Cosmetic juggernaut Kanebo has made itself a candidate for cult devotion, all because it raised the bar, no pun intended, on soaps 82 years ago. The household staple, usually little considered and tossed in the supermarket trolley together with your shampoo and dental floss, has been elevated to make the daily ritual of washing more decadent. Kanebo’s coveted Savon De Soie, formulated with silk oil extracts and packaged in a luxurious silk handkerchief, has become a recognition for status. Soaps, joining some of the most elite offerings in today’s hotel amenities, no longer just belong on a sink.
Founded in 1887 as a cotton spinning plant, Kanebo ventured into the beauty business after a case of serendipity. Sanji Munto, president of Kanebo Ltd in the 1900s, turned to silk production in response to the Japanese government’s call to lift the silk industry to global standards and increase overseas exports. While visiting a silk factory one day, Munto noticed the women had smooth hands because of the lustrous materials they handled every day. Harnessing the nourishing properties of silk, Kanebo launched its first cosmetic product, Savon De Soie, which spurred the release of other bestsellers such as creams, face powders and lotions.
Fast forward to a century later — where our skincare regime is powered by Korean snail serum and French grape water elixirs — beauty brands vie to be different and daring as more conglomerates barrel into the business. To separate itself from the noise, Kanebo — which has long advanced female agenda, especially in an empowered era epitomised by designers Tsumori Chisato and Rei Kawakubo — exhorts women to look inward to discover a sense of beauty that is uniquely their own. This immediately brings to mind the Japanese philosophy of shibui, which extols the aesthetics of subtle and unobtrusive beauty, as well as the balance of contrasting values like simplicity and complexity; spontaneity and restraint; and elegance and unvarnished.
To put things into perspective, you only have to take a gander at Japan’s neighbour, South Korea. Famous for its 10-step skincare routine, K-Beauty rhapsodises about achieving the “glass” effect, a translucent glow when your skin is plumped with hydration. Intent on wooing a younger crowd, most Korean products are encased in cutesy packaging, plastered with faces of K-pop idols boasting preternaturally luminous skin.
In constrast, the Japanese emphasise understated luxury and shrugs off marketing hype, placing heritage and tradition at their core. If K-Beauty is all about chasing the next big thing, J-Beauty is about learning how to be better.
Breaking the barrier
The relentless pursuit of halting the effects of time on our body has ushered a deluge of anti-ageing products into the market. Younger women may flinch at the idea of starting retinol — which stimulates cell regeneration and the production of collagen — early but developing good skincare habits can carry you through your later years. The age-reversing concept we know is obsolete. Skincare brands — including Kanebo, which just introduced its latest anti-ageing line The Exceptional — are reinforcing the message that ageing is not a condition we need to battle. Instead, we should be comfortable with growing into our skin while letting our greys show.
Kanebo continued to reaffirm its steady foothold in Asia as journalists, bloggers and beauty experts flocked to the launch of The Exceptional at the five-star Cape Dara Resort Pattaya two months ago. The choice of location, overlooking the azure ocean that instantly calms the mind, cannot be any more apt since a relaxed crash course on Japanese skincare was the order of the day. A group of ladies from Kanebo greeted us outside the conference room before the product presentation, their dewy skin a sore reminder of why we should have been stricter with our sunscreen regime.
Moisture, radiance, texture, smoothness, firmness and brightness are the six key factors that define Clear Skin Solution, Kanebo’s multifaceted approach to beautiful skin, announced Kanebo’s brand manager Yoshihide Hori. He also shed light on the brand’s secret cocktail, Clear Botanical Complex, the much-lauded moisturiser consisting of pear juice ferment filtrate, watercress extract, aqua glucoside and geranium robertianum extract that forms the building blocks of The Exceptional series.
In the middle of this show-and-tell, a cadre of beauticians swanned by to pat a bit of the products — Lotion, Emulsion and Cream — on the back of our hands. The supremely rich yet lightweight Cream, fortified with liquorice derivative, vitamin E as well as clove flower and moon peach extracts, immediately smoothened our skin without leaving an icky, greasy film. There is hope, after all, for this writer who unwisely skimps on moisturisers (a common mistake, we must admit) to combat the ever-present threat of a breakout.
To experience the benefits of The Exceptional better and mitigate sun damage, we retreated from the sweltering heat to a quiet sanctum in the resort for a 35-minute facial. A quick scrub of Softening Cream Cleansing gently swept away every last trace of my waterproof makeup before my senses were roused by Kanebo’s signature “Awakening Method” massage technique. The rhythmic strokes, gliding from the space between my eyes to the wings of my nose and the curves around my neck, induced a pleasurable repose.
A floral whiff travelled between my forehead and shoulders as the therapist nourished my face with the velvety Emulsion that perks up the skin. The uplifting aroma turned out to be a mixture of yuzu sprout, blue alpine flower and Teatopia, a concoction of tea flower fragrances from Japan and China. Evocative of a flower garden or the dawn of spring that smells curiously sweet, Kanebo’s pleasant scent, also named the Eternity Bouquet, would surely appeal to those who prefer their perfume to whisper, not shout.
The only downside to the treatment was just how swiftly everything went by but our disappointment was immediately quelled when we were whisked away to the Ocean Marina Yacht Club for a sunset cruise. The sea stretched as far as the eye could see, only broken occasionally by tiny islands and a flotilla of ships in the far distance. As soon as we hit open waters, the sky erupted into a striking golden hue — the majestic landscape and ambience was unspoiled by the rumbling engine of the catamaran. The dramatic change of light and the sudden darkness that enveloped the earth afterwards reminded us of evanescence in the everyday, especially in our physical appearance.
In a world where people often size each other up by how we look or against prevailing norms, we tend to commit the mistake of taking beauty at face value. But a chat with Kanebo Malaysia CEO Atsushi Sumino on the catamaran revealed otherwise. “Japanese skincare is often identified with quality, and in the case of Kanebo, a deep respect for natural ingredients. Cosmetics and skincare should not just be seen as physical enhancers but a form of self-care. When you feel confident about yourself, your inner allure shines, and that is the most important thing of all.”
This article first appeared on Nov 12, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.