The male beauty industry is booming, but what, why and how are we buying?
Fill your face (and your shopping basket) with these manly products
“IHATE THE WORD GROOMING,” says Spencer Wallace, founding partner of Beast, a store and associated website dedicated to the finer side of male-only cosmetics. “Grooming is for dogs. What’s wrong with male beauty? Why can’t you have beauty for guys?”
The store itself is certainly a thing of… beauty. Exposed brick, unvarnished floorboards and soft morning light nourish a trendy collection of window-facing plant life. Shampoos and shaving balms from small-batch Scandinavian brands such as Bad Norwegian and Palm stand on plinths, illuminated by bold typefaces and spotlights like bergamot, linseed and copaiba-balsaminfused trophies. If a man wanted to feel “beautiful”, here would certainly be a good place to start.
“Until recently you had few options as a guy,” says Wallace. “Beauty concessions in department stores that are biased as they’re paid for by brands, or high street pharmacies and supermarkets. For cool, aspirational guys, is that really it?
“Men don’t like to queue, so we don’t have a big till at the back. We found men like to shop by categories rather than labels, so everything’s in categories. Some men hate products with pumps because they’re unreliable, so we have options without. Online only accounts for about 20 percent of our sales; men want to see it and smell it first. When it comes to fragrance, moisturising and beauty, guys are definitely catching up.”
Catching up they certainly are. The male grooming industry is, according to the Financial Times, worth an estimated AED200 billion annually and Western Europe accounts for AED28 billion of sales, the most of any single region in the world.
“The industry is changing all the time,” says Wallace. “We’ve seen that with the retro barber obsession that is starting to fade. We could have opened the store with guys in aprons and selvedge jeans, but you’re on the back of another trend.
“We needed the hyper-stylised barber shop aesthetic to happen for us to arrive here in a more balanced place. Men are moving away from heavy fragrances towards more natural, citrusy scents. They’re not shaving every day, but they’re also not growing enormous, obsessed-over beards. Sea-salt hair spray is a huge seller. Rules are less rigid now and guys are more willing to have a conversation about what they want. A night cream five years ago? No way. Now? Much more likely.”
Even brands like Lynx that have loomed large and ubiquitous over many a young man’s over-scented journey to adulthood (close your eyes and smell Africa), have taken notice of the more “refined” Beast model. It took a residency in the store’s basement space for its most recent product launch in 2017 (“They have to keep evolving too,” says Wallace). Luxury department stores in London and Paris have sent envoys to research what Beast stocks; brands that include Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s eponymous (of course) cosmetic range
(“We were cynical but they’re good quality products”), and Grown Alchemist, a new concept from two former high-ups at Aesop.
Even candles, once at most a panicbuy for your mum’s birthday, are gaining traction among men who, Wallace says, “Are starting to value wellbeing, which includes their living space.”
“Don’t get me wrong, AED250 for a shampoo is beyond most people,” he says, his hand on a bottle of Sachajuan Normalising Shampoo with sea algae and Ocean Silk Technology, “but back in the day, it was electric-blue shower gel, silver supermarket deodorant and the cheapest toothpaste. We’re hoping to elevate things a bit, because, as we’ve seen first-hand, modern guys definitely care.”
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