The manicure maketh the man

Metropolitan life: Moisturising, waxing, chest hair dyeing ... Ian Phillips visits a beauty salon with a difference
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Just off the Champs-Elysees in Paris there is a seriously chic beauty salon. Upstairs is a hairdresser's, a restaurant serving calorie- counted dishes and a number of pedicure and sunbed cubicles. Slip down to the basement and you'll find a massage parlour, a sauna and a relaxation room. The place is buzzing, but there is not a woman in sight.

At Marc Delacre's men-only beauty salon, it is middle-aged businessmen in finely tailored suits who drop by for a quick facial or a manicure between business meetings. And if you are thinking, "only in Paris", think again: Delacre has plans to expand his male beauty empire by opening a men-only salon in London next year. He is convinced that Englishmen will soon be hooked. "It's just like haute cuisine," he claims. "Once people try it, they just can't get enough of it."

According to a recent French survey, 9 per cent of French men use moisturiser and 3 per cent self-tan religiously - not high figures, but Delacre, a former hairdresser, knows a trend when he sees one. He opened his salon in 1990 on Avenue George V, just a few doors down from the headquarters of both Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy. The atmosphere is decidedly heterosexual. All treatments are carried out by women, but sexual thrills are strictly not on the agenda. "Many people told me that I should only employ supermodel lookalikes," says Delacre over drinks in the bar, "but I refused because I wanted to avoid any sexual ambiguity".

Instead, he says the staff were hired solely for their professionalism. The service is impeccable and it's soon clear why 350 men drop in to be pampered each week. Many who come to get their hair cut end up having a manicure as well. Others jump at the chance to have their chest hair dyed and their backs and ears waxed. Anne-Celine, one of the salon's masseurs, has even waxed nose hair. This sounds incredibly painful, but not as terrifying as the "Sculptor" - a machine which, when attached to your stomach, sends electric shocks into your abdominal muscles to make them contract. It's supposed to do wonders for beer bellies and love handles.

From the moment the client arrives, he is treated like a king. "It's like a virus," exclaims Delacre. "Or a religion. For some clients, it's the high point of their week." But why has the trend taken off now ? Claudine Muller from Jacques Dessange's Neuilly salon (a mixed salon where 40 per cent of the clientele is now male) says beauty treatments for men started to catch on eight years ago. "Men don't believe that wrinkles are a sign of virility any more," she asserts. "They now attach much more importance to looking young." Marie-Jose Bobet, director of the Thalassa Quiberon spa in Brittany agrees. "French men are very, very concerned about their figures, their diet and about beauty products. You no longer get on in business if you don't look good." To meet the demand, she created a programme of treatments called "Marine Fitness for Men" two years ago: Jacques Chirac, Gerard Depardieu and the French singing star, Johnny Hallyday are among her regular clients.

The clientele of Marc Delacre is made up almost exclusively of the well- groomed and middle-aged. It is also a favourite haunt of singers and politicians, but Delacre refuses to name famous names. "Let's just say that both members of the government and the opposition come here," he says coyly. "The salon is one place in Paris where there is a consensus between the left and the right."