My Brush Collection: Part One – Favorite Foundation Brushes (Hakuhodo & Koyudo)
Last year, I turned into a full-on makeup brush snob. I decided to save up some money, then find and buy the absolute best brushes I could get my hands on, no matter where in the world those brushes might be. It turns out they were in Japan – Hakuhodo, Koyudo, Chikuhodo – it seemed all the greats originated from Kumano, a town adjacent to Hiroshima with a centuries long tradition of creating the finest, handmade, artisan brushes in the world. Since that realization, I’ve acquired a respectable number of magnificent Japanese brushes. I’m really proud of my collection, which is openly displayed on the antique desk in my bedroom. No matter how many times I walk past them, I still get excited every time I catch a glimpse. Today is the first installment of a three part series that will highlight my favorite performers, and I’ve decided to kick things off with the foundation brush category.
For years I assumed I was made to be a finger applicator when it came to foundation. I hated paddle brushes, which have somehow become the standard for foundation brushes. At some point I acquired the large, fluffy, Tarte foundation brush, which is how I learned that foundation brushes don’t have to suck. I then obtained a few Sigma brushes from the Kabuki collection, which also performed well. The Tarte and Sigma brushes aren’t high enough on my list to be called favorites exactly, but they will always have a special place in my heart – they taught me that not all foundation brushes are paddle-shaped pieces of crap, and filled my sails with the wind I needed to venture on my epic quest for The World’s Best Makeup Brushes.
I might be overselling the quest part. I didn’t sail a ship to Japan. I just got online and ordered myself a few Hakuhado brushes I’d been researching. Yay, global commerce! Of the Japanese artisan brush companies, Hakuhodo is probably the most well-known. They even have a distribution center in California, which is where all the US orders are shipped from. The brushes are still made in Japan, however, in the Kumano-based facility where each piece is still handmade, and every natural hair still uncut.
My Hakuhodo foundation brush is the G5557. This is a full, round, angled brush primarily comprised of soft goat hair. It also contains synthetic fibers that are carefully arranged and extend just 2mm past the tips of the goat hair, making this brush a sort of primo duo-fibre. The longest side of the brush head measures about an inch (26mm), and the diameter is about the size of a poker chip. It performs unbelievably well with cream and liquid foundations, but the thicker foundations is where this brush really shines. It’s always the brush I reach for anytime I’m wearing something like Kat Von D Lock-it Tattoo Foundation, which has a particularly dense formula. It also works well with thinner liquids, such as the Urban Decay Naked Foundation and Chanel Perfection Lumiere. The finish is always even, smooth, and looks airbrushed. (Oh dear. I just realized this could get a bit tiresome – all of my favorite foundation brushes impart an even, smooth, airbrushed look. That’s why they’re my favorites. )
Koyudo Fu-Pa Series
It was my search for Hakuhodo brush reviews that led me to two wonderful discoveries . One of those discoveries was Koyudo, a small, Japanese artisan brush company also located in the legendary Kumano. The other discovery was the website that led me to Koyudo, a blog called “Sweet Makeup Temptations,” which heavily features photos and reviews for a huge variety of high-end and artisan makeup brushes. If you are at all interested in makeup brushes, Sweet Makeup Temptations will be your new pornography.
The Koyudo Fu-Pa series is what grabbed my attention first. I had never (and still haven’t) seen any makeup brushes like these before. They’re short and stocky, measuring anywhere from 3.5 to 4 inches, end-to-end. Each one is very, very, densely packed with carefully arranged, extremely soft, natural hair. The structure and shape of the brush heads are perfection – no weird dents, or irregularities to be found in any of the Fu-Pa brushes. I love how unique they look – they’re cute without being childish. But even more than the way they look, I love how they perform.
The Koyudo Fu-Pa01 is labeled as a cheek brush, but I actually use this brush for powder foundation. The dense, tightly packed, soft Sokoho goat hair, rounded shape, and short handle all work together to make the perfect tool for applying and buffing mineral makeup and pressed powder foundations. I find that the wrong brush can displace my powder foundation if I accidentally buff a little too hard, but the softness of the Sokoho goat hair prevents that from happening with the Fu-Pa01. I reach for this brush when I want even, medium to full coverage from my Alima Pure Satin Matte Foundation, my Kat Von D Lock-it Powder Foundation, or my MAC Studio Fix Powder Foundation.
Sometimes I need lighter coverage with my powder foundations, and when that is the case, I reach for the Koyudo Fu-Pa14. The Fu-Pa14 is a powder brush made from gray squirrel hair. This brush is soft on a level I’m not even sure how to describe. You know how soft and silky cornstarch feels when you touch it? The Fu-Pa14 feels like that. It’s also very dense, but the hair is slightly longer and not quite as tightly packed as the Fu-Pa01. The Fu-Pa14 is also a little fuller. I really like it for sheer to medium coverage when I’m using my Alima Pure Satin Matte Foundation, my Kat Von D Lock-it Powder Foundation, or my MAC Studio Fix Powder Foundation. It’s also really great for finishing powder, and for blushes that require a lighter hand.
There is a Fu-Pa brush for liquid and cream foundations too. The Koyudo Fu-Pa02 is one of the Fu-Pa liquid foundation brush offerings, and it is magnificent. The head for this one is wide, and about as close to flat as any Fu-Pa could get – though this brush is anything but flat. Its dense, Hakutotsuho goat hair is just as tightly packed as the hair in the Fu-Pa01, making this brush capable of an amazingly velvety finish, even with harder to work with foundation formulas (I’m lookin’ at you, Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer).
Koyudo High Class (BP) Series
Koyudo has several different brush collections aside from their Fu-Pa series. The Koyudo BP013 Foundation Brush is part of the High Class Series. The BP013 is easily my most reached for brush of all my foundation brushes. If all of my brushes were trapped in a burning building (which they wouldn’t be, because I’d cram them all into my bathrobe pockets along with my Passport), and I could only save one of them – it would be the BP013. The BP013 has a sleek, elegant handle, but the brush head is large and in charge – I’d say it’s approximately 2 inches wide just after a wash, wider in between shampoos. The head is comprised of Hakutotsuho goat hair, which is densely packed. This brush is full but not round, and covers a lot of surface area at once, leaving behind a flawless, soft-focus effect on my skin. It’s a liquid foundation brush, and works spectacularly well with medium to thick textures. It’s a bit too large and full to efficiently use with thinner, watery foundations. I use it most often with Guerlain Tenure de Perfection (my holy grail foundation as of 4 months ago), which is right in the middle in terms of consistency.
The BP013 also has a sidekick, the Koyudo BP014. The BP014 is a miniature version of the BP013 – the handle is the same length, and the head is the same shape, and it’s made from the same Hakutotsuho goat hair. The only difference is that the brush head is about 1/8th the size of its counterpart, making the BP014 ideal for detail work. I use this brush to blend foundation around the sides my nose, and the vicinity of my eyes and mouth. It’s also really great for liquid highlighters such as Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector – it blends the highlighter into my foundation beautifully, imparting a natural-looking luminosity with no hard edges or streaks.
Where to Buy
The Hakuhodo G5557 sells for $69 on the US Hakuhodo website. I ordered a few other brushes at the same time I ordered this one, and was delighted when I saw the box they came packaged in. The box is lavender with a bright orange logo paper wrapped around the center. I have kept all of my Hakuhodo boxes; throwing one away would feel too much like throwing away a butterfly.
The Koyudo brushes are available through a website called Cool Japan Now. Ordering through Cool Japan Now is pretty easy, and they do accept PayPal, which simplifies things quite a bit. The thing you need to know about Koyudo brushes, however, is that once you order one, you’ll be doing some waiting. Koyudo brushes are handmade after you order them. The wait time for the Fu-Pa series brushes is 2-4 weeks, and 1-2 weeks for the High Class Series. When I ordered my Koyudo brushes, they arrived exactly 28 days from the day I placed my order. They were 100% worth the wait.
EDIT 01/31/2014: It looks like there is also an eBay seller that now sells Koyudo brushes, by the name of engeica. It appears the products still ship from Japan, and the wait time still applies. The prices are slightly higher than the Cool Japan Now prices and the selection isn’t as wide, but it could potentially be a good option for those who are more comfortable with eBay shopping. I haven’t shopped with this seller before, but she does have a high feedback score.