Slap happy

Tom Ford and Chanel have launched cos­met­ics for men, and foun­da­tion is the norm on TV shows from Love Is­land to Body­guard. But does a bit of eye­liner work for ev­ery­one? Sam Wolf­son gets his gloss on Por­traits by Suki Dhanda Makeup by Sam Cooper

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Could makeup for men go main­stream?

I’m look­ing at the man in the mir­ror. And he looks great, to be hon­est.

It’s how I feel I should look, when I am at my most op­ti­mistic. There’s a smooth sheen across my cheeks. My eyes are bright, my brows or­derly.

And the rea­son I look so good? Be­cause a makeup artist has spent 40 min­utes on my face. First, she dowsed it with Hol­ly­wood Flaw­less Fil­ter by Char­lotte Til­bury. Later, I look it up: it says it’s “a cus­tomis­able com­plex­ion booster” with “the ver­sa­til­ity of a primer” and “the mega-watt glow of a high­lighter”. I would say it’s more like a glossy Poly­filla, mirac­u­lously lev­el­ling my chip­board skin. Next, she added blobs of what looks like green tooth­paste across my cheeks. I am briefly hor­ri­fied; does she want me to look like Grot­bags? But it gets rid of all my blotchy red­ness. Who knew?

Women know, ob­vi­ously. For the last cen­tury, makeup has been mostly the pre­serve of just half the pop­u­la­tion. Even as so­ci­ety has be­come more fem­i­nist, and less ruled by gen­der bi­na­ries, women’s cos­met­ics use has be­come even more pro­lific, while men have con­tin­ued to go au na­turel, oc­ca­sion­ally bosh­ing on a bit of mois­turiser and hop­ing for the best.

But that may be chang­ing, as brands from Chanel to Tom Ford launch male cos­met­ics lines, which is why I’ve asked for a makeover. My “be­fore” pho­tos (see overleaf) leave no doubt as to where the disas­ter zones are. I’m youngish, but the skin un­der my beard is parched, there are red blotches across my face equa­tor, my squinty eyes are sunken and there’s lots of white flak­i­ness in the deep val­leys be­tween the shaft of my nose and the foothills of my nos­trils.

My new “nat­u­ral” look in­volves about 11 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. The first round of five or so I recog­nise: ton­ers, mois­turis­ers, a calm­ing face mist. Noth­ing girly about that, I think. This is just skin­care; my bath­room cabinet is full of this non­sense. Then comes the foun­da­tion, fil­ter, pow­der, two dif­fer­ent kinds of colour cor­rec­tion, con­cealer, eye­brow brush and lip gloss.

Sam Cooper, who has prepped stars from Tony Hadley to Jon Hamm for pho­to­shoots and big nights out, seems trust­wor­thy, but surely all of this is go­ing to make me look like Gemma Collins. I am wrong. When Cooper is fin­ished, I look prop­erly in the mir­ror, and like what I see. I feel like a child who has just dis­cov­ered how the ma­gi­cian does his tricks. →

For an in­creas­ing num­ber of men, makeup is be­com­ing the norm. If you watch Love Is­land or Ge­ordie Shore (even Richard Mad­den in the BBC’s Body­guard wore a full face). Tom Ford launched a men’s con­cealer and brow gel comb last year; Chanel now has a tinted foun­da­tion, a matte lip balm and four shades of eye­brow pen­cil un­der its new Boy De Chanel brand. Male cos­met­ics still make up less than 1% of the $465bn global beauty mar­ket, although 15% of UK men un­der 45 bought makeup in 2016 (the fig­ures don’t say whether this was for per­sonal use).

As with the boom in fe­male beauty, the charge is be­ing led by or­di­nary teenagers mak­ing videos in their bed­rooms. James Charles from up­state New York was 16 when he launched his first makeup tu­to­rial on YouTube. In it, he demon­strates how to do a com­plex con­toured look with a deep blue eye-shadow glow, com­pletely trans­form­ing his face. By the age of 18, Charles had amassed 8.5 mil­lion sub­scribers and be­come the first man to model for makeup brand CoverGirl.

In the UK, the most fa­mous male beauty vlog­ger is Gary Thomp­son, who has had cam­paigns with L’Oréal and Su­per­drug. His In­sta­gram han­dle is @the­p­las­ticboy, and there is a cer­tain Ken doll sheen to his con­toured cheeks. He started wear­ing makeup be­cause of bad skin, but now loves the way it makes him feel. He says things have changed a lot in the time he’s been wear­ing makeup. “I re­mem­ber walk­ing down the street in a full beat [full makeup look] and get­ting dirty looks, but now no one blinks an eye.”

Both Thomp­son and Charles are model-like, and their makeup looks are full-on and feminine: lots of con­tour­ing, bronzer and colour. Both are gay; queer cul­ture has al­ways ap­pro­pri­ated el­e­ments of fem­i­nin­ity, par­tic­u­larly makeup. As Thomp­son says, “Makeup con­nects with queer cul­ture – it’s such a pow­er­ful form of ex­pres­sion.”

The ques­tion, though, is whether the Towie boys and the high-pro­file vlog­gers do­ing deals with main­stream beauty brands could sig­nal a tip­ping point where male makeup be­comes more com­mer­cially vi­able. I have my reser­va­tions, not least be­cause we’ve been here be­fore. In the kohl-and­co­caine mid-00s, front pages were dom­i­nated by the fab­u­lous lashes of Pete Do­herty, Noel Field­ing and Rus­sell Brand. Pig­gy­back­ing on that trend, Su­per­drug tried to launch a “guy­liner” and “man­scara” in 2008. Both prod­ucts flopped.

Bunny Kin­ney, ed­i­tor of Dazed Beauty mag­a­zine, tells me he’s start­ing to hear ma­jor brands talk about male makeup, but that there’s a long way to go be­fore blokes in towns across Bri­tain start pow­der­ing their noses be­fore a night out. “In spite of all the amaz­ing, rad­i­cal progress that’s be­ing made with re­gards to gen­der non­con­for­mity, beauty still very much ex­ists on that main­stream bi­nary. For things like male foun­da­tion, get­ting rid of that stigma is go­ing to be hard.”

Back in the makeup chair, I ask Cooper to give me a slightly more full-on look: eye shadow, con­tour­ing, glow on my cheek­bones (pic­tured above). How do I look? Yes, my eyes are “pop­ping”, but it’s ex­tremely no­tice­able and I feel un­com­fort­able. I keep the makeup on, and later bump into some friends. “You’re wear­ing makeup,” they say by way of a hello. I don’t know the un­spo­ken rule that you don’t touch your face when wear­ing makeup; by the time I meet my girl­friend an hour later, ev­ery­thing has smeared. What do you think, I ask? She looks at me with undis­guised amuse­ment – a vain melt­ing goth in the mid­dle of St Pan­cras sta­tion. “I’m sur­prised by how unashamed you are,” she says.

One brand be­lieves it can beat the knee­jerk un­ease men have about makeup. It’s called MMUK. On sale ex­clu­sively through Asos, it has grown to be­come the big­gest male-fo­cused makeup brand in Europe, with a turnover last year of £1m.

MMUK is based in Brighton, where I meet its founder, Alex Dal­ley. Af­ter watch­ing plenty of beauty vlogs, I have cer­tain pre­con­cep­tions, so I am sur­prised to be greeted by a man in a plain white T-shirt and black ex­er­cise shorts that ex­pose his tree-trunk, rugby-player legs. He calls me “fella”. Dal­ley says his in­ter­est in makeup started when he was a teenager: he is blind in one eye and had ter­ri­ble acne, and would reg­u­larly miss school be­cause he didn’t want any­one to see his vis­i­ble dis­abil­ity. “I’m sur­prised I ever left my bed­room,” he says.

On the night of the lower-sixth prom, his mother con­vinced him to try foun­da­tion. The re­sult was life-chang­ing. “I re­mem­ber look­ing in the mir­ror and feel­ing like my­self again,” Dal­ley says. It kick­started a fas­ci­na­tion with bronz­ers →

Alex Dal­ley started wear­ing makeup in his teens. He had ter­ri­ble acne, and his mother con­vinced him to try foun­da­tion be­fore a school prom. Now he runs his own cos­met­ics brand from Brighton

and con­ceal­ers, although he re­mained too fright­ened to buy any­thing him­self, send­ing his mum off to Boots to shop for him.

While study­ing busi­ness at Sus­sex Univer­sity, he did some mar­ket re­search and was sur­prised to find there weren’t any male beauty brands. He be­gan de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness plan, and when he left univer­sity, tried to make it a re­al­ity, set­ting up a web­site and us­ing his over­draft to buy up cheap, dis­con­tin­ued Calvin Klein women’s makeup, which he then mar­keted at men.

Straight away, Dal­ley was mak­ing more than £1,000 a month by con­vinc­ing men they were buy­ing male makeup when they weren’t. He in­cluded tu­to­ri­als and guides, show­ing men the basics of foun­da­tion, pow­der and con­cealer (his site was also the first that came up if you Googled “makeup for men”). Even­tu­ally, he ran out of the Calvin Klein stock, so he started in­vest­ing in his own prod­ucts. Dal­ley ini­tially as­sumed the pri­mary in­ter­est would be from gay men, and took out ad­verts in At­ti­tude and Gay Times. But he quickly found that gay con­sumers made up only a quar­ter of his cus­tomer base.

“We thought gay men would find less of a stigma around it, be­cause they are more open,” he says. “But a lot of the men who were get­ting in contact were straight. There were in their 40s strug­gling with wrin­kles, wor­ried about younger peo­ple com­ing through at work, want­ing to show their bosses they still had en­ergy. There were also men in their 30s, wor­ried about dark cir­cles. Then men in their 20s, who subscribe to that gym-health– Towie life­style, where us­ing prod­ucts is the norm. And then a huge num­ber of teenagers try­ing to deal with acne, maybe 40% of our cus­tomers.”

MMUK changed the tone of the lan­guage on the web­site, and took out ref­er­ences to nights out and “wing­men” to make it ap­peal­ing to all age groups, and watched the busi­ness grow. In 2017, it got a dis­tri­bu­tion deal with Asos; Dal­ley now plans to ex­pand into 12 new ter­ri­to­ries next year.

He says the suc­cess of the prod­ucts is down to their for­mu­la­tions, which are dif­fer­ent from women’s brands. They need to last longer, be­cause there’s no way men will keep makeup in their bag or touch up in the bath­room (many of MMUK’s cus­tomers re­quest the makeup to be de­liv­ered in plain pack­ag­ing or ad­dressed to a fe­male name). Most im­por­tantly, each prod­uct is es­sen­tially de­signed to be in­vis­i­ble. The foun­da­tions are matte and come in a wide range of skin tones and types. The lip glosses are clear; the bronz­ers aim to make you look tanned, rather than to glow.

I won­der how Dal­ley feels about the mar­ket ex­pand­ing, with big­ger brands muscling in on his turf. “I think Chanel, Tom Ford – they’re to­kens. It’s all just mar­ket­ing. They’ve just added the word ‘boy’ or ‘for men’. They haven’t had the balls to say, ‘Let’s re­ally step away and cre­ate a whole range.’”

Thomp­son, who vlogs mostly about us­ing women’s makeup to achieve his looks, agrees, adding that, just as fe­male ranges have for decades given women of colour few op­tions, these nas­cent ranges for men don’t cater for darker skin types. “With Chanel, it’s amaz­ing that they are do­ing a men’s makeup range, but those shades? Why even bother if you don’t cater to all the men around the world?”

I’m in­ter­ested by Dal­ley’s of­fer­ing. Un­til now, my skin­care rou­tine has in­volved pick­ing up free sam­ples at air­ports. So, head­ing off to a night out at a Frieze art fair af­ter­party, I pick up a bag of MMUK’s makeup. Al­ready I see a prob­lem: I need some­where to ap­ply it. I try a few bars, but the men’s toi­lets are busy and I don’t feel com­fort­able stand­ing by the sink applying foun­da­tion while men in suits uri­nate be­hind me. Even­tu­ally, I set­tle for a toi­let cu­bi­cle in a train sta­tion pub and try my best with the mir­ror in the com­pact.

Hav­ing watched Cooper, I feel as if I know what I’m do­ing, but I quickly phone my girl­friend to make sure I’ve got the order right (I haven’t). I start with the foun­da­tion, which looks good un­til I get some on my beard, cre­at­ing a hor­ri­ble tartare-sauce look that is dif­fi­cult to get off. Af­ter that, it’s con­cealer and pow­der and I try to fix my eye­brows, too.

At the party, I meet up with some of my old­est friends. I ex­pect them to bring it up im­me­di­ately, but no one does; when I men­tion that I’m wear­ing makeup, they say my skin looks glow­ing. Still, it doesn’t re­ally make me feel more confident; I worry that I’m com­ing across too Towie at a party that’s much more Broad City.

In the longer term, I worry that, for now, makeup is still viewed as too ef­fem­i­nate, too fun­da­men­tally un­nat­u­ral for most men to be proud daily users. An Ip­sos poll last year found that 84% of women said their beauty rou­tine could be “em­pow­er­ing”. Makeup for men feels the op­po­site, like ad­mit­ting de­feat be­cause your nat­u­ral look isn’t good enough. I won­der how it will fare if its main sell­ing point is that it can be ap­plied in to­tal se­crecy.

One man who wants bring makeup out of the shad­ows is Jay Jay Revlon. Af­ter com­plet­ing a nail tech­ni­cian course ear­lier this year, he set up the only male nail sa­lon in the UK, as a popup in the cor­ner of a pub. The tech­ni­cians were men, and peo­ple could order a pint while they had their nails looked at.

Like MMUK, Revlon found that he was get­ting a range of cus­tomers. “Nail biters were my key clien­tele,” he says. He’d give gel ex­ten­sions for a nat­u­ral look, as well as of­fer­ing black or glit­ter nails; the sa­lon also gave man­i­cures to those who just “want their hands sort­ing out”.

Revlon says the long-term aim is a per­ma­nent space, “where men come and get their nails done, but can also do other stuff. It can be a so­cial space, a safe space for LGBT peo­ple.” His dream is to have a sa­lon where men can go to get their makeup sorted.

There is a brand of so­cially con­di­tioned mas­culin­ity that might stop me hav­ing a cup­board full of prod­ucts, or pow­der­ing my nose in the loos of a com­muter-friendly Wether­spoons. But would I pop to a male makeup bar and get my face done be­fore a big night out? I al­ready go to the bar­bers, where my eye­brows are plucked, my hands mas­saged and my beard trimmed to the mil­lime­tre. If they chucked in a lit­tle foun­da­tion and some colour cor­rec­tor for the week­end – well, I wouldn’t say no

Al­ready I see a prob­lem: I need some­where to ap­ply my makeup. I try bars, but the toi­lets are busy and I don’t feel com­fort­able applying foun­da­tion while men uri­nate be­hind me

Sam be­fore and af­ter his makeover: ‘Yes, my eyes are “pop­ping”, but it’s ex­tremely no­tice­able and I feel un­com­fort­able’

Gary Thomp­son (top), the UK’s most fa­mous male beauty vlog­ger. Alex Dal­ley (above) started wear­ing makeup in his teens; he’s now launched his own beauty range

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