Last month, the British department store John Lewis cut the ribbon on a new makeup counter at its Oxford Street flagship. The shelves were lined with neat rows of foundation, concealer, bronzer and a variety of brushes and sponges, with one notable difference from the counters surrounding it: this was exclusively for men.
The brand behind the four-week pop-up is War Paint, founded by Daniel Grey in 2018 following his appearance on BBC's Dragon's Den. That reassuringly manly name is stencilled into steel shelving units to complement the crisp black packaging, duly assuaging anyone who feels their masculinity might be threatened by a dab of concealer.
The John Lewis launch attracted considerable media attention, and marked the moment that men's makeup went mainstream for many observers. But the reality is that men have been wearing makeup for years, often delving into their girlfriend's or sister's makeup bags in search of a colour-correcting cream for a blemish or spot.
Marc dos Reis (36), from Waterford, recalls his sister recommending concealer to cover his acne and rosacea when they were in their teens.
"It was very strong, and I tried different treatments - washes and creams - and I changed my diet, but nothing seemed to really work. One day, when I was 17, I was going out and my sister suggested I used a concealer of hers. I was kind of reluctant because you know, it's makeup, but I gave it a go and put it on. It wasn't really the correct shade, but I could see the improvement," he says.
Once he found a product in the correct shade, he says: "It was excellent. I had no redness, nobody knew I had this problem."
Marc started to dream up a range specifically for men - he prefers to call it "corrective cosmetics" - and in 2017, he and his friend Charlotte Matabaro came up with the idea for Mohecan, a line that includes tinted moisturiser, concealer, eyebrow gel and bronzer. The goal was to create something "discreet" and "undetectable" that was less heavy and "obvious" than the makeup Marc had tried before.
"No one knows you're wearing any of these products," he says, citing the liquid concealer as his everyday must-have and the bestseller in the range.
Manufactured in Spain, Mohecan now sells through Amazon, eBay and mohecan.ie, and Marc says they are in talks to partner with an Irish pharmacy chain.
"We've done a couple of popups around the country. It's quite new in Ireland, but we would get a lot of men who'd approach us, they'd ask us a series of questions over a few days, as if they're testing the waters for themselves before they make a purchase," he explains.
Mohecan is part of a new wave of brands seeking to change the narrative around men's makeup. While Jeffree Starr, Manny Gutierrez and James Charles are among the most-followed beauty YouTubers, their signature looks are very visibly "made-up". Dedicated male makeup brands are eschewing colour, shimmer and flamboyance to appeal to the average straight guy, describing their products as "tools", adding hyper-masculine ingredients such as whiskey extract, and promoting discretion in packaging. But some male makeup fans believe the focus should instead be on gender inclusivity, to demonstrate that makeup can be worn by anyone.
"Boys are very afraid!" says Djalma Trevizano (24), known as DJ, a makeup artist from Limerick. "Masculinity is so fragile that they can't just use something that's already there. It has to be grey or black, it has to say 'MAN' on it. But makeup is for everyone."
While brands like Maybelline, L'Oreal and MAC have named the likes of Gutierrez and Patrick Starr as beauty ambassadors, the majority of campaigns are dominated by women, something DJ argues needs to change.
"I think that's what makes men afraid of it. They should use boys and girls in advertisements, so you wouldn't have people thinking, 'Can I use this, or is that a girl thing?'"
DJ became interested in makeup at age 16, when his school passion for art and his love of beauty videos on YouTube drove him to buy a Maybelline SuperStay foundation.
"I was living in Brazil and it was really warm and humid. Super Stay was the only one that was really matte and full coverage. I also suffer from psoriasis so I had red patches around my face and I used to cover it with that," he explains. "Then I started adding on bronzer, I started doing my brows, and two years after that I moved to Ireland and that's when things really escalated, when I worked for Estée Lauder and MAC."
DJ fondly remembers doing a "full beat" complete with smokey eye every day when he was at MAC, but now, he has scaled it back and prefers a natural look.
"It Cosmetics CC Cream is really working for my skin. For a primer, I like to use Benefit's the Porefessional on my T-zone to hide the pores and even out the complexion a bit. I love the Benefit Hoola Bronzer, and the Coralista blush. My favourite brow product is the Benefit Precisely My Brow and a brow gel from Catrice. For highlighter, the Fenty Beauty Diamond Bomb, there's nothing better than that! I find it very hard, especially for a boy for everyday, to find something that's not going to leave you with a cast or intense texture, because I have a beard and my skin is really rough."
He adds: "I don't mind people noticing that I'm wearing it, but I love when they don't, because it means the product actually worked."
Marcella O'Meara (25), a Dublin makeup artist known for his character creations on Instagram, started using makeup seven years ago, borrowing products from a friend.
"I was caked in makeup back then, I didn't need it at all, but it was a way for me to express myself," he says. Now he wears brow gel, powder, highlighter and a bit of neutral shadow to define his eyes most days, which he says makes him feel "more confident, even if it's unnoticeable to others".
He points out that historically, men often wore makeup, from the ancient Egyptian cat-eye liner to the Roman penchant for rouge to the ghostly white powdered faces of Elizabethan England. It wasn't until the 1800s that makeup for men was deemed vulgar, a ruling that informs a lot of current thinking around male makeup, and explains why brands are quick to emphasise that a dash of bronzer won't turn you into a drag queen.
"I wish there were makeup brands marketed and designed for men, just like there are skincare brands, so I could still feel 'masculine', but explore things I want to without feeling judged," Marcella says.
Could a male makeup counter succeed in Ireland? Marc answers, without hesitation, "absolutely", but Marcella isn't convinced.
"It would be nice to see. However, I still believe we're surrounded by traditionalists," he says, urging a shift towards genderless beauty instead. "It would be far more successful if it was simply 'a makeup counter'."