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Macho Colors

With shades ranging from Libido to Gangrene, nail companies are betting that men are ready to get buffed and polished.

March 06, 1997|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Rossi has just had his nails cut, filed and buffed, his cuticles trimmed and his hands massaged--a basic manicure--at Leo's Hair Studio in Los Feliz.

But take a closer look.

Right there on the tips of Rossi's hairy fingers is a fresh paint job, a coat of Matte Nail Envy by OPI.

He shakes his hands, air-drying the polish. Seconds later, Rossi slips on his jacket and is out the door to his job as acquisitions director for the Official All-Star Cafe chain. "See ya in two weeks, Leo," he tells manicurist Leo Jang.

Rossi is the kind of polished '90s guy that nail companies hope to attract with sales promotions and new products ranging from the colorless Nail Envy to metallics with tough-guy names like Testosterone. Eager to incite a trend that will fuel a competitive, saturated market, Southern California's OPI, Candy Man (a spinoff of Hard Candy) and Urban Decay are playing up to men's sense of adventure.

And why not?

Lots of guys already bleach, highlight and/or dye their hair. They pierce their ears, among other body parts. They get facials and face-lifts. They wax their backs, pluck their brows. They get pectoral implants and fat injections to make their lips more kissable.

Now they're getting nailed.

A certain segment of males has been donning lacquer for a while. Lenny Kravitz and assorted Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Stone Temple Pilots and Red Hot Chili Peppers have appeared in magazines and videos sporting tinted talons. Ditto for Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Rodman, Donovan Leitch, Antonio Banderas and runway models from coast to coast.

So it figures that club kids, surfers and snowboarders would experiment with peacock colors as well.

For most guys, though, wearing a clear matte polish may be plenty bold, says George Schaeffer, president and founder of OPI, a North Hollywood company.

"There's nothing sissy about getting polished," he says. "I have an aversion, personally, to putting something very shiny on my nails."

That's why OPI is pushing the natural look. This summer, it will team up with Cosmopolitan magazine in a "Nail Him!" promotion to get guys into salons for free manicures.

"It's a big market out there and I believe that men are more adventurous than ever before," Schaeffer says. "It's not a matter of 'Are you man enough to get your nails done?' It's 'Are you human enough?' It feels great to have nice, manicured, polished hands. This is not just a girlie thing we're talking about here. It's a matter of a guy caring about his grooming."

Dineh Mohajer, president of Beverly Hills-based Hard Candy, a company she founded less than two years ago, agrees. "Fingernail polish isn't a gender thing, it's a fashion thing, a grooming thing," Mohajer says.

The company recently launched Candy Man, the first line of polish marketed specifically for men. Sold at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus for $12 a pop, it features seven metallics: Libido, Superman, Oedipus, Dog, Cowboy, Gigolo and Testosterone.

"To be honest," Mohajer says, "the kind of men wearing it are not accountants or investors. It's young hipsters."

Wende Zomnir, Urban Decay's chief operating officer and creative director, also sees guys putting on polish mostly after dark. She says her year-old company is tapping "guys who were buying drugstore polish" for a night out.

"Guys these days are really breaking out into their own. You can see it with fashion and now you're seeing it with their grooming habits, which isn't just about getting a haircut," she says. "I think guys are man enough to wear polish."

Among the Costa Mesa company's He-man colors are Radium, Pigeon, Chains, Oil Slick, Uzi, Asphalt and Gangrene.

At a recent movie premiere in Hollywood, Urban Decay planted a team of manicurists in the theater's lobby. "We had more men than women lining up for paint jobs," Zomir says.

"With the polish, they're finding another way to express themselves, to make a statement and be more fashionable."

And, at least for Carl Lofgren, the polish has been a babe magnet.

Lofgren, a 27-year-old account executive for Ray Gun Publishing, wears polish on Friday and Saturday nights when he hits the Los Angeles club circuit. A couple of his favorites are Urban Decay's Uzi and Acid Rain (metallic yellow)--"the freaky colors," he says.

"The girls think it's totally cool," he says. "They tell me the polish shows acceptance of my own sexuality. It completely turns them on."

But the fun is short-lived.

"I try to keep fingernail polish remover at the office because you'll get people who'll go, 'Oh my God, why are you doing that?' I go, 'It's just for fun. That's all, for fun.' And a way to pick up chicks."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Want to Polish Your Image?

* Urban Decay polishes, $11 each, are sold at Fred Segal, Los Angeles; Nordstrom; and Urban Outfitters, Santa Monica and Costa Mesa.

* Candy Man shades, $12 each, are available at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

* OPI's Matte Nail Envy, $14.95, is sold at the salons at JCPenney and other beauty salons.

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