Gaultier probably jumped the gun in 2003 with its men’s makeup line. In 2019, Chanel and Givenchy entered the fray. Now, following the trail blazed by Asian brands, Western players from Tom Ford and MAC to MMUK Man are putting their spin on men’s color cosmetics.
Until recently, the mere mention of cosmetics for men elicited a smirk. Today, according to figures by Reportlinker, the industry is worth €38 billion. Has it finally outgrown its niche market status? The lack of relevant data makes any attempt at estimation difficult, but Euromonitor International predicts a bright future for grooming: according to the agency’s projections, the global market for male grooming could reach €51.4 million by 2020, tripling revenue in five years, compared with 2015 data. While icons of male virility – David Beckham for example – team up with L’Oréal Luxe to launch cosmetic lines for tattooed gentlemen, others have no qualms smashing gender barriers: from James Charles, the new face of Cover Girl’s So Lashy! mascara, to Manny Gutierrez, who embodies Maybelline New York’s Colossal Big Shot, the US makeup scene now seeks its muses among the beauty boy tribe on YouTube. These digital natives draw subscribers by the millions on social media and they assert the freedom to express their uniqueness and creativity without being relegated to any single category, drag-queen, transgender, or otherwise.
YouTube man vs man on the street
Gender fluid or no gender: on the Internet, the (Instagrammable) man wears makeup. We have the selfie to thank for that. But what happens in the workaday world of the ordinary man? A forerunner in the male cosmetics industry, Sylvie Polette-Danet worked behind the scenes on the 2003 launch of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Tout Beau, Tout Propre collection. The staunchly avant-garde line was presented in cubic metal boxes embossed on all four sides. Later renamed Monsieur and presented in white boxes printed with a subway-tile design, the collection included bronzing powder, a nail pen, khol eyeliner, and lip balms. Currently a consultant specializing in luxury brands (Partner Just So), the former vp of Gaultier fragrance observes, “India, Africa, and ancient Egypt: there’s no shortage of places or periods throughout history where men wore make-up. In 18th-century France, the aristocracy powdered themselves and wore mouches regardless of gender. On the catwalks, designers blithely transgress gender codes, but in the street, I think it’s going to take a while before we see men with poppy-red lips and turquoise eye shadow.” Are nudes—a strictly functional beauty option focused on achieving a radiant and matte complexion—the only option available to men for everyday wear? “For now, they’re the most promising,” says Polette. “That being said, today’s Instagram addict (sort of yesterday’s metro-sexual) more openly expresses his rejection of binary male-female structures. Taking a fiercly inclusive stance, he asserts the freedom to be who he wants, as he wants, and when he wants. He’s free to express this diversity through an androgenous style à la Calvin Klein or to assert gendered uniqueness: this was the spirit behind Gaultier’s makeup collection for men, which did not take a unisex position intended to erase differences, but rather celebrated uniqueness.” The Gaultier brand has been defined by a certain outspokenness, born out in Monsieur but adapted to introduce a more masculine set of cosmetic gestures, with a brush in the form of a badger and lip balm without a beveled edge.
Unisex or hyper-gendered?
No doubt too innovative at the time, the collection—which was a critical success regardless—was cut short. But the debate it started is relevant once more: will makeup for men be unisex or hyper-gendered? The industry is still finding its way. In the West, brands try to make the decision based on their DNA. Tom Ford, MMUK Man, and Chanel are in the gendered camp; MAC is in the no-gender camp. Still others cultivate an artistic ambiguity: though Givenchy’s recently launched line is dubbed Mister, it is aimed at both men and women.Makeup artist brand MAC, associated with catwalk shows and filmsets, has proudly pursued its all-gender mission since the 1980s. The idea is to match every skin type and tone with ultra-modular foundations to achieve a custom complexion. Even better, the brand regularly showcases non-standard faces, and chose the very androy-genous Brant brothers to embody the short-run unisex cosmetics collection simply called Brant Brothers. Was it an attempt to ease the complexes of men who dip into their girlfriends’ makeup bags? Perhaps. Nevertheless, MAC’s iconic Face & Body (face and body foundation) and Studio Fix Fluide SPF 15 aim to “embody every age, ethnicity, and gender.” These bestsellers have long been appreciated by women and men alike. The packaging, starkly plain and bordering on gender-neutral, drives home the idea of gender fluidity. MMUK Man uses the same black-is-black look and minimalist-matte packaging, but applies a more masculine square shape to foundation and lip balm caps. Contrary to the tight lines that still reign in the industry (offers focused on complexion, eyebrows, and lips) the British brand has widened the scope by offering “guyliners” and “manscaras”—new words for new customs. There are also five-color beard correction palettes with shades that might encourage some to engage in contouring and/or strobing.
A question of gesture
An under-eye concealer pen, mattifying stick, complexion gel, and transparent eyebrow setter (Brow Groom): effectiveness is paramount at Givenchy. That goes for textures—which are intended to be “super easy to work with”—as well as packaging, which is developed for on-the-go use and supports intuitive movements. Sporting neutral design free from male beauty stereotypes, the Mister line is clear in its goal to offer a quick and natural makeup look. When it comes to cosmetics, men seem most interested in seeing results. Being pragmatic, they want effectiveness without having to wait. This functional view of beauty is strongly inclined towards “all in one” products that, being makeup, must also remain undetectable. Chanel chose this approach: presented in streamlined boxes and applicators in a shade of deep blue, the three products in the collection Boy de Chanel (a foundation available in four neutral shades, a matte lip balm, and an eyebrow pencil), play the invisiblity card. Behind the name, an hommage to Coco Chanel’s friend Boy Capel, lies the idea to offer men a line of “confidence enhancers to erase imperfections without detection.” Along with intuitive textures and long-lasting formulas, there’s plenty of functionality: on one end, the eyebrow pencil features a spiral brush to discipline and control coverage and on the other, a twist-off, retracable, angled pencil, which automatically sharpens to ensure flawless precision. Still far removed from Technicolor makeup, “color” cosmetics for men are making headway in the West, albeit slowly.
This article appeared in the 2019 edition of our Makeup Special Issue.