As a brush lover and collector, my heart sings when I hear “Yakusugi”. The first time was in 2014 when I was gifted a brush set with Yakusugi handles. After this, I would occasionaly ask my contacts in Japan to create some bespoke brushes with this wood for my personal use.
Yakusugi cedar wood comes from Yakushima island in Japan. Today this is a truly rare and sought-after wood because felling trees or cutting branches is not permitted since they grow in a designated UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. The wood that we can use is from trees that have decayed due to weather conditions or that has been found underground. It’s recovered, taken care of very preciously and then used for very special pieces, it’s truly insanely expensive and its value will only increase with time.
Not all cedar wood from Yakushima island is called Yakusugi, this is reserved only for trees older than 1000 years of age. If it’s a younger cedar -under 1000 years old- it’s called Kosugi or Jisugi depending on the tree. During the making of this project I have been told that some may call “yakusugi” a tree that is not necessarily over 1000 years old due to the density of its rings and its resin. For my projects, I have been guaranteed that the wood used for these brushes and for the Tower Case is all from authentic 1000+ years old yakusugi- not coming from recycled pieces but from genuine wood timbers. Due to the nature of the product, there may be some small flaws, scratches, dents or chipping in the recovered wood – these re-enforce the personality of each item.
Yakusugi has a high resin content due to Yakushima’s high rainfall and humidity, this makes the wood resistant to rotting and allows the trees to have longer lives. When Yakusugi is used to make hand crafted items, its resin contributes to giving the items a beautiful gloss the more they are used. They also say that the trees live so long because the wood has antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and that it is also insect repellant, I don’t know to what extent but they do mention it.
What truly mesmerizes me is the scent that Yakusugi has. It’s not really noticeable on the handles because they have been coated for their protection. However, the Yakusugi Tower Case does have a very strong scent and I will explain why on the dedicated post. Let’s talk about the brush set now.
THE YAKUSUGI BRUSH SET
This Special Edition set comes in a paulownia wooden box, secured with an elastic plum ornament. I am not a fan of wasting costs on packaging or marketing as I prefer to invest all in the quality of the items themselves. Here, we certainly needed some means of protection because Yakusugi wood is very soft and delicate. I tried to do some packaging that you could reuse at home if you wish to.
The illustration on the box is printed, we couldn’t go for laser and printing was more of a challenge than anticipated. This illustration features two cranes, I just love cranes and these two will be featured in some of my limited edition pieces in the future. At the bottom of the illustration there are two cedar branches reminiscent of the Yakusugi items inside.
Inside the paulownia box, you will find the set wrapped in traditional soft pink washi paper.
This washi paper is very dear to me, it features a spiral design: “Uzumaki”. It reminded me of infinity spirals which I particularly love. I have a tattoo on my back that features a sun with an infinity spiral in the center, they told me at the time that this kind of spiral symbol conveys love, beauty and power, well, obviously there are several meanings and symbolisms, but I did like that one 🙂 I am not sure the spirals on this washi paper were done with a specific meaning in mind but I certainly found this design very elegant and appropriate.
The handles of these two brushes are made by the same artisan who made the Yakusugi Tower Case, Mr Tenou. They are 100% Yakusugi wood, each handle is slightly different because of the grain of the wood.
We kept the coating to the minimum so that you could see and feel the grain. This is how collectors prefer to enjoy wooden items since we are closer to the texture of the wood.
In the picture below, you can see a prototype handle with no coating at all (this is not recommended for something we are going to touch repeatedly) and at the bottom, a handle with a clear water based urethane paint. Unfortunately the urethane coating prevents the scent of the wood to be noticeable but we needed some kind of protection for these handles.
The shape of the handles is very simple, this is because Yakusugi is very soft, so we need to keep them as thick as possible and not spend a lot of time trying to give them a shape that will cause more waste than anything else.
The handles have been made in Tokyo and the brushes in Kumano, the logo has been delicately lasered on the handles.
There is always a reason why the handles have a specific shape, or length; why the logo is that size; why sometimes it’s better to print than to laser. I do not take decisions based on costs, but because it has been recommended or we had no other choice, if you have any question with regards to the set or the Tower case I will be happy to answer.
If you know me, you know that I am very specific with regards to the functionality of a brush, this always comes first. There aren’t more brushes in the set because it was just insanely expensive so I had to come with two brushes that we would love to use. I decided on a blue squirrel soft tapered pencil brush and a saibikoho ball type of face brush, both brushes with round ferrules.
THE PENCIL BRUSH
It has a soft tapered tip and ideal density to perform an even and effortless application with powder shadows.
The best use is the lower lashline application, the outer v or the inner corner of the eye. You can see that it’s tapered but the point is not sharp, it has some body and density, this helps when you want movement in the brush but with a little bit more control and power at the very tip.
The pencil brushes have all been made by the same artisan, this reduces the chances of having a big difference between batches. We use natural bristles so each bristle is going to have a different thickness and firmness. There could be a slight difference in the shapes but we did all we could so that they are the most consistent possible.
I know some of you will ask me if this pencil brush is comparable to the Suqqu S brush. I took a picture of two of my Suqqu S brushes and this pencil brush. My intention is not to judge or rank but to show you if they are close in shape.
The Suqqu S brushes that I have differ quite a bit, my oldest is more tapered, my newest is very round. The ferrules are also a bit different actually in shape and measurements. I’ll say that my Yakusugi pencil is closer to the very first Suqqu S.
Just for information, in general, not only there is a tolerance margin for the ferrule manufacturers (not one ferrule is going to be surgically similar), but then the batches for the bristles are different, the artisans are different, for sure in such small brushes this is going to have an impact on the final shape of the brush.
Material: Blue squirrel
THE FACE BRUSH
We used saibikoho goat bristles for this brush. Saibikoho is one grade above saikoho goat.
Saibikoho is a selection of bristles extracted from saikoho bristles. However, I have to tell you that the quality of saibikoho bristles of 10 years ago does not feel like the saibikoho that can be obtained today in Kumano. If you are a collector, please do not expect the same quality as before but more closer to saikoho. Across the years there was quite a change across all materials, a decrease in quality and increase in costs. We sincerely did the best we could to pair these extraordinary handles with the best bristles we could realistically manage. Just for reference, I own saibikoho brushes that I paid at the time from 300 usd to 1200 usd per brush.
The good thing is that today, the bristles used here are more effective for their purpose. This was one of my concerns with the older saibikoho, the older saibikoho was extremely silky but not that versatile across formulas. This batch of bristles here can be used to give the brush a ball shape, which is usually impossible with extremely straight and fine bristles.
The bristles used for this Face brush are very fine but they work across many formulas, even baked gelees and hybrid type of powders. I don’t recommend it with creams because of the thinness of the bristles.
This strategic ball shaped brush is really versatile, for blush, contour, bronzer, highlighter, powder, it’s not big but it definitely can do a lot!
The bristles are about the same length as the Face Two but it splays out a lot more. The Face Two is more directional, where the Yakusugi Face brush is more airy. This makes the Yakusugi a bit better for a more diffused application.
The Lotus Cheek brush feels more dense and the Yakusugi Face brush has more movement.
The Yakusugi Face has layers of bristles that start further down and closer to the ferrule in comparison to the Master Face. It opens more than the denser Master Face.
The Yakusugi Face is a workhorse for so many tasks, it’s quite powerful and will apply and blend effortlessly so many different formulas, whether you are working with sheer or with bold products.
Material: saibikoho goat bristles
Maintenance and care
Maintenance and care are a very important topic when it comes to these brushes.
They can be washed, as usual, with your brush shampoo. Avoid getting the handles too wet and wipe them immediately.
Please never kick them against something to remove the excess product off the brushes- This is extremely important. The wood is very soft and delicate and doing that will damage them. You can for example blow on the brush to remove excess product should you need to.
These are not brushes to travel with, but to keep on your vanity in a container and ideally separated from other items or brushes.
The launch details
It was really the last call for creating something like this, combining those specific materials and involving these particular artisans, but I am very happy that in spite of all the challenges that it was possible to do it. Seeing this project has reached the launch phase feels extremely surreal.
The Yakusugi brush set will be available next Tuesday 21st of December 2021 for 245 usd, it is Limited Edition. The manufacturing of Yakusugi pieces is extremely difficult and due to the rarity of the wood, it’s very unlikely that we can release it again at a later date.
I hope that if you get this set, that you will love it and enjoy it for a very, very, long time!