Pour Homme
Bikram Vohra
Friday, May 18, 2012

Earlier, men would have been mortified at the very thought of smelling 
better. Or looking better. Today, male scents and cosmetics comprise an industry 
raking in 
billions. We’ve come a long way, buddy

Once upon a time when man was a macho animal and he bulged his biceps to pass the time of the day, one of his species had an epiphany.  He was the quintessential Man and the smell of good, clean sweat till that moment was considered a happy smell, natural and enticing and not to be meddled with.

The last caution was enough reason for somebody with not much else to do to meddle, because that is the nature of man. If he is told not to meddle, he will meddle.

So he went up to the men in his immediate circle and said, how would you like to add a little fragrance to that bar of alum you use to take the burn out of your razored face?

Gerraway, said the men, what do you think we are, sissyboys?

No, no, said our entrepreneur, if you smell of lemons and citrus fruits and sandalwood, you will be more attractive to the opposite sex.

Touch of the sun, they said, he’s lost his marbles, wants us to walk around smelling like an orchard or a poesy of flowers, he insults our honour, he does, this cannot be allowed.

Musk too, said our 
hero, from the sac of the musk deer and the ginseng roots and burley and 
even leather.

You want us to smell of leather, asked one of the men, by now quite offended that his friend was losing points so fast making such outrageous suggestions, you want us to smell of a tannery. Hey, said another, that’s nothing, he wanted me to put crushed olive paste on my face, said it would improve circulation.

Naturally, our friend got nowhere in his initial efforts to convince the male species that smelling good made you feel good. When he finally suggested they apply a concoction of goo on their faces and let it dry till it crusted so that it would cleanse their pores, they almost drove a sword through him.

It is a masque, he implored, a face masque, spelt with a ‘q’, one day, you will see, the whole world will wear it.

They laughed, a little sadly, because he was a nice guy really, and decided that if they did lock him up it would be for his own good. He stayed locked up for many years and scratched out several thousand formulas, formulae, formulaes (I can spell, I’m just not fanatic about it) on how to make men smell and look much better. That he did not shave in prison did not deter him from establishing a contact with a pen pal in Cologne, Germany, through the jailor and that is how the non-shaver’s alternative was created.

However, the smuggled formulae (that word again) were stored in a bank vault and for many years men strutted about smelling of sweat and old socks. Little did our hero realise that these equations would lay the basis for a 20th century industry that would turn over $34 billion dollars annually, employ as many millions and produce a variety of 500 different items under 17,000 brand names. Just to look good and smell good. For men, what started with flavoured waters has today burgeoned into crafted fragrances that not only create personality but emphasise it. The hygienic spinoff by way of deodorants and talcs, lotions and creams declared war on sweat and made it totally passé.

But today, in the second decade of the 21st century the male cosmetics industry is poised for a leap into another major dimension akin almost to Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” lunar statement. Breaking the barrier of male resistance to cosmetics that are traditionally feminine is now no longer such an exception. A dealer shows me a not-so-futuristic range in which moisturisers, anti-wrinkle creams, crow’s-feet concealers, face masks, skin toners and conditioners, even anti-ageing salves and lotions. Astringents. For men without hang-ups.

A recent business report has evaluated the male grooming segment as rising by the month. The cosmetics industry is utilising this paradigm shift and launching new products exclusively for men.

I am fascinated. I thought some brown goo on an unwanted acne spot was the speed for my generation as far as these applications went. The men of our times did not dream of creaming themselves into a facially comical gob come bedtime. You would have been the riot of your hostel if you slapped on a face mask. But I am told by this scientist friend who works in this industry it is no longer a laughing matter. Who’d laugh at a billion dollars?

These aren’t affectations of the non-macho male though they are spurred to a reasonable extent by the metrosexual value system most successfully typified by deodorants. These are items being scooped up by the he-men of the new generation. Sportsmen, film stars and literary celebrities spearhead the revolution through their endorsements. And you no longer have to feel ashamed or self-conscious about applying anti-blackhead gel.

Men today don’t see wrinkles as leathery, outdoor virility. They don’t consider cracks in the skin as a character line. Nor 
is normal skin colour acceptable. You can tan, bleach and bronze with the best of them.

By the end of the decade there will be no difference in the male and female ranges of the time-defying techniques.

You don’t believe me? Go shopping and discover for yourself. There is a new world out there — for men only. And it’s working — moisturisers and astringents, too. We’ve come a long way, buddy.

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