Wait, Are Retailers Still Catering to Metrosexuals?

Powered by article was written by Ian Tucker, for The Observer on Sunday 9th January 2011 00.06 UTC

They are plucked, preened and pouting – and wouldn’t raise a carefully groomed eyebrow at the notion of spending their pay cheque on a Comme des Garçons blazer. The ever-deepening designer wallets of today’s metrosexual men are being eyed by two new business ventures due to launch in the coming months, which hope that the flourishing male grooming industry will be booming in 2011.

Keen to capitalise on its success in building a huge female following, the designer fashion online retailer Net-A-Porter is preparing to unveil a partner website next month called Mr Porter which will – as a “dedicated men’s shopping destination entirely conceived with the stylish man in mind” – be selling brands such as Gucci, Lanvin, Burberry and Margiela.

Also hoping to woo the fashion-conscious man with a spin-off from a female favourite is Bauer Publishing, the owner of weekly magazine Grazia, which plans to bring out Gaz7etta, a male companion that combines some of the content of traditional men’s monthlies with the personal delivery of its sister publication.

On the surface, these launches would seem to be brave moves in a period of hiked VAT and tightened belts. But many in the industry are confident that style-savvy male consumers have reached a point in their attitude to self-enhancement that their spending on clothes, creams and even cosmetic surgery can be relied upon just as much as their female counterparts.

“Fashion and grooming are two of our biggest and fastest-growing advertising categories,” said Mike Soutar, who edited FHM in its heyday and is now the founder of Shortlist Media, which publishes the free men’s weekly of the same name. “Style-conscious men are willing to spend a great deal of money on making themselves look great.” The metrosexual, he added, is now the rule, not the exception: “In the laddish generation they were unusual, but now to be image conscious is the absolute norm.”

It is, broadly, to this discerning male consumer that Mr Porter and Gaz7etta will be making smooth-talking overtures once they are unveiled. The website, which will be run by former Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, is shrouded in secrecy, but industry insiders predict that it will deliver an “immersive, slick experience”. The pilot issue of Gaz7etta, meanwhile, features Italian Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini on the cover looking fashion-ambitious in a pink-and-lime green check scarf. Stories about the “revenge of the double-breasted suit” sit alongside more orthodox features on football.

For Soutar, the growing market in male grooming is unsurprising given the spike in pressure on men to look good, fed in part by photographs on social networking sites such as Facebook. “There’s far more scrutiny on a casual level in the way men carry themselves than ever before,” he said.

And others suggest that, far from being an irresponsible waste of money in straitened times, splurging on appearance-enhancers could be an intelligent investment by employees uncertain of their professional security. In a survey carried out by Kantar last year, around half the men questioned felt their fashion spending was unaffected by the downturn – and one in 10 thought they were spending more.

“Men have to look good in an office, particularly in the times we’re living in,” said GQ associate editor Robert Johnston. “Attractive people go further, alas.” He admits to trying the avalanche of new products that sweep across his desk – face scrubs, foot lotions and hair fudge, among other products – and is keen on a new Sisley face cream that costs £210 a pot, and lasts about six weeks.

But these days men are not stopping at creams. Once a practice generally reserved for gay men, hair removal – such as the “back, crack and sack” – has slunk into the straight world. “One imagines there must be a lot of straight men who are downstairs gardening,” said Johnston. “You imagine most footballers tidy up their pubes.”

While some men are removing hair, others are moving it around. Hair transplant techniques have made breakthroughs – as recent photographs of actor James Nesbitt, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and, last week, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay would appear to testify. In order to tackle an array of worrisome physical features from “man boobs” to bald patches, more men are seeking cosmetic surgery – the number rose 21.5% last year and will continue to grow in 2011, says the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors.

“Treatments are really delivering now. In the past when you’d had cosmetic surgery you looked like you’d had it. But now done correctly it can look very natural, and that’s what men want,” said the association’s chairman Dr Mike Comins. He said that men often accompanied their wives or girlfriends to his clinic and ended up having treatment themselves. “In my own private business we have seen a 100% rise in demand for hair transplant procedures,” he added. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010