Making up is fun to do for South Korea's fashionistas

By On April 14, 2018

Making up is fun to do for South Korea's fashionistas

BusinessTrends Making up is fun to do for South Korea’s fashionistas

The men's cosmetics industry is being fueled by K-pop bands and hit soaps but it is not just for the young

April 14, 2018 1:14 PM (UTC+8) Beauty products for men have taken off in South Korea. Photo: iStockBeauty products for men have taken off in South Korea. Photo: iStock

Beauty might only be skin deep, but in South Korea it is big business, especially in the narcissistic world of K-pop. When it comes to individual spending, this obsession with skincare brands has made the men’s market the biggest in the world.

Inspired by the Korean music scene and the passion for television soap operas, male preening products are just as important as shaving cream for today’s bright young things.

Last year, a survey released by Euromonitor International showed that the industry in South Korea was worth about US$10 billion, with 10% coming from the men’s sector, which accounts for one-fifth of the global market.

Driving the trend is an infatuation for having the “perfect” image and an online millennials subculture.

Vlogger Kim Seung-hwan is at the forefront of this style revolution. His YouTube “tutorials” on the art of applying makeup attracts a young, vibrant audience.

At just 16, he has become one of South Korea’s facial fashion gurus when it comes to cosmetics. In one “show”, Kim went through the various stages of toner and makeup used by boy band Exo for the video to promote their hit song Ko Ko Bop in 2017.

Pretty boys feeling manly

“Hello, it’s Hwan [here]. As you’ve already seen from the tit le, today I’m going to be doing Baek-hyun’s makeup [a member of the band] in Exo’s new teaser [record promotion],” he said on his YouTube channel.

“Baek-hyun’s makeup looked so pretty. His eye shade is awesome. So, this time I prepared Baek-hyun’s look . . . let’s go.”

During the past 12 months, makeup has helped give the sector a glitzy makeover and attracted a booming customer base, which includes Heo Jeong-nam, a thoroughly modern man about town.

“Celebrities, especially famous male celebrities, wear a lot of makeup, so I’m OK with putting it on,” Heo, who works for a recruitment agency, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “But I still feel manly.”

While Kim and Heo might be at the cutting-edge of the beauty business in South Korea, male grooming products have become part of the country’s retail DNA.

Cosmetic chains have a vast array of items for men, including cleansers, face cream, anti-ageing gels, blushers and li psticks. “In Korean beauty stores, there’s an entire section, a huge section dedicated to men’s skincare products,” said David Yi, the founder of Very Good Light, a men’s grooming and beauty site for Generation Z and millennials.

“[South] Korea is between five to10 years in the future of where the US will be. They’re always kind of projecting trends,” he added.

“There’s a Korean saying that a beautiful rice cake is also delicious to eat,” Nam Hyeong-woo, the marketing manager of Truefitt & Hill in South Korea told Korea Exposé, an online English-language news and culture magazine. “I think this is a new era in which men openly groom themselves.”

Although this infatuation with cosmetics is aimed at the 20 to 30 something market, male grooming as a business is firmly rooted in Korean society.

High-end barbershops, such as Truefitt & Hill, have moved into Seoul’s upscale Cheongdam district, in the heart of Gangnam.

With a 200-year history, the company is reported to be the oldest barbershop in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Most of Truefitt & Hill’s clients are high-level executives and are usually in their late 30s to 50s. All of them are keen to project the right look.

“There’s a Korean saying that a beautiful rice cake is also delicious to eat,” Nam Hyeong-woo, the marketing manager of Truefitt & Hill in South Korea told Korea Exposé, an online English-language news and culture magazine. “I think this is a new era in which men openly groom themselves.”

Another key player is the Korean barbershop franchise Herr, which was created by Lee Sang-yoon.

The company was founded nearly four years ago and now has three branches in Seoul and Hong Kong. There are also tentative plans to set-up shop in Beijing, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

Financial sector

Before moving into the business, Lee w orked for Goldman Sachs and UBS in the financial sector and came up with the idea for Herr after visiting the barbershops at Freemans Sporting Club, a men’s retailer specializing in handmade goods and customized suits in New York.

“What was so special about the experience was being able to spend time with other men,” Lee told the South China Morning Post. “There are customers who go to a barbershop every 10 days, and these customers really feel a sense of community and belonging.

“It’s in this kind of space that men can talk about their personal life, how they would like to look, personal problems, etc. I really loved that experience, and wanted to recreate that in Seoul. That is why we encourage our barbers to build a true friendship with all their clients,” he added.

With the summer fast approaching, looking cool, it appears, has become a national pastime for men in South Korea.

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