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Male Mystique--Not Just Another Pretty Facial

May 15, 1987|BOB SIPCHEN

"Give me a break. "

That's how Greg Nicolaysen's brother in New York City reacted when he heard about the latest form of aberrant behavior California had inflicted upon his once street-smart younger sibling.

In previous phone calls, the brother had mocked Nicolaysen, a 30-year-old attorney, for wanting " to share" his thoughts. And Greg could almost hear his brother's sneer when he mentioned the yoga lessons. But the kicker came when Greg revealed he had experienced his first, well . . . facial.

Mask of Goop

A facial ! Nicolaysen tried to laugh as he recalled his brother's disdain, but the tight mask of transparent goop constraining his features only crinkled.

"It looks ridiculous, doesn't it?" he said a moment later, as a Romanian cosmetologist at a posh Beverly Hills beauty salon began whapping his face--the next stage in a procedure at least as complex as most civil litigation. "It's absolutely hilarious, isn't it? But I really think that for a trial lawyer, this is a must."

He is not alone. Just when the legal profession conquered its fear of styling gel, along came "L.A. Law" with a male cast that magazines and newspapers have proclaimed "THE SEXIEST MEN ALIVE" to raise jurors' expectations and start the spiral of self-consciousness all over again.

But attorneys aren't the only professionals who are delving into what had effectively been women's secret rites of beautification.

An underground of men now pamper themselves with facials, scalp treatments and pedicures at the chic salons in Beverly Hills and--as Nicolaysen might inform his brother--Manhattan. If the cosmetics industry has its way, powder room may soon become a unisex term. The days when men could wrinkle their noses at the vanity of face lifts are long past.

"There's a whole generation (of male professionals) who aren't afraid to say 'I'm displeased with aging or with this facial feature,' and to the extent they're able to afford it, they change it," said Susan Mac of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.

For example, men were peering through 14% of the eyes surgeons debagged in 1984, Mac said. Twenty-five percent of the noses doctors whittled down belonged to men, and 45% of the Dumbo-esque ears they nipped and tucked were on male heads.

Last year American women spent $4.9 billion on cosmetics, $3.2 billion on hair products and $2.9 billion on fragrances, according to the latest survey compiled by "Product Marketing Magazine," a New-York based toiletries industry trade journal. American men (or their wives and lovers, by proxy) forked out more than $1.2 billion for all such products.

Variety of Products

Most of this money went for such standard items as shaving cream and cologne. ("A lot of men do use it, just to get rid of the Christmas gift," one image consultant said.) But men also spent about $154 million on hair products and an additional $28 million on hair coloring. The $20 million or so they paid for skin treatment products marked an 18% increase over the previous year, and this year a slew of men's shampoos and ointments that supposedly thicken hair will also thicken the wallets of cosmetics manufacturers, the magazine predicts.

Still, resistance to male make-over thinking runs deep. Phrases like self-consumed and effeminate come up in conversations on the subject.

But the cosmetics industry is growing impatient with such misguided machismo . Skeptics might eat their words if they knew how many actors they watch on the movie screen had their chest hair waxed away at certain salons, beauticians say.

"There are still a lot of men out there that don't feel comfortable with a full grooming regimen," said Bette Popovich, publisher of Product Marketing Magazine. But the "long process of educating the man," which began with football star Joe Namath's hair product crusade, is building momentum, she said.

In 1985, cosmetics companies spent $91 million marketing their men's products in the media. Of that, $25 million went to ads in magazines ranging from Esquire to M--and a deluge of articles such as Gentlemen's Quarterly's recent "Are You Man Enough For Mousse?" are fueling the movement.

Now, Popovich said, it's time for the cosmetics industry to make its pitch to "the blue-collar worker, the ethnic man"--to that 80% of the male population that "doesn't shop at Bloomingdale's."

For a long time, John Molloy of New Jersey, who "made image a macho subject" with his best-selling "Dress for Success," concluded that the alleged boom each year in men's cosmetics consisted of wishful thinking by the industry and sales to homosexual men. But Molloy's latest "image research" suggests that a bona fide boomlet is at hand in straight male America.

"I'm not suggesting that everyone's putting on powder and rouge. They're not. But there has been some use, particularly among top executives, of traditionally feminine products," he said.

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