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New York's men go where no man has gone before: the spa

Catherine Hours | September 2, 2003

David Beckham embodies metrosexuality (AFP) NEW YORK — They wax, they moisturize, they fret over their cuticles, and they're big business in New York, where men are heading to the spa to indulge in beauty treatments once reserved for women.

Candystripe poles used to mark men's barbershops, which offered a shave and a haircut in a metal-frame chair.

Now black marble walls and frosted glass windows mark their modern replacements, which offer not only haircuts, but manicures, facials, body waxing and shoe shines from the comfort of a plush leather armchair.

"It's great!" said one satisfied customer upon leaving the salon. Sal Augeri, a financial analyst, said that for a full hour "I don't need to care about anything."

Catherine Tom sent her web designer husband to the spa as a gift, and to prevent him from getting another seven-dollar haircut in Chinatown.

"A good skin care will prevent aging. He should also get his nail care ... men like women should be pampered," she said.

According to 37-year-old Frenchman Philippe Dumont, the success of men's spas is a sign of a real change in trends. He was one of the first people to tap the trend, launching Nickel, an upscale spa for men in late 2001.

Businesses like Nickel are experiencing a real boom, and many are reaching out to men who might be wary of entering a boutique that caters to men who are either gay or trendy, or both.

The staid Economist magazine recently recommended readers get themselves "a couple of hours in a New York spa" to take away stress with a "Pulp Friction" or a "Wall Street Relief," packages of spa treatments advertised in more masculine phrases to reassure clients.

John Allan's spa goes a step further. Between facials and manicures, men can shoot pool or have a beer and a cigar. Others set out to make sure their spa's decor is spartan. Or they offer a happy hour, with promotions like bars.

Massages are in great demand, as are facials for a nice look at work. Waxing to remove hair from the shoulders and back is popular, as is exfoliation, which could involve a full-body coating in a mango gel.

But having a beauty treatment does not mean men are increasing their femininity, according to Dumont. "It's just that, especially the young generation is starting to understand that they can look great."

The fad is such that New York writers, quickly followed by marketing experts, have identified a growing category of men – the metrosexual – or heterosexual men in the metropolis.

These men are unhindered by taboos but do care for their appearance. And with their hefty salaries, they can afford to pay 100 dollars per hour for a session at the spa.

The metrosexual man may also have been influenced by NBC television's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" in which five gay men, all experts in style and fashion, take it upon themselves to make over a heterosexual man they deem either sloppy or simply unfashionable.

The term metrosexual has caused some controversy, though, as some see a marketing offensive underway on names of cosmetic and clothing brands.

New York University anthropologist Andrew Ross says men "are captured in circles of consumerism, they have no choice" but to engage in the latest fad.

"On the other hand, I don't think self-esteem is a bad thing – people can be more stable and more useful for society," he said, adding that he'd just been to the spa himself.

Ross expects the trend will spread to other US cities soon.

Procter and Gamble agrees. The company says this year's sales of its men's cosmetic products are growing twice as fast as its women's products. –Sapa-AFP

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