The grooming boom
Irish men are no longer afraid to keep up their appearance
For most men, the first and only grooming advice comes from dad, when he teaches you how to shave as a teenager. After that, you're pretty much on your own. For many years, Irish barbers took a one-size-fits-all approach to men's hair, but those days are long gone. City streets are now teeming with barbershops, and, as men become confident enough to venture beyond the barber's chair, a number of establishments are making moves to expand into fully-fledged grooming salons offering head-to-toe treatments.
The male grooming industry has grown from its infancy to a booming business in a strikingly short space of time; 20 years ago, men scoffed at the metrosexual, epitomised by David Beckham in a sarong and Mark Wahlberg in his Calvin Klein briefs. Today, the aisles of Irish supermarkets are brimming with countless different moisturisers, cleansers, body lotions, eye creams and hair styling products all aimed at men.
According to research specialists Canadean, 52pc of male consumers worldwide consider their appearance to be important or very important. And not only are men becoming more interested in taking care of their looks, many of them are willing to spend a bit more to look their best, too. In the UK, the male grooming market is estimated to rise to €845m by 2017. Here, we meet four men reshaping the Irish grooming industry…
Founded in 1929, the Waldorf Barbershop is a Dublin institution where classic cuts are the order of the day. Owner Liam Finnegan and his daughter Linda have decorated the Westmoreland Street salon in 1940s style, and clients can opt for a host of vintage and contemporary hairstyles as well as hot towel shaves and head massages. Despite the niche look of the shop, barber Christian Hoey says the client base couldn't be more broad.
"We have a regular who comes in and he's 92 now, and we have little kids coming in with their fathers for their first big boy haircut. You see a lot more of the younger guys becoming interested in their appearance.
"Some of the older guys are very concerned about losing their hair, and you have to tread delicately with them. I know what it's like myself, so I spot them a mile away coming in the door. It's tough going for a guy if he knows he's losing his hair; you're losing your confidence, basically. The hard part is to gain that confidence again - it's like losing a limb for some guys.
"I think over the last 15 years or so, guys have become more open to the idea of going bald. If you look at photographs from before then, you can see men were hanging on to it until the last minute, but now a clean-shaven head is the norm if you're going bald, it's not a big deal anymore.
"Personally, I only use a handful of products a day. I get up, have a shower, and then I'll shave with a Gillette razor, using the Palmolive Classic Shaving Cream with a badger hair brush, same as we use in the barbershop. I use an aqueous cream as a moisturiser, that's all I need. I've worn Dsquared He Wood cologne for eight years, and for a night out, I like the strong, citrus scent of Clinique Happy.
"I've had the moustache for about three years now, and I use the Waldorf Spiker cream to style it. I've tried lots of different waxes before but they didn't work for me. Some days I don't put anything into it and I look like (Dr Suess character) the Lorax - it'll be all over the place - but I keep it under control most of the time.
"Picking the right products for your hair is very important. Guys with thinning hair should go for a dry look, nothing that will look too glossy because it will show where you're losing your hair. Don't try to hide thinning hair with a comb-over, ask your barber and he or she won't steer you wrong. It's also important to maintain a haircut by getting it cut every four to six weeks - eight weeks at the very most.
"Hair pomade is worth investing in. You can buy the cheap stuff on the high street if you're stuck, but try and spend a bit more on your pomade because that's the finishing touch on your haircut. If you're paying the price for the haircut, you may as well pay for a good pomade which will set that off, rather than slapping on a load of cheap gel."
Tucked away on Johnston’s Court in Dublin, The Butcher Barber is a hidden gem for guys looking for a stylish cut. Founded in 2012 by hairstylist Emmet Byrne, it’s a favourite of young professionals and Irish rugby players alike. For 2016, Emmet plans to expand the business into the building’s upper floors and introduce a range of new beauty and skin treatments.
“Irish men are very slow on the uptake. We’re willing to spend €500 on a gym membership to get the perfect buffed body, but are we willing to spend that money on taking care of our skin or our teeth? It’s changing, but I think some Irish men still have that mental block where they’ll only use a bar of soap to wash their face.
“In the future, we will be branching out into beauty and skincare at The Butcher Barber, but we held back on it because I didn’t think Irish men were ready for it yet. Now, a lot of our clients want to be educated, and they want you to help them.
“Our team is all men, and I think that’s made it easier for clients to open up. Once you bring grooming up they’ll have loads of questions, like ‘What’s a cleanser? What moisturiser should I be using for my skin type?’
“My typical morning routine takes about half an hour. I wake up at 8.10am, and I drink a lot of water first thing so that I’m properly hydrated. Then it’s a shower, with a hydrating shampoo and conditioner. I use an over-the-counter emulsifying cream instead of a shower gel because I find that moisturises my skin.
“For skincare, I’m a big lover of Biotherm’s Total Recharge moisturiser and eye cream, and at night I’ll use Go 24/7’s Face and Bald Cleanser. My girlfriend doesn’t like me clean-shaven — she thinks I look too young! So I just clip my stubble down once or twice a week to keep it tidy. I get a manicure every week, and before I go on holidays I always get a pedicure. I wear Aventus by Creed every day, it’s my scent — people stop me in the street to ask me what it is.
“If you’re follicly-challenged like myself, you should be trying to shampoo every day to prevent the build up of the natural sebum oil which is thought to be a factor in hair loss. Make sure to invest in a good shampoo — Nioxin is a great product, and the philosophy behind it is ‘healthy soil, healthy grass’, to help you hold on to the hair you’ve got. Sebastian Thickefy Foam is good for thickening the hair before styling.
“We’re so bombarded now with the vision of the beautiful man, that we get inspiration from a lot of places. It may change from country to country, but in Ireland it’s definitely the sports stars, people like Jamie Heaslip, Tommy Bowe, David Beckham, or Conor McGregor.
“Some of my clients are players on the rugby international team, and they would openly talk about guys in the changing room using moisturisers and asking each other what they’re using.
“My friends will talk to me about grooming because I’m in the industry, but probably not to their other friends. I think we’re getting better, but not as good as our European counterparts — let’s hope we catch up!”
He broke into the beauty industry with top Dublin salons Sugar Cubed and Brown Sugar, and now Mark O’Keeffe is hoping to crack the men’s market. In early November, he will open a new men-only salon, Sugar Daddy’s, on Exchequer Street.
“We want it to be very much a gentleman’s club vibe. It’s a little bit of pampering but without going down the metrosexual road, so it’s still a very manly feel. We’ll also have a slight Turkish element because we’ll be introducing hair-singeing, which is the burning of unwanted hair in the ears and nostrils.
“The Sugar Daddy’s customer is a guy like myself, a guy who hasn’t given up yet, who wants to look sharp. We’re teaming up with Teeling Whiskey, so the idea is that you can come in, sit down with a ginger and whiskey, have a shoe shine and then go and get a really cool haircut from the guys.
“David Beckham would be a huge style icon for my clients — especially for my generation, it’s all about Beckham. The man just gets better looking with age. He can do no wrong, he’s still seriously cool with his hair and his clothes and his tattoos.
“I train every morning for an hour from 8.30am to 9.30am, and I have done for 16 years. It doesn’t matter if I’m not feeling well, if I’ve been out the night before, no matter what’s going on, I hit the gym Monday to Friday. After that, it’s usually a shower and shave. Now I’m letting a bit of stubble grow back because it’s getting colder again.
“I’m worrying more about ageing now — I look in the mirror in the morning at the bags under my eyes and I think, ‘Oh my god I don’t want them!’ I’ve started using anti-ageing moisturiser and a roll-on for my eyes from a brand called Bulldog. No one wants to get old!
“For me, styling my hair is like cleaning my teeth. I’ve been a hairdresser since I was 16 and I’m now 42. I get my hair cut every two weeks and I change the style almost every time. When I’m doing my hair in the mornings, I’ve a hundred different products, but I’ve no one essential — apart from a hair dryer. If you use a hair dryer, the product will sit much better on your hair, and I usually use a paste.
“I’ve done some mad things with my hair — I’ve had it bleached blond, I’ve had the hipster look with the top knot and the beard — but at the time I’ve always liked it, so I don’t regret anything. I think trends are there to be tried, and I would always recommend that people do that. Even if it doesn’t look good on you, at least you tried.
“I think girls are cool with guys grooming as long as you don’t spend longer than they do at it. That’s the golden rule — if you’re spending longer in the bathroom than your girlfriend, there’s something wrong.”
After a visit to a men’s salon in Melbourne, businessman Cian McDonald noticed there was a gap in the Irish market for a space dedicated exclusively to men. The Grooming Rooms opened on South William Street in 2008, and offers a full range of hair, face and body treatments, from massages and waxing to brow shaping and eyelash tints.
“From the very get-go, we could see there was a demand. Men were looking for something a little more refined than queuing up at the barber’s for half an hour for a one-size-fits-all haircut, but they didn’t want to go to a women’s salon. I’m kind of a hairy guy, so I always got my back waxed, but I used to go into women’s salons, and I was uncomfortable and embarrassed doing it. I used to think: ‘Am I the only one doing this?’
“We want guys to know that there’s no need to be nervous coming in here. You don’t need to worry about what anyone will think or say, because that’s why we’re here.
“I wasn’t someone who was overly concerned with hair and beauty before we opened this place. I would have been just a shower gel-and-shampoo kind of guy, but now that I’m 40, I see more of a reason to use products. In the mornings, I use a Dermalogica face wash, a Yon-Ka moisturiser, and now that I have a nine-month-old baby, I’ve started using their under-eye cream as well! For my hair, I like using American Crew’s styling products, and I usually wear Viktor & Rolf’s Spicebomb cologne.
“What we weren’t really expecting when we opened was the amount of gift vouchers we sold — women introduced this place to their brothers, fathers, husbands, or boyfriends. A lot of the regular clients we have now probably started off receiving a gift voucher and came along just to use it, but then they realised it was really nice and kept coming back.
“At the start, I thought we would be able to define our client, but it appeals to a really wide cross-section of men, from early 20s up to their 70s. The place isn’t that trendy, so the older or less trendy guys aren’t put off, but at the same time all our barbers are very up-to-date with hairstyles and beard designs.
“Our most popular treatments are massages, facials and back-and-shoulder waxing, especially in summer. A lot of guys get their eyebrows waxed too, but they’re not looking for an ultra-shapely brow, they just want to tidy it up and leave without looking like they had anything done. They might have been slagged for having a hairy back or a mono-brow and they thought they just had to go through life like this, but now you can get something done and feel better about yourself.
“Thankfully, we’re busier every year. Part of that is probably that more people know about us, but I think it’s also because more guys are taking an interest in looking after themselves. I think they feel a certain license has been given to them by popular culture and ad campaigns — it’s not taboo anymore for a guy to care about his looks.”
Photos by Naomi Gaffey