What would you do if you were five months pregnant, had sold your engagement ring to purchase a set of Aburatorigami oil-absorbing sheets (once favoured by the Japanese Imperial family) and were besotted by a 200-year-old book that is the only known source to document the highly secretive beauty rituals of ancient geishas?
If you are Vicky Tsai, you will forge right ahead and launch a skincare brand that brings these heritage beauty recipes to the contemporary world – and do it so effectively that the products will become a staple on every people-in-the-know list, including the Oscars (celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe claims to never be without the Aburatorigami Gold-Flecked Blotting Papers during a red carpet moment).
This has been the case with Tatcha, Tsai’s company, which draws upon the secret recipes that are handwritten and illustrated with woodblock prints on washi paper in the extremely rare Edo-period book called Miyakofuzokukewaiden (Geisha beauty secrets are so heavily guarded that they are usually passed on through word of mouth alone).
But Tsai has not stopped at blind tradition – after a three-year hunt for the book, she spent further years working with laboratories and skin experts in New York and Tokyo to understand and validate the science behind the centuries-old inscriptions.
And then came the formulations – translating the ancient, homemade recipes into portable, packaged yet potent lotions and potions. For example, among the ingredients she read about were camellia flowers, whose petals would be steamed overnight with a piece of kimono draped over the kettle; in the morning, the freshly saturated silk would be gently placed on the skin as a mask mask.
Today, Tatcha’s One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil is loaded with the reparative benefits of camellia blooms harvested by women from the Oishima Island, who are renowned for their camellia-nourished glowing skin and ankle-length hair. The anti-ageing Moisture Rich Silk Cream, which has the luxe yet weightless feeling of gel-cream, is anchored around red algae from Okinawa, whose native population has the longest life-span in the world. Rice for the water-activated, nutrient-rich Rice Enzyme Powder is sourced from volcanic soil and cured by sake brewers to ensure potent exfoliation sans harsh abrasives.
The pièce de résistance, however, remain the Original Aburatorigami Blotting Papers, which are made with abaca leaves and gold flakes. Each sheet feels like gauzy, ultra-thin silk, wicking away oil while leaving the most intricate makeup undisturbed.