Men getting in touch with beautiful side

Pampering: With his new day spa in Hunt Valley, a businessman will join the movement to take personal care for males to the next level.

May 14, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

They might not be discussing it with their buddies in the locker room, but more men are getting their nails buffed and faces exfoliated in spas they once considered reserved for their wives and girlfriends.

Blame it on Gentleman's Quarterly magazine or the five gay men on the popular television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, who turn slovenly men into fashion-conscious hunks. Or maybe it's the metrosexual fad - a phrase the British media popularized to describe soccer star David Beckham and his painted fingernails.

Whatever the reason, it's becoming OK for men to be in touch with their beautiful side.

In hopes of taking advantage of the appearance-conscious trend, local businessman David Behan is opening FX Studios, a spa targeting a male clientele, next month on Pepper Road in Hunt Valley.

Behan is one of those men who appreciates pampering but always felt uncomfortable getting his hair cut and styled in salons surrounded by women. He figured more men would get spa services if they didn't have to worry about unwanted stares or sit in waiting rooms with women's fashion magazines and pink decor.

"Some guys don't feel comfortable with their vanity displayed," Behan said.

Although you get all the same services at a typical spa and women are allowed, it's definitely a man's world at the 11,000-square-foot FX Studios.

Four waiting areas are outfitted with 16-foot movie screens and leather recliners. There are three shoeshine stations, free refreshments while waiting and complimentary neck trims between visits. Men can get haircuts in any of the 19 private rooms with flat-screen televisions where they can watch ESPN or the news. The decor is a combination of deep browns, reds and golds.

"Most guys get haircuts because they have to, because it grows," Behan said. "They don't want small talk when they get it done. They want to relax."

Beauty treatments aren't entirely new for men. Barbershops have offered shaves for years. But never has it been so specialized.

"Men have always shaved and followed up with after-shave," said Julie Sinclair, editor-in-chief of American Spa Magazine in New York. "Skin care is a natural thing with them, but now they're taking it to the next level."

About 29 percent of spa customers were male last year, up from 24 percent in 2002, according to the International SPA Association in Lexington, Ky.

A wave of new spas targeting men have opened up across the country in the past few years as the industry has discovered the niche. Washington's first beauty salon for men, the Grooming Lounge, opened in 2002. Nickel, a French-owned day spa, opened a few months before in the Chelsea section of New York.

More unisex friendly

At the same time, some spas are becoming more unisex-friendly, using neutral tones in their decor or offering spa packages custom-designed for men.

"I think in general spa owners have become more marketing savvy, and they're saying, `Hey, why not market to men?'" said Sinclair.

Neal's The Hair Studio & Day Spa in Mount Vernon has offered spa packages to men since it expanded from a hair salon to a spa in 1990. For $195 the salon offers "The Men's Retreat," which includes a stress relief facial, back treatment, manicure, pedicure and hair cut.

Co-owner Joe Pitta said his male clientele has always been steady but recently increased and said pop culture is part of the reason.

GQ magazine writes regularly about beauty products for men. Hip-hop moguls such as Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Damon Dash talk about their regular pampering.

Wax jobs in particular increased among men at Neal's after the debut of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The show features five gay men dubbed the "Fab Five" with expertise in the fields of fashion, grooming, interior design, food and culture who do makeovers of heterosexual men. Many are going at the urging of the women in their lives.

"Men were coming in saying, `My girlfriend is watching too many makeup shows,'" Pitta said.

Kenneth Cherry, 34, first went to a spa three years ago to get a massage to ease back pain. He was persuaded to get a facial and hasn't turned back since.

Once a month, the Philadelphia man travels to Neal's in Baltimore to get the works - a pedicure, manicure, massage, hairstyle and facial. But he said a stigma is still attached to men and spas.

"Today's society is definitely more in vogue," Cherry said. "But I would say there's still a stigma on it, too. A certain percentage of our society doesn't believe it's acceptable or think that it's odd for men to have these things done."

Behan is hoping enough men will come to his salon so that he is able to start turning a profit in the first six to nine months. At $25 a haircut, Behan hopes to attract men from all walks of life to spa treatments typically frequented by the well-to-do.

Family money

Behan invested more than $1 million in family money to start the venture. The 36-year-old has hired a vice president of operations to oversee the day-to-day operations of the spa.

Behan will spend most of his time continuing on as president of Dunleary Inc., a $38 million family company based in Towson that makes highly specialized chemicals used in some cosmetics and foods. But now he has a place where he can get his hair done without sacrificing his manhood.

"Once they cross the line and try it, men find that it's not so bad," said Pitta of Neal's spa. "Once a man goes into the spa and finds out it's a private room, there's no stigma. It's getting over that mystery of what's going to happen."

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