(Yonhap Feature) Grooming becomes new fad as men discover looks matter
By Kim Hyeh-won
SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, the former chairman of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, became a target of gossip for his tattooed eyebrows several months ago, with some local media comparing him to the bushy-eyebrowed cartoon character in the popular smartphone game Angry Birds.
It is no secret that President Lee Myung-bak had a hair implant before he was elected. Prosecutor-turned National Assemblyman Park Joo-sun of the opposition Democratic Unity Party reportedly received a hair implant at the same clinic.
Prosecutor-General Han Sang-dae transplanted hair from the back of his head to the top last year before he assumed the post.
The late President Roh Moo-hyun had an upper eyelift surgery while he was in office to "remove the sagging skin that disturbed the natural contours of his upper eyelid."
An increasing number of middle-aged, ordinary men in Korea are also paying attention to grooming to look younger and more energetic. Those who are aspiring to be "kkotjungnyeon," translated directly as flower middle-aged men, have been emerging as major customers in the cosmetics, fashion, beauty and even cosmetic surgery markets.
The growth in these markets is fueled by baby boomers entering their 50s, who shop much more than their fathers and grandfathers ever did, either for themselves or for their families.
According to Euromonitor International, a global market researcher, Korea is the world's biggest market of male skincare products. Korean men spent 425.7 billion won on skincare products in 2010, which accounted for 18 percent of global sales. Korea was followed by China, Japan and the United States.
Men get skincare counseling at a department store cosmetics counter. The grooming industry for men has become one of the fastest-growing markets in Korea. (Yonhap file photo)
The cosmetics industry source estimates the size of the men's grooming product industry in Korea to have recorded 1 trillion won in sales in 2011, doubling from 500 billion won in 2008.
Korean men now outspend women on clothes. In 2005, the menswear market was at 4.5 trillion won and the womenswear market was at 6 trillion won. But over the following five years, the men's clothing industry has outgrown the womenswear industry in size, recording 7.27 trillion won in sales in 2010, compared to 7.1 trillion won for women's clothing.
Department stores and online shopping malls are strengthening marketing targeted toward the so-called "neo-Leon tribe," a newly coined term referring to men in their 50s who look like those in their 30s. "Leon," a Japanese lifestyle magazine for middle-aged men, has gained major popularity in Korea by riding the rising interests in men's grooming.
All major department stores in Seoul, including Lotte, Shinsegae and Hyundai, opened multi-shops selling fashion items of selected brands catering to the increasing vanity needs of men.
One noticeable trend in male grooming here is the exploding market of luxury watches for men.
High-end brand watches are making record jumps in sales, leading the growth of the entire luxury brand fashion market in Korea, says an employee of a department store.
For example, sales of ultra-expensive IWC watches from Switzerland have quintupled from 1 billion won in 2006 to 50 billion in 2010, according to a local report.
Men are also accounting for a growing proportion of cosmetic surgery.
A counselor at Soo Clinic in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, said males account for about 10 percent of the total patients, about half of them being middle-aged men. The surgical operation favored by these men the most is eyelift surgery.
Kim Sang-il, 61, the president and CEO of Castle Pine Resort, a golf club, said hair transplant and eyebrow tattoo are so common among CEOs that they are accepted almost as natural. Eyelid surgery is popular among those in their 60s, he said.
"But I don't know many CEOs who underwent such serious cosmetic surgery as a facelift," Kim said.
A doctor who runs a dermatology clinic in Seoul said that 60-70 percent of his middle-aged male patients are upper middle class businessmen, company CEOs and executives. These people are generally opting for injections and minor surgeries for quick fixes since they are reluctant to let others notice the traces of surgery. Botox injection is among the most popular treatments, he said.
Beauty parlors serving men are also mushrooming in Seoul. Manstudio, a beauty shop near Hongik University in western Seoul, is operated by the local cosmetic company Amore-Pacific. The shop not only sells male cosmetic products but also offers skin and scalp care services. The shop is visited by over 1,000 customers on weekends.
Several beauty shops exclusively for men are in business in the upscale Cheongdam-dong and its vicinity in southern Seoul, drawing men in their 20s-50s.
Interior of Manstudio, a beauty shop in Seoul catering exclusively to men. The shop sells cosmetic products and offers skincare services. (Yonahp file photo)
Some luxury beauty shops in the area are equipped with VIP rooms for the self-conscious CEOs and high-ranking government officials who are willing to pay additional charges for privacy. The VIP rooms also serve as private space for relaxation between their busy schedules.
The growing interests of men in grooming are closely related to changing social and cultural perceptions about men in Korea.
Prof. Jo Hae-joang of the Department of Cultural Anthropology of Yonsei University said the time is past when men are satisfied only with their role as bread earners. "Men are changing into individuals who have the desire to be attractive and with their own character, like women," she said.
Kim said CEOs want to look younger in part for better communication with their employees.
"Popularity within their organization has become an important factor in evaluating the performance of CEOs, as well as their capability. Younger looks are believed to be helpful to better communicate with the employees and therefore, remaining competitive in workplaces," he said.
But there are also concerns about the social trend stressing appearances over inner beauty.
Another Kim, a 50-year-old journalist, said he felt bitter when hearing the news that Korean men spend the most on skincare products.
"Society seems to place too much emphasis on physical appearance," he said.
Kim of the Castle Pine Resort feels the same.
"I don't have any objections to men's grooming, but if some people want to wear wristwatches worth over US$100,000 to distinguish themselves from others or to make up for their self-confidence, I don't think it will work," he said.
Kim won the best-dressed businessman award given by Model Line, a Korean fashion model agency, several years ago.