Guys muscle in on beauty scene

Men — yes, even Irishmen — are being influenced by metrosexuals like David Beckham.

HOT-BLOODED women and demoralised men all over the world are getting their knickers in a twist over David Beckham’s latest advertising campaign. In collaboration with English fashion house, H&M, the footballer launched a new line of underwear last February.

It appears the initial campaign was quite a success. H&M’s pre-tax profits have jumped by nearly a quarter since March. Beckham’s Bodywear range seems to be penetrating the right parts of the market.

It is probably for that reason that H&M asked the star to pose in their/his jocks for a second time. Beckham obliged and bared, not all, but quite a lot in a new photo shoot.

As a result, bus shelters, billboards, magazines and papers are awash with pictures of a pouting and heavily tattooed Becks standing in varying styles of vest and underpants with what appears to be a very prominent appendage — by which we mean the new Tom Selleck-like moustache.

Some might find the success of and interest in Beckham’s boxers, briefs and pyjama pants slightly baffling. After all they are just vests and jocks, aren’t they?

However, the ‘prettifying’ of Irish men has become big business in recent years. Men are taking much more interest in their style and appearance than ever before and a good chunk of Joe Soap’s new interest in all things ‘me and my image’ is down to the ex-Manchester United star.

“I think Beckham has a lot to do with it,” says Irish Tatler editor Alexander Fitzgerald.

“He was the first guy in recent years who made no bones about the fact that he’d be wearing nail varnish and getting his eyebrows plucked. He’d change his hair from day to day, he had earrings, yet he remained masculine.”

Fitzgerald says actors such as George Clooney, Clive Owen and Matthew McConaghy, along with sports stars such as Beckham and Ronan O’Gara (the watches) have replaced the androgynous and impersonal male model.

They are as Fitzgerald points out “resolutely masculine role models”. But what’s more, they have personality.

Men are responding and not just in the fashionable cities of London, New York and Paris.

“Go back 10 or 15 years,” says Fitzgerald. “If you went to a health club or a golf club, men would go into the shower with their shampoo and possibly shower gel and that was it. They would literally just wash and go. Now, even in the morning, they’ll have a pre-shave solution and most, or at least a good portion of men, probably use moisturiser. The majority of men, certainly this side of 40 (Alexander is 39) would use hair products.

“I think guys are a lot more aware of how they can look better with a little bit of grooming. But I think the stigma of taking pride, or just looking as well as you can, isn’t really there anymore so guys are certainly investing more time and money in their appearance.”

Statistics seem to bear Fitzgerald’s assertion out. Figures available from Euromonitor show that spending on men’s grooming in Ireland has increased from just under €79m to €108m in 2010.

The rise has been gradual and it appears that the recession has been good to men’s grooming products.

Television presenter, stylist and fashion blogger, Darren Kennedy, agrees that Irish men have made great progress in the last decade, but “there’s a long way to go. I feel a lot of men are just unsure and in a way they’re looking for direction,” says the 31-year-old.

“The Irish, as a people, are reluctant to step outside the box to draw attention to ourselves. Particularly with men, I think to be seen to care about what you looked like was and is frowned upon. The mentality is: ‘why the hell would you be interested in looking well, surely an aul GAA jersey and a pair of jeans would do you grand’. And that’s what’s holding a lot of guys back.”

Not only do Irish men look to Beckhman, there are also some Irish metrosexuals such as Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers who are setting a style trend.

Wherever the influence is coming from Paul O’Connor, buying director at Brown Thomas in Dublin, says that Irish men have undoubtedly upped their game. He has noticed a change in his customers’ tastes and expectations.

“We can see it with the scope of the brands we are buying for them compared to several years back,” he says. “If you look at the growth of our contemporary brands such as D&G and Prada, luxury tailoring brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, our made-to-measure tailoring and shirt brands, there has been a dramatic shift in the business with a huge demand for fashion and luxury menswear.

“The Irish business man who is travelling and connecting with European business men and competing in the international market is also having an influence,” says O’Connor.

“To compete in the international market you have to have the right product but also the right appearance.”

Clothing and grooming are not the only areas Irish men are investing more time and money. Medical procedures such as male gynaecomastia (more commonly known as ‘moob’ jobs) and anti-wrinkle treatments are now commonly available. And demand is up.

“We’ve definitely noticed an increase in men using our services,” says Aisling Holly of The Hospital Group in Dublin.

“Men tend to opt for procedures that deliver subtle improvements in how they look such as wrinkle-removing injections [Botox], fillers to plump out lines, or laser treatments to correct skin conditions. They’re also likely to request procedures that address a perceived problem, such as gynaecomastia or ‘moob’ removal, tattoo removal, or hair restoration.”

Over the last year, demand for male gynaecomastia has gone up by 52%. It is quite an increase when you consider the procedure costs a whopping €4,995.

“Previously, the majority of our male patients would work in areas where their appearance was crucial,” says Holly. “[We worked with] models, TV presenters and so on. But these days our client base is much broader. It’s everyone from builders to barristers. The recession has played a part. Men are finding themselves unexpectedly back in the job market, competing with younger men, or back in the singles market, following a marriage or relationship break-up.

“Patients generally have more access to information on the range of cosmetic surgeries and procedures that are available. So men are more comfortable with the idea of cosmetic surgery — they’ve read about other men having procedures and they know what they want.”

There are some who might think that investing nearly five grand to get rid of a bit of flabby skin is indulgent but as Holly points out, a return to or indeed newly found self-confidence is worth anything for some.

“It’s certainly never an easy option. But there are image issues that no amount of diet or exercise can correct, which can have underlying genetic, environmental or medical causes. ‘Moobs’ are a perfect example. We’ve carried out corrective operations on men who are otherwise fit and slim, outside of this one problem area. With other procedures such as hair restoration, the transformation can be life changing.”

So it appears that Irishmen are no longer afraid to look after themselves — or at least they are more willing to do so. But are they willing to stand in their jocks and pout?

In the past, Irish rugby captain and centre extraordinaire Brian O’Driscoll posed for Gillette adverts with his arms modestly folded across his bare torso. And recently, Tommy Bowe helped promote ‘his’ new range of shoes for Lloyd & Price but not even a big toe was exposed.

Are we going to see an Irish sports star get his kit off any time soon? “If the price is right, I’m sure you’ll see one of them doing something,” says Fitzgerald.

“As long as it’s a good product and it doesn’t compromise them in any way, I’m just waiting for a time for one of our Irish sports stars to do something.” Just like Beckham.

5 Steps to a metrosexual makeover

¦ Lose the whiff and get a quiff: That’s right gents get yourself a bit of aftershave and while you’re at it a new haircut. Short on the sides, long on top. Think Bobby Kennedy and you’ve got the idea.

¦ Get shirty: Forget the round neck T’s, shirts are the thing that every metrosexual needs. They’re sharp and elegant and endlessly adaptable.

¦ Join the ‘Blazerati’: Just like the cognoscenti are in the know the Blazerati are in the blazers and they rarely take them off. Every metrosexual’s best friend.

¦ Drink coffee: Whether is a double-mocha, frappa-latte or an Americano (aka black coffee) knock it back and don’t be seen drinking tea.

¦ Face facts: Moisturise those cheeks of yours and get a little lotion for those dark circles under the eyes.

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