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PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong men no longer need to surreptitiously dip into their girlfriends' or wives' foundation to cover under-eye bags or blemishes. Once considered taboo, especially by straight men, makeup for males is gradually going mainstream.

Clinique and Chantecaille are among those that have just launched cosmetics for men, adding more choice to a niche market dominated by John Paul Gaultier.

But although the lines between women's and men's products seem to be blurring, not all men are convinced. Desmond Cheung Tak-man, a 52-year-old doctor, says men who use it are 'sissies'. And a legal professional, Geoffrey, 51, who can't give his surname for professional reasons, says men who use makeup are 'a little vain, unless they need it for reasons such as pimples'.

Homemaker Fiona Li, 52, says makeup for men is acceptable only if they need to cover a scar. But she says it's inevitable that more men will start using it.

The younger generation seems more open to the idea. Jacqueline Chow Yun-yin, 17, says she detests men with bad skin. 'If my boyfriend were to start wearing makeup I'd accept it and go and buy good quality makeup with him,' Chow says. 'It's OK if it's neutral and not obvious.' But she says eyeliner and eyeshadow are out of bounds. 'Foundation is all right, but it should be a light, thin one, not like those in Chinese stage dramas.'

Terence Li Yin-fai, a 16-year-old student, says he'd use makeup to cover blemishes. 'I bet my [older] brother would wear makeup,' Li says. 'I would only tell my family and a few of my close friends though.' He says men's makeup is becoming more acceptable, and those who wear makeup obviously care about how they look.

Gregory Messer, a trainer and facialist at Chantecaille, says Li has the right idea. 'For men, it's about looking as if you have healthier skin. In today's workplace it's not enough to have knowledge.

'When you walk into an inter-view people make judgments, so grooming is important.'

He describes the market potential for men's makeup as huge and says it's growing rapidly.

Research consultancy TNS says the mainland cosmetics market will overtake that of the US in three years, with the recent liberalisation of direct sales and growing demand for high-end products. Cosmetics sales on the mainland rose 17 per cent last year to US$2.2 billion, according to TNS, which predicts annual sales growth of 15-20 per cent until 2009.

Chantecaille's unisex makeup is a tinted moisturiser with SPF15 in three shades called Just Skin, and is due to go on sale in Hong Kong next month. Packaged to look like a tube of toothpaste, 'it's the kind of thing a man could grab out of his gym bag and use without feeling weird about it', Messer says.

A lot of men seem to be particularly concerned about the area underneath their eyes, he says. 'They don't want to look tired or puffy - guys say that all the time.'

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Clinique has launched a lightweight concealing stick called M Cover. Public relations manager Priscilla Pun Chung-yee says the two shades are slightly darker than women's concealer. It's specially packaged for men, but does a similar job to women's concealer in hiding eye circles, blemishes and general flaws. The product has been on the market for a month. Pun says sales are strong and have reached the company's target.

The market leader is still John Paul Gaultier, which released Tout Beau Tout Propre in 2003. 'Even though Asian men are generally conservative, men in Hong Kong are now taking an open-minded approach to men's makeup and grooming,' says marketing manager Stephanie Choi.

'They want to look good and they're willing to try new products.'

Choi says the difference between women's and men's makeup involves more than just the packaging. 'The products are developed with a man in mind - application is quick and easy, the results are natural and healthy-looking and the product range is easy to understand.'

The range includes a matt powder bronzer packaged in a black lacquered sliding compact with a mini-brush and mirror, a kohl pencil and concealer and tinted brow and eyelash mascara.

Hong Kong makeup artist Zing Wong says he doesn't believe in men's makeup. 'Maybe it's because I'm old fashioned, but I personally wouldn't do it and I try not to do it for men unless they're models or performers who need it,' Wong says.

'I just don't like that too-polished look on a guy.'

But he says men's skincare is different. 'Moisturiser or lip balm is good because if you care for your skin and you have good skin, you don't need makeup. Who needs the hassle? Women have to go through it, worrying it will rub off on their clothing. Why do men need to start worrying whether it will rub off on their white T-shirts? I'm not excited by the idea.'


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