Male grooming products are running off the shelves . Curious to see what all the fuss is about, skincare novice Pat Fitzpatrick puts himself in the hands of three beauty experts.
I HAD to go back to the Tom Ford counter in Brown Thomas to get my beard tamed. I was initially planning to get it done at the Clinique counter, assuming that Carol and the team there would have a range of beard grooming products.
They do usually, but as Carol told me the demand is so strong, it’s very hard to keep beard products in stock.
It was a theme repeated at the three counters I visited in Brown Thomas in Cork — the male grooming boom is showing no signs of running out of steam. Each of the women — Louise McCarthy at Tom Ford, Carol O’Connell at Clinique and Elaine Henry at Rituals — told me they were having their best year ever across the male ranges. It’s like men are making up for lost time.
You could look at a David Bowie documentary and be fooled into thinking that men have been dabbling with make-up since the 1970s. We all know that’s not true.
Almost every man of my generation (I’m 51) grew up thinking we’d make it to the grave without coming into contact with a single pump of moisturiser, let alone a €45 brow sculptor from Tom Ford. And yet, this is where we are now.
At least some of us are.
For example, I don’t know any men in my circle who use grooming products, beyond a bit of aftershave or moisturising sun cream.
But then we’re old men and we don’t watch enough Love Island. Those who do are clearly fueling some kind of boom, with a report from Kantar Worldpanel revealing a 16% growth in male skincare products in Britain while the show was on during the summer.
Add in the return of the Queer Eye make-over sensation on Netflix, and there is clearly a surge in men looking after themselves.
I have two things I want to get out of my trip to Brown Thomas. I want to protect the skin on my face and I want to control my beard. As a bonus, I would like to look 45 again. If my wife found me irresistible when I got home, that would be great too.
A quick word on make-up. I won’t be using any. First of all, I wear make-up once a week on RTÉ’s Today Show with Maura and Dáithí, and it makes me look like a fragile ghost (off camera, at least.) Second, I’m not able for the tyranny of make-up. I might be a stuck-in-my-ways old grump, but at least I can always leave the house at 90 seconds notice, and have never had to apply mascara in a moving car. (At least not to my knowledge.)
I start my visit at the Tom Ford counter. I don’t know anything about the brand, but I have this weird feeling that I need to buy it. Louise, who must have the most infectious laugh in Ireland, introduces me to their oil-free daily moisturiser. Before you consider an introduction of your own, it costs €90 for a 50ml tube that Louise reckons would last for about four months.
When she puts it on my face, it feels light and refreshing, with a prosperous aroma that hinted at hunting pheasant with a very rich banker. I never knew I liked this aroma until now.
It made me feel good about myself. This is why I’m slow to dismiss male-grooming as a sign the world has gone stone mad. It’s just another group of men looking after themselves, along with talking about feelings and going on 50k cycles. And there are much worse ways to spend our money than looking after our skin.
Or our beards. We were supposed to be past peak beard about five years ago, but now it looks like they’ll never go away. Mine is a bit unwieldy and wiry these days, so Louise rubs in some Tom Ford conditioning beard oil (€47 for 30 ml), for what is known as beard taming. (I got my eyebrows tamed as well — the male grooming industry likes the word taming, presumably to make me feel like I’m breaking in a stallion, rather than just rubbing oil on my face.)
The best thing about this oil was the smell, of tobacco and vanilla. It had an intoxicating whiff of Mad Men about it. I like that, maybe too much, because in the following days, I asked a couple of women to sniff my beard, and they seemed uncomfortable with the term.
Next up, I went over to Carol at the Clinique counter. She reckons she has just the thing for my ruddiness, the sunburn I can get in January if the wind is blowing. She uses a Clinique skin diagnostic tool (for men) on an iPad and tells me that I have normal skin, which is reassuring.
She then puts on some of Clinique’s Super Energiser with SPF 40, designed to protect my skin in all kinds of weather. It has peptides and taurine, two must-haves in skin care these days, according to Carol. It’s a hot seller as well, at around €50 for 48ml, popular among outdoor types looking to protect against wind and sun damage, when they are out walking or on their bike. I could see myself working this into my skincare regimen if I had one.
In the end, skincare is about going toe to toe with the ageing process. So I head up to Elaine at the Rituals counter and ask her if she can knock 10 years off my age. Rituals have a Samurai range for men, inspired by the fact that Samurai warriors were big into personal appearance, according to Elaine. (Obviously we men can’t get enough of the whole taming, warrior theme).
Elaine puts on their Samurai Anti-Ageing cream (€29.50 for 50ml), enriched with Japanese shisho, which is known for its skin protecting qualities in that part of the world.
It didn’t knock 10 years off me there and then, but you can’t have everything.
In fairness to Elaine, and the other people who looked after me in Brown Thomas, there is a lot to be said for looking after yourself and your skin.
When I was telling Kate Noonan, one of Cork’s top make-up artists, about my Brown Thomas visit the following day, she warned about developing deep wrinkles if you exercise outdoors. You could post a letter through them, was how she put it.
It’s still not enough to make me take on a skin regimen. I’m just too old to want to look young, I can’t get my head around exfoliating, moisturising and taming myself warrior-style before I head out the door. But I’m glad went to Brown Thomas and opened my eyes, not least because I’m kind of addicted to the scent of tobacco and vanilla.
If you want to know if my wife finds that irresistible, you can mind your own business!