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Friday, September 26, 2008

Because I'm Worth It



My piece from today's Irish Examiner

Not too long ago, male grooming used to consist merely of a soap wash, a disposable razor shave and a quick haircut that cost the equivalent of a pint. But the dawning of the ‘metrosexual’ age has changed the face of the Irish male – quite literally. Now that face is more likely to be tanned, well-toned and glowing from a facial he got from one of the increasing number of male-only salons popping up around the country.

This weekend, however, male grooming moves into a new phase with the arrival of Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Eclat for men, a bloke-friendly version of the legendary concealer that claims to cover up under-eye circles and minor skin blemishes by reflecting light away from shadowy and tired areas of the face.

Touche Eclat is big business for YSL: since its launch in 1992, one of the iconic gold pens has sold every 20 seconds worldwide. Now it’s the guys’ turn to get in on the concealing act. Earlier this month, the men’s version was launched in Britain to much fanfare by primped Big Brother 9 hunk Stuart Pilkington, known for a love of eye-shadow and painted lashes during his time in the
house.

The male Touche Eclat also comes just months after a range of ‘guy-liner’ and ‘man-scara’ products have been released into the burgeoning male grooming market, though Jean-Paul Gaultier already had his line of Le M├óle Tout Beau eye-liners for men available since 2003.

But surely even the most metrosexual of Irish men would consider wearing make-up to be one grooming step too far? A major study into Irish men’s lifestyles conducted last month by Behaviour and Attitudes Marketing Research reported that 93 per cent of male respondents said they “rarely or never” use any kind of make-up, though it’s debatable just how honest or forthright those answers are.

Be that as it may, YSL is launching the range here for a reason. A Euromonitor report last January stated that e800 million was spent last year in Ireland on men’s grooming products, an increase of e200 million since 2001.

A similar survey from Datamonitor also found that men spend an average of 3.1 hours per week looking in the mirror, compared to 2.5 hours spent by women doing the same thing. What’s more, some 40 per cent of men replied that they considered their skin “extremely or very important”.

In the world of pop culture, celebrities like Russell Brand, Jared Leto, Brandon Flowers from The Killers, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, and Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong are all fervent fans of eye make-up, and make no apologies about it either.

The phenomenon of male primping and preening has even reached the highest levels of government here. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spent almost e22,000 on make-up services and cosmetics last year, which was actually down from the e25,500 he spent on foundation and concealer in 2006.

Personally, I’m a proud cleanse, tone and moisturise boy, though I’ve never went that step further into make-up territory. I have several gay and straight male friends who are no strangers to the slap, however, so this week, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

First thing last Wednesday morning, I turned up at the YSL counter in Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, fresh faced and ready to join the ranks of ‘L’Homme Yves Saint Laurent’.

It’s certainly an enticing prospect: such a man, the press release states, is “the master of his own appearance, magnetism, and impact on the world”. He is “elegant and virile” and, furthermore, the YSL man knows that “his powers of seduction, composed of strength and sensitivity, makes him irresistible”. Why, that’s just me in a nutshell.

YSL manager Carol Palmer greets me at the counter and unveils the new range of products, packaged in manly gun metal and chrome cylinders. There’s the Radiant Touch for Men (translated from Touche Eclat: no girlie French for this men’s range), as well as the Healthy Look Moisturizer and Anti-Fatigue Treatment stick. It sounds like even Uncle Fester from The Addams Family would come away with a bright healthy glow from using such products.

Carol starts by cleansing my face and then applying the moisturizer and anti-fatigue stick to my cheeks and T-zone. It does seem to give a bit of a subtle, fresh glow to my pale, sleep-deprived visage – it’s all about subtlety, as Carol informs me - though it should be stressed for the delusional of the male species out there (myself included) that it’s not a miracle potion that will instantly give you the complexion of Brad Pitt.

Lastly, it’s time for the money shot: tackling the dark bags under my eyes. Carol gently sweeps the Radiant Touch pen under my eye-lids, depositing a skin-coloured paste that she gently blends in. After 30 seconds of patting under my eyes, it’s time to see the results. I think my face generally looks smoother, more matted, and the dreaded Gordon Brown-esque bags are mercifully less prominent. The counter girls all seem pleased with the end result, though Nick the photographer claims he can’t really notice any change.

An hour later, the under-eye concealer appears to have settled, and the dark circles have minimised even more. I’m convinced, but whether the idea of make-up will gain popular traction here amongst pasty-faced, hard-working Irish men, or, heaven help us, become a regular sight in GAA dressing rooms around the country, is another matter.

“We haven’t had anyone asking for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if make-up catches on here,” says Cian McDonald, one of the proprietors of the men-only salon The Grooming Rooms, on South William Street in Dublin.

“In some ways it’s just the natural progression in male grooming where guys went from using just a bar of soap to using hair products to using moisturisers and cleansers.

“Remember, 10 years ago, people would have been sceptical if you told them that men would be widely getting facials and pedicures, or even simply using moisturisers. Make-up is different, for sure, but once it’s a natural, healthy look, I think it could take off.”

Aisling McDermott, of the popular blog beaut.ie, isn’t so sure, however. “I don’t see a market for men’s make-up in Ireland,” she says.

“Daniel Craig and David Beckham wear make-up and fake tan and they look gorgeous for it. But I think it would be a lot more difficult for the average Seamus. We don’t have any role models for males wearing make-up here, unless you count Bertie or Pat Kenny’s fondness for blusher and lip gloss. Not many men could deal with the slagging.

“Having said that, nearly every guy I know in a relationship has had a sneaky go of his girlfriend’s concealer in a spotty situation.”

On that note, what does McDermott think the average Irish woman would make of it all? “Personally, I'd love to see more guys wearing make-up,” she admits. “Man-scara would be such a blessing for the white eye-lashed men of Eire, and a bit of Touche Eclat could work wonders for
some.

“That fact is though that while Irish women can be very adventurous when it comes to their own make-up, it would take a major shift in the mindset for the majority to start lusting after a man who has his own make-up bag.”

*L’Homme YSL Radiant Touch for Men (e33.50), Healthy Look Moisturiser (e38) and Anti-Fatigue Treatment (e38) are now on sale at the YSL counter in Brown Thomas and other stockists.

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