British men implicitly distrust pretty boys. To the Brits, a well-groomed man denotes a clinical, almost obsessive narcissism not dissimilar to American Psycho Patrick Bateman. Take Tim Jeffries, affianced to Teutonic Barbie girl Claudia Schiffer. The lad looks as if he's just stepped out of the salon because he probably has. Like David Beckham and Henry Dent-Brockelhurst, you feel he's got a manicure set and he's not afraid to use it. But there's no denying polished men attract pretty women, which makes scruffy lads dislike them all the more.
A Mintel survey published in March 2000 says over 70 per cent of British men spend less than £5 per month on grooming products, while the latest miracle cream on the women's market, CrÃ¿me de la Mer, weighs in at a cool £115 per pot, the average bloke's two-year beauty budget. Men are either nicking their girlfriends' Clarins cream or are lying to Mintel because the male grooming market in the UK is so buoyant that skin-care company Dermalogica projects the men's grooming market to overtake women's by 2003.
In January a four-storey Georgian town house dedicated to male grooming opened on London's Brook Street. The Refinery,designed by Simon (Met Bar, Metropolitan, Nobu) Simpson, is the brainchild of twoformer investment bankers, Laith Waines and Omar Fadli who have forgone substantial City packages to invest in themale grooming boom.
On its first Saturday of trading, The Refinery was fully booked, and not just for macho deep-tissue massages. Here, 21st-century man can be made over from the top of his Indian-head-massaged scalp to the tips of his manicured pinkies; he can be waxed, tanned, Ultratoned and immersed in a dry floatation tank.
It is photographer Adam Brown's first visit to The Refinery. Advised by the sweet but businesslike receptionist that hisskin is slightly on the dry side, Brown is torn between the Dermalogica prescriptionfacial and the salt-scrub massage for back pains. He is taken into the inner sanctum by his personal "therapist" Michaelaand furnished with disposable boxershorts. After the half-hour deep-tissue massage with sea salt, dried seaweed and fruit enzymes, Brown declares himself "totally reinvigorated".
"The neck and shoulder massage was wicked but I'd have relaxed more if the treatment lasted longer than half an hour," says Brown. "The entire operation is incredibly professional. You don't feel self-conscious and the design of the treatment rooms is guaranteed to make you feel comfortable." Brown says he felt more at ease with a female therapist. He'd fancy a dry flotation body-wrap, but not a manicure; he'd consider auto bronzing but not a sun bed. This Everyman acceptance of blokey treatments and the downright girlie is surprisingly fluid.
The Charles Worthington Beauty Zone in the Percy Street salon reports a healthy male clientele for everything from holistic "Stone Therapy" (£40 for 45 minutes) to deluxe manicures (£25). The complicity between therapist and client is as sacred as supplicant and Catholic confessor. Worthington's Beauty Zone is set in the basement of the salon as no man alive wants to sit in a street level window having his pinkies filed. The interior design is bare, spare and minimal (very like The Hempel Hotel). The aura is one of calm: taking time-out from the daily bump and grind.
In this age of information overload, the spa treatment, be it massage or facial, is a "breathing space" carved out of the working day. Nobody understands this concept better than London entrepreneur Piers Adam. In 1999 Adam launched Adam's of London; essentially an all-male barber's shop. Adam's has a distinct Rat Pack mentality. Men can, and do do business in the lounge over a whisky soda. They can also switch onto autopilot while being made over by the Adam's team.
Adam's of London is one of the first barber's shops to introduce CCTV for hair; recording the cut so it can be accessed on file for the next visit. Each chair is set in a private cubicle and has a keyboard built into the arm so guys can surf the Net, process e-mails or play with Lara Croft. "Men are image-conscious without shouting about it," says Piers Adam. "The kind of man who comes to Adam's of London wants a professional service in a masculine environment. We're not into that arsey, Soho trendy hairdresser mentality. Nor are we a gentleman's club. Adam's of London is simply a chilled space where guys can come and take 45 minutes out of their schedule and de-stress."
These exclusive London grooming emporia don't present the full picture of the male beauty boom. Boots launched Boots Men in Bristol and Edinburgh in October 1999. All stock is exclusive to men and health and includes grooming and fitness products by Calvin Klein, Clinique, Gilette and Boots own-brand collections (Nickel, Botanics and Sensitive). Each store has treatment rooms for mini-facials, massages and waxing for men (neck, shoulder and back). A hairwash, scalp massage, cut and style costs an amazing £15.
Boots's research into the male grooming market came up with these vital statistics: 67 per cent of UK men under 40 use a moisturiser; 76 per cent use a blemish concealer and 72 per cent of men use a styling gel or mousse. Men spend an average 30 minutes grooming before work and 45 minutes before a night out. The net worth of the UK men's grooming market is £700m and all the major beauty houses wanta bite at the cherry.
Space NK founder Nicky Kinnaird opened SPAce.NK in October and reports, "once our male customers realise the spa isn't girly they begin to feel comfortable and experiment with more progressive treatments. We're getting a lot of men interested in the Eve Lom Ultimate Cleanse and the LaStone Therapy (a massage with hot basalt rocks and cold marble stones). UK men are still behind the Americans when it comes to manicures and tanning. But British businessmen lead a transatlantic lifestyle and increasingly book hotels forthe quality of their spas. This is educating men to the holistic benefits of physicaland mental wellbeing."
Martina Arfwidson, co-director of Face Stockholm says: "Our New York store has a vast male clientele for skincare products. These are men who are totally comfortable with taking care of themselves. When our products went into the new Mercer Hotel in New York it introduced professional men to soothing shave gels and great all-day moisturisers. They are the easiest to sell to as long as your approach is direct and no-nonsense. Face Stockholm in South Molton Street has a small but growing regular male client base."
A mere five years ago, dialling up the hotel spa for an en-suite massage only meant one thing. Now there is a strictline between holistic massage and Miss dial-a-date. Susan Harmsworth, founder and chief executive of Espa - one of theforemost international spa design anddevelopment consultancies - says "I'm often asked if the spa business has peaked. We haven't even scratched the surfacewith the men's market. Men today understand that physical wellbeing is not aluxury. It is a necessity."
Are men's grooming emporiums anything more than butch beauty parlours? At the suggestion of a manicure, Adam Brown declares: "My hands are ruined anyway because of work so, no, I can't see much point in having my nails filed." But it's only a matter of time before British men come to view a manicure as chic and not effete. If the difference between dating Claudia Schiffer and being a sad-lad bachelor is 15 minutes in The Refinery, then be advised to book now.
The Refinery: 020 7409 2001. www.the-refinery.com
SPAce.NK: 020 7727 8002
Face Stockholm: 020 7409 1812
Espa: 01252 741 600
Boots Bristol: 0117 929 3631
Boots Edinburgh: 0131 558 7502
Adam's of London: 020 7499 9779