Men are the final frontier in the $4.3 billion Australian cosmetics market, with British beauty brand War Paint joining the battle, alongside luxury giants Chanel, Gucci and Tom Ford, to put foundation and concealers alongside shaving gel in the bathroom cabinets of self-confessed blokes.
War Paint has launched a digital marketplace and will be sold in the Melbourne and Sydney stores of Australian fashion brand Nique when lockdown restrictions lift. It’s a chance to compete with the bigger beauty brands currently expanding their marketing to include men but founder Danny Gray’s motivations go far below the skin.
“I founded the brand because I have body dysmorphia,” Gray, 34, said from his new flagship store in London’s Carnaby Street. “I was bullied in my junior school when I was younger because of my ears. I started obsessing over my appearance and when I was 15, I experienced spots [pimples] and didn’t know what to do.”
Gray’s older sister came to the rescue with a stick of concealer. “I’ve been wearing make-up since then.”
Leaving behind a corporate career in car rentals and taking out a second mortgage, Gray launched War Paint in 2018, taking the name from slang for make-up. Since then, he has developed customer bases in England, Ireland, Japan and Canada, with Australia the current focus, as Gray tries making the idea of holding a make-up brush as natural as wielding a razor for men.
“A lot of men out there would feel ashamed about using make-up and that’s why our education is very different to a female-focused brand,” Gray says. “If you go onto a website for a brand like MAC, it’s all pictures of women and even their tutorials are aimed at women. They’re long. Ours are just two minutes.”
Gray is not interested in teaching men how to apply a smoky eye or contour their jawline, preferring to focus on skin correction and concealing flaws. For him speaking directly to men is about creating opportunity.
“No one should be pushed in any direction. There should be make-up brands for gender-neutral people, for females and for males.”
By targeting men Gray is competing with Chanel, who launched the Boy de Chanel collection for men in 2018 and Tom Ford’s concealers and brow gels. Other brands, however, are abandoning a men-only approach.
Melbourne social influencer Deni Todorovic identifies as non-binary and believes that more make-up companies should be taking the approach of Gucci and de-gendering products, featuring men and women in their campaigns.
“Men’s lipstick is no different to women’s lipstick,” Todorovic said. “That’s the beauty of beauty. It’s inclusive. It’s not fashion where people can be excluded because of size.”
“When you speak to an audience in a way that is gender-neutral you are open to everyone. When you make a men’s specific product it becomes more categorising, like Chanel calling their range Boy.”
Todorovic points to the popularity of male beauty influencers such as Jeffree Star and James Charles on social media platforms and the rise of TikTok tutorials for focusing attention on men who wish to use make-up.
“Men’s make-up is no longer just for costumes and performing,” they said.
Not all attention on social media is positive, as Todorovic discovered last month when a post they appeared in on David Jones’ Instagram account attracted negative comments, resulting in the intervention of a moderator.
“This is not the first time that it’s happened,” Todorovic said. “It tends to be a specific group, primarily women, who leave vitriolic and hateful comments.”
“When I looked at those comments I realised how much work we have to do as an industry. People were calling the brand ‘woke’ as a criticism, which is disappointing. Would they prefer that brands were sleepy and didn’t evolve?”
“David Jones is committed to being inclusive and represent diversity – in all its forms – from ethnicity to body shape and size, gender identity and everything in between,” a written statement from David Jones said. “Our change rooms are gender-neutral and we welcome customers however they identify and wish to engage with products and services.”
The inclusive approach looks to the future but at the moment for the department store, the men’s make-up market is about evolution rather than revolution.
“It is growing,” said Rachel Duffy-Packer, general manger of beauty, David Jones. “But not at the same speed as it is internationally. In Australia, there are still barriers that exist here around men’s beauty.”
For Duffy-Packer, Gucci is leading the way in the “colour” category, which encompasses make-up, by working with popular figures such as singer Harry Styles.
“Just think of Harry with his nails,” she said. “He’s done a lot for that.”
Nadia Jones, creative director of Nique, is hoping that more men will feel comfortable entering boutiques than navigating the sprawling beauty departments of larger stores.
“Men will be able to come in and experience the product and we have trained all the staff to help guide men through the range,” Jones said. “Women have had years of practice but many men are starting from scratch.”
War Paint founder Gray is confident that he will overcome Australian men’s fear of foundation.
“We sponsor Norwich City over here,” Gray said of the English Premier League football club. “We have already had AFL teams approach us.”
“A lot of guys are already using skincare. It doesn’t make you live a day longer but it does make you feel better. The same with make-up. If it makes you feel good, what’s the problem?”
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