Today's proliferation of self-made makeup gurus and social media influencers has certainly opened up the beauty community, but what really qualifies one as a pro in the truest definition of the word? Well, a ringing validation would be 19 years in the industry growing alongside Asia's pioneer makeup brand RMK from scratch, for starters. An all-rounder veteran who has also delved into the sales and training side of things, Toru Kobayashi has what I secretly term 'makeup magic hands' — you know, when a makeup artist can work with anything and everything in a few swishes and flicks that completely transform you.
With a resume that encompasses working with Japan's most popular actresses, models, idols and singers, Kobayashi is the sensei to my woefully amateurish millennial generation and it definitely shows: His experience and expertise is such that he lounges with a quiet confidence in gritty threads that fit right into Tokyo Fashion Week street style, replete with graphic ear studs and cool masculinity. So what do you do when you get a face-to-face with a bonafide makeup maestro? Not gushing like an overhyped upstart is a good policy, and the other would be to (politely) grill the heck out of him on all things J-beauty — because Korean makeup ought to take a backseat by now — and how RMK's latest spring capsule collection lets a girl jump aboard the trending bandwagon known as the Igari look, aka the youthful hungover flush.
Disclaimer: Alcoholic drinks were not consumed in the recording of this interview.
Having been with RMK since its beginning, can you share with us what it is about the brand that makes it such a favourite among professional makeup artists?
Whenever we launch new colours, we tend to have uncommon ones you can't find in other brands; for instance, our new Color Change SS17 series. And people perceive us as very natural — that our colours are more wearable while also having one or two that are very playful and are limited edition, hence resulting in their popularity. Furthermore, makeup artists have a preference for our bases such as foundations and primers because they're very easy to apply, especially for Asian women. Compared to Western brands, it [the formula] fits Asian skin much better. Particularly if they're handling Japanese celebrities, who may even request their makeup artist to purchase RMK foundation because our products sit really closely on the skin so it won't look cakey, and can even be used on sensitive complexions. This is like an open secret (laughs).
With so many years of experience in the industry, what have you noticed when it comes to makeup products or techniques Asian women tend to prefer compared to westerners?
Asian women are definitely different from westerners. But even among Asian women, there are also differences. Specifically for Japanese women, they prefer a younger appearance and their makeup is not too mature looking compared to westerners where it's about sophistication and elegance.
Also, westerners prefer to have a personal makeup style that brings out their individuality but in Japan, women tend to go with a trend or a makeup style that is attractive to men by looking pure, natural or cute. However, it also depends on where they are going and who they are going out with. If it's with girlfriends, they might put on whatever they like. As for Koreans, I feel that once they like something, everybody would go for it and that includes plastic surgery and makeup. They seem to have this standardisation and plastic surgery has even become cultural for them, which in turn influences their makeup trends.
In that sense, Singapore is closer to western values that encourage individuality, but at the same time, the women are still a bit conservative. There aren't a lot of colours. You see mostly browns [for eyeshadow] and no one uses coloured mascara. In contrast, women in western countries are definitely more daring and adventurous.
In comparison, how do Japanese makeup trends fare against the Korean look that is so widespread today? I know that what's trending is the Igari look, but what is it about?
Actually, Igari is the name of the makeup artist. He's a freelancer and through social media, the look spread like wildfire. One of the key features is to wear blush starting from beneath the eyes and covering the entire cheek area. Another trait is to put lipstick only on the inner rim of your lips and to use a gloss to spread it out. It's a big trend among teenagers, who make up a good part of our customer profile, but simultaneously, Japanese makeup trends can turn over very quickly because of the fickle nature of the Japanese.
Still, not many have heard about the Igari look here. If we were to give it a go, what products from the new SS17 collection would you recommend?
All of the products in the collection suit the Igari look, especially the stronger pinks and the matte lipsticks. It's all very Igari, with comparable hues that can be used as a heavy blush above the cheekbones. And while the look is all about that pink flush, RMK has decided to add in beige tones to give the sweet look a bit more maturity. The selection of pinks has all been matched with a beige range. For the blush, the pink hues come in a cream formula so you get a sheerer finish while the beiges are powder-based, and can even be used for contouring and light bronzing. We've also differentiated the sponge applicators with distinct textures to best pick up and apply each type of formula accordingly.
The same goes for our glosses. There are two different ends; one is a topcoat and the other is for colour, so it's a half-lipstick, half gloss, multi-purpose product that lets you layer or blend the colour onto your lips easily. The layering also carries across to our eyeshadows where you can customise the exact hue you want by switching between either the pink or beige colours to get a shade that's uniquely yours. And this system can also help tone down the pink pigments with a wash of beige if you find it too bright when you're experimenting to get the Igari look.
The collection really lets you play around with combinations and colours, and because of this versatility, the RMK customer ranges from women in their 20s all the way to their 40s.
Nowadays it's all about social media with Youtubers, vloggers and influencers taking over. As a long-time professional, how do you feel about this generation's approach to beauty?
I feel that it's a good thing because all this while we didn't have Instagram prior to social media. The sources of information were very limited, so in that sense most women were conservative in their makeup. But now they have so many inspirational sources so there are many options to follow. And I feel that because of this, women have become more daring with their makeup and I like that they are becoming more adventurous and diverse. Everybody is experimenting to find something that suits them, which I feel should be the original meaning of beauty.
At the same time, because of this millennial generation and the new way of transmitting information, it [makeup trends] has become very rapid. Changes happen so quickly, but this actually suits RMK's new evolving strategy. As a professional in this industry, I find this phenomenon very interesting because it provides a platform where anybody who has the skill and the right kind of innovative ideas can become famous and popular too.
As a pioneering Asian makeup brand, how has RMK evolved to adapt to the new beauty scene and the modern consumer?
The first thing RMK did was to change our creative director. Kaori [our new creative director] is very 'right now' as she's young and very social media savvy. She knows how to use these networking tools to our advantage and she's a person who has a lot of fresh ideas. She also doesn't like to repeat products or themes so once we have launched something, we will never have it again. Hence the makeup will keep evolving with new things constantly coming out. Moving forward, we have the right creative director to adapt to the times right now and I think she will do well. RMK will be able to offer more innovative and creative products.
Do you follow any particular makeup artist or influencer on social media?
Well, I don't have a particular artist that I like. I myself am not in this new generation but I'm trying to keep up with the times (laughs). But I do read WWD, an online Japanese magazine, for fashion trends. What I like about it is besides information on trends for fashion and makeup; they also provide reports on the marketing strategies of department stores. It's like a newsletter, as most of RMK counters are at departmental stores so I need to know what they have in mind — it's a very good source of information. Besides Japan, WWD also covers international fashion and makeup trends. For me, this is more constructive than following a makeup artist or influencer. Though if there were some more things or specifics that I would like to know, then I would go to the individual's page.
From $25-$58. The RMK limited edition Color Change SS17 collection is will be available from 6 January 2017 at all RMK counters.