Is he wearing foundation?
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The Healthy Glow Fluid, by French skincare brand Horace, comes in a nice little navy bottle. Its name and font are reassuringly neutral. Squirt its rich banoffee-coloured contents into your palm and dab it onto your cheeks, though, and you face a shocking question. Have you stepped across the threshold into the world of men’s make-up?
You’re already in it.
Once upon a time, men’s make-up seemed a fringe concern: outliers such as Jean Paul Gaultier released a first range in 2003. Nowadays, luxury brands such as Chanel, Tom Ford and Givenchy all have their own male-oriented ranges, and the market is burgeoning; trend forecaster WGSN recently predicted that “the normalisation of men’s make-up will continue into 2024”.
“Men’s make-up has definitely picked up pace in the past couple of years,” confirms its head of beauty, Sienna Piccioni. It’s partly due to the rising market in South Korea, where K-pop stars openly experiment with make-up, or the YouTubers and TikTok influencers who showcase colourful full “looks”. Harry Styles recently launched a range of unisex skincare and make-up, called Pleasing, which, notes Piccioni, can be “applied freestyle” to create lots of “different hues”; later this year, designer Peter Dundas will launch his own “gender-neutral” line, Dundas Enhancers, which will, a statement says, strive “to enhance the wearer’s natural beauty rather than cover up”.
There are basically two sides to this fast-emerging market: men’s make-up that really wants to be seen and the stuff, such as Horace, that is designed to look invisible. “The demand for glowing, flawless skin will see natural make-up for men gain widespread popularity,” says Piccioni. Brands like War Paint, Fiveism X Three and Shakeup Cosmetics are catering to this need.
“I think men tend to use fewer products [than women]… and focus more on grooming and enhancing their natural features,” says Marco Antonio, make-up artist at Chanel, who sees traction in more low-key offerings like concealer, bronzer and BB and CC creams. “Male make-up is usually designed to be invisible, and should hide imperfections such as dark circles or spots to be believable.”
When Marc Briant-Terlet first founded Horace in 2015, he was exclusively focused on skincare and didn’t expect to move into make-up. Yet when Horace launched an anti-dark-circle serum a few years ago, he was surprised by customer feedback asking for more instantaneous results. The result is a range of concealers and its Healthy Glow Fluid – which is neither a moisturiser nor a concealer, but “its own category”, says Briant-Terlet.
“What men expect is, ‘I want to look good, I want to have a good glow,’” he continues. “They want to hide concerns they have instead of highlighting things.” He well understands the needs of his target market – “as I’ve grown older, and I have a two-and-a-half-year-old child, I have bigger dark circles than I used to!” – and overall, the reception has been great. “We firmly believe that guys are way more open to beauty products than we usually think,” he says. The next product they might trial will be a beard brush, because many men ask: “How can I have a fuller, thicker beard?”
I have always been a make-up sceptic. This is partly through fear of looking overdone or even comical (like many men, I conflate looking attractive with looking “natural”), and partly through delusion: I like to think I don’t need enhancing and can get by on simple joie de vivre. This notion has begun to be sorely tested as I age, though, especially in winter, when my olive skin turns grey-green and the hollows under my eyes go positively gothic. Still, wouldn’t I rather that than look like a powdered hologram?
There’s a stigma around men’s make-up that hasn’t been totally eradicated. The proliferation of unisex lines, for instance, surely makes for an easier way to approach the issue, as well as being in chime with the times. Meanwhile, even the Horace website lists its products as “tinted skincare” in order to bridge the gap. “If you go to any specialised make-up store, it’s a make-up product,” says Briant-Terlet, “but it’s important for us to position it as tinted skincare: first because it has skin benefits, and also because it becomes an expansion of your face product, instead of being a totally new thing.”
The blurring between skincare and make-up has also been noticed at Selfridges. “We are recognising a huge demand for multitasking products and formats that combine various benefits or steps,” says a spokesperson for the department store. What’s more, “when our male customers are shopping for make-up, they are not looking for specific ‘male make-up’ brands – we are seeing them shop across all brands within our beauty offering.”
In order to ease me into this new world of fluids and concealers, I am treated to a makeover by a charming in-house artist, Enes, who applies a full face of make-up to me in the middle of the shop floor – foundation, contouring, filled-out eyebrows and all. It’s expert work, and lightly done, but I start to get distinctly anxious when a dab of mascara appears and I remain resistant to having any form of powder on my face. Enes says that most men who inquire at the counter are under 30 – and are more relaxed about it. Mind you, he adds, it’s always fun putting make-up on a man, as all the passing customers tend to turn and watch.
My attitude is normal, says make-up artist Teddy Mitchell, who has groomed the likes of It’s a Sin star Callum Scott Howells. Even when working with such clients, he’d rarely apply a “full face”, he says – less is always more. “I think you want more of a nod to clear skin, rather than a death mask,” he advises. For a big event, he’d suggest “maybe something like a BB cream to balance uneven tones; I’d cover blemishes with a concealer and maybe set with some translucent powder to banish shine from camera flashes”. Like Briant-Terlet and Antonio, he also emphasises that good skin prep is key.
Interestingly, neither Mitchell nor Briant-Terlet can think of any notable celebrities who do make-up well. Maybe that’s because for many, the whole point is discretion. “There are probably two camps,” says Mitchell. “Either barely there or ‘I’m here!’”
At home I start to notice the same strange phenomenon. First, as I apply the product, I panic. Dear Christ, I look like Tom Jones. Then, after five to 10 seconds of massaging it in, I’m relieved I’m no longer the colour of fish scales and decide it’s OK. Then, after another 20 minutes, I start to wonder if I have put enough on. I keep returning to the mirror, wanting to see a change that, of course, ideally would be invisible. As of yet I haven’t solved this conundrum, but I now carry a concealer stick on me – just in case.