The made-up man

‘Men are stepping into elegance.’

Words  Joseph L. Garcia | Illustration  Tone Dañas


A scene in Dangerous Liaisons shows the Vicomte de Valmonte, as played by John Malkovich, protecting his face with a mask as an attendant powders his wig. When the mask comes off, it reveals the Vicomte’s refined features. His cheeks and lips, which bear the slightest hint of blush, contrast with his valet’s un-rouged unexceptionalism.

Assuming the film is historically accurate, one gathers that the French aristocracy before the Revolution hardly needed to use their hands for anything, and — more important to this piece — that up until the 18th century, both men and women (at least, the wealthy ones), wore makeup.

In ancient times, makeup was used for ceremonial purposes or to show off status. The Egyptians crushed lapis lazuli, a semiprecious blue stone, for their eyeshadow. In the West, the wealthy (regardless of sex) dusted and smeared their faces with white-colored powder and creams to reinforce their aristocracy: if you were anything less than pallid, that meant you were a peasant forced to slave away under the sun.

Meanwhile, pox-afflicted Europeans smeared their faces with unguents to hide the disfiguring scars left by the disease. False moles and beauty marks were employed for the same purpose. Many things fell out of fashion after the French Revolution, most of them symbols of the old court: makeup, high heels for both men and women, breeches, and panniers.

In today’s world, with its high-resolution displays and powerful lenses capable zooming into individual pores, makeup is enjoying a resurgence. And the modern male, like the French aristocrat of yore, is rediscovering the advantages of cosmetics. “They want to look good and they want to feel good all the time,” said hair and makeup stylist Lourd Ramos of TRESemmé, Creations Salon and Happy Skin. Mr. Ramos’s client list includes straight male professionals—lawyers, doctors, and other non-actor occupations—who get their faces made up for events. “Perfect skin, perfect blending—it shouldn’t look like they’re wearing makeup,” said Mr. Ramos on what look the men look for. “I give them neutral colors of bronzer, lip conditioner, eye cream, mascara, and a little powder. That’s it.”


While the prospect of wearing makeup might be too much for the macho Filipino male, beauty professionals advocate a standard regimen of cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. “Everybody uses skincare to some level,” said David Kim, president of luxe Korean skincare brand Areum. “They now realize you can stay young if you maintain and preserve yourself well.”

Verna Marin, chief makeup artist for L’Oreal in the Philippines, conducts makeup workshops around the city for hotels and corporations. Aside from sharing best practices in grooming, Ms. Marin also talks about the wonders using a primer to even out facial coloring and texture. “Image speaks so much about you, and the confidence that you carry,” she said. “They have embraced the fact that they too, need skincare. They too, need to look good.” She also noted that men are no longer embarrassed about buying products themselves. “L’Oreal has a line of skincare products and we actually saw a pickup,” she explained in the vernacular. “Men actually go to the counters and buy things themselves, which is good. They’re supposed to know what they need.”


Can skincare conceivably open the door to makeup? “I’m thinking, ‘Should men wear makeup?’ I don’t know why not, if they want to wear makeup, why not, I mean, if they think they will look better, I don’t think there’s any reason why they shouldn’t wear makeup,” hedged Sevrine Mialhe, marketing communications manager for Cosmetics, Perfumeries, and Toiletries of Rustan’s.

Areum’s Mr. Kim presents a stronger case for the made-up male: “Before, men had to be men,” he said, “but today, men are stepping into elegance.” In his country, he added, how a man looks can determine his professional future. “In Korea, in order to find a good job, you have to look young. You have to look energetic. You have to look healthy.” When it comes to choosing between a “macho” guy who “looks like he just woke up” and a sharp dresser, the Areum executive says Korean bosses prefer those who are “more presentable.” “It’s a new standard in life,” he explained. “People appreciate someone who looks better; someone who is well-groomed.”

It isn’t surprising that Mr. Kim thinks this way. He used to curl his eyelashes when he was 20. “I was doing the curling myself,” he said, “but was I gay, or something? No.”

“My eyes looked brighter, and sharper instead of just looking tired,” he shared. “Men can be beautiful as well. I do not believe that beauty is only exclusive for women. No. Beauty is also for men. But different definitions, right?”