-pan compact and the first makeup ever to successfully disguise the dark shadows that persisted no matter how many 12 hour sleep-a-thons I pulled off.
I rue the day that compact was discontinued, but even so my commitment to Shiseido hasn’t wavered. Unless you count expanded appreciation of all brands from the glorious, beauty obsessed East. Kanebo became my next love. The Sensai Premier line is my all-time favorite, ultra-prestige skincare line, particularly The Eye Cream, which at $320 is worth every luscious, emollient-rich, guilty-pleasure drop.
And don’t get me started about Shu Uemura, whose award winning eyelash curler defines the category.
The surge of cosmetics products from Asia is no accident. Women from many Asian countries are extremely rigorous in their beauty regimens; Japanese women are known to use as many as 15 different skin care treatments in a day. Following is a brief primer of Asian-inspired brands available in Western markets.
The largest cosmetics company in Japan, Shiseido is also one of the world’s oldest beauty brands, originating in 1872 as a Western-style pharmacy along the Ginza in Japan. The spring color collection, which just arrived at counter, features classic “wardrobe colors” such as the new Perfect Rouge Tender Sheer Lipstick in Natural Red ($25) and “distinctive shades,” such as Luminizing Satin Face Color ($30) in Soft Beam Gold ($30).
Kanebo is another huge Japanese company with presence in 49 countries worldwide, selling more than 16 brands. In North America and Europe, the firm specializes in the “super prestige” markets with its Sensai label. This spring, Sensai has expanded its popular Hydrachange collection with Hydrachange Essence ($150), Hydrachange Cream ($160) and Hydrachange Mist ($75). Perfect for anyone over the age of 19, the products contain nature’s wonder plumper, hyaluronic acid.
A celebrity and makeup artist favorite, the 60-plus year old Amore Pacific brand landed in the U.S. from Korea just over five years ago. Its holistic credo is to balance science with nature and is chock–a-block full of Asian botanicals such as moisture-rich bamboo sap, Korean red ginseng and green tea from the company’s own garden. Amore Pacific is expanding distribution and the new Moisture Bound Refreshing Hydra Gel ($100) is available at select Sephora stores nationwide.
Boscia skin care from Japan’s Fancl Corporation has been especially created to meet the demands of American woman. Its botanically-based formulations are completely preservative free and feature soothing willow herb and anti-oxidant jojoba leaf. Clear Complexion Treatment with Botanical Blast ($35) is a bestseller and has garnered a Self Healthy Beauty Award in 2008. Likewise, Skin Perfecting Primer ($28) received a Fitness magazine Beauty Award just last year.
Celebrating the Chinese year of the tiger, Space NK, the highly selective British beauty apothecary with stores in New York and New Jersey, introduced Wei Beauty. The 12-product line is based upon the holistic Chinese medicinal approach to heath and well being. Check out Tibetan Chrysanthemum Correcting Eye Treatment Pads ($60) and Mulberry Leaf 3-in-1 Eye Cream ($72) t o help reduce the appearance of shadows and puffiness.
Owned by Kanebo, but not marketed with that name, Suqqu, Japan’s fasted growing beauty brand, has ventured outside of Asia to the counters of Selfridge’s in London as of 2006. If you’re in town, it’s worth checking out this anti-aging skin care and color line based on the traditional Gankin Massage. By all accounts, it’s been a rave success in London, noted for its sophisticated and classy message and thematic advertising.
Following the mantra of “beautiful makeup starts with beautiful skin,” makeup artist Shu Uemura founded his eponymous brand in Tokyo in 1964 after transforming Shirley MacLaine into a geisha for the movie My Geisha. Now owned by L’Oreal, Shu Uemura is sold in more than 18 countries. Spring launches follow the skin care route with Depsea Hydrability Moisturizing Cream ($65), part of five-product collection that promises 24 hours of moisturization. (Editor’s Note: as of late March, Shu Uemura no longer has retail distribution in the U.S, but can be purchased online.)
Another gem from Korea, Sulwhasoo is launching exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman as I write. Featuring a blend of traditional energy-balancing techniques with a holistic approach, Sulwhasoo claims to have created a new beauty care category: Medicinal Herbal Skincare. As the heart of its complexion-enhancing preparations is Jaeumdan, a blend of medicinal herbs, including peony, Solomon’s seal, and white lily, chosen to promote skin balance. The collection of 12 debut products features Concentrated Ginseng Cream ($220) and First Care Serum ($80).
Fashion-forward thinking combined with advanced technology sets Awake apart from the pack. Launched in the U.S. in 1997, Awake’s skin care and color cosmetics ranges are part of the Kose Corporation, Japan’s 3rd largest cosmetics manufacturer. Its skin care options have just expanded with the introduction of the Herbal Vitalizing Collection, a preventative aging range rich in cypress oil and botanical extracts. The lineup features Herbal Vitalizing Gel Cleanse ($50), Herbal Vitalizing Pure Cream Wash ($40), Herbal Vitalizing Dep Hydrator ($80) and Herbal Vitalizing Moisture Fluid ($85).