Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — The current crop of indie beauty brands is giving men new options when it comes to toiletries.
For years, men who wanted products as luxurious and high tech as those available to women had few choices. Mass market products were in abundance, but prestige options were limited. Clinique, Aramis and Biotherm were some of the only companies creating high-end toiletries for men.
“There wasn’t much for men up until a few years ago,” said Lev Glazman, chief operating officer of Fresh, the Boston-based toiletries company. “I used to buy a lot of women’s products because there was more variety.”
But now, thanks to the beauty revolution that has resulted in dozens of small beauty brands, men have more choices than ever in the prestige end of the market. Interestingly, many of the products that appeal to men weren’t created specifically for them. Instead, the products have a distinct unisex feel, both in positioning and packaging.
Alexandra Volkmann, the founder of Heavy Duty, conceived her company as a line of gender-bender products. “I thought that, first of all, men use our products anyway. Why not make something that they feel comfortable buying on their own,” she said.
Her first product was a hand cream packaged in a tube that featured a black-and-white picture of Volkmann in high heels and a skirt changing the tire of a vintage car. Traditional beauty outlets picked up the product, but so did car washes and an automotive museum gift shop.
Volkmann expanded the line last year with six new stockkeeping units, including a shaving cream, body scrub and shower gel. “Guys were a big influence for the second set of products,” she said. “They’ve been amazingly successful, especially the shaving cream. Guys like that the products really work and they like that the fragrance is citrusy and unisex.”
The company Fresh was created in part because Lev Glazman had trouble finding products that wouldn’t aggrevate his skin or his fragrance sensitivity.
The company’s products are geared toward a unisex audience and the customer base is 70 percent women, 30 percent men. Fresh’s three boutiques — two in New York, one in Boston — are men-friendly, thanks to the sleek, modern materials like pale wood and metal shelves used in the interior design and the open-sell merchandising. “We wanted to create a very comfortable environment for the customer,” he said. “Men can just blend in and shop.”
Popular products with men include the Hombres des Flores fragrance line, which Glazman created because he couldn’t find any floral scents for men in the market. Tuberose is the best seller.
The Luxe fragrances — Olive, Grape & Vine and Tobacco Flower — were a hit for the company, so Fresh added line extensions that include a moisturizing shaving cream in a chic silver tin and vegetable oil soaps. In October, Fresh will launch a Luxe facial moisturizer and a shaving cream for sensitive skin. Luxe hair care will hit in 2001.
Fresh’s Index collection, which launched as a line of fragrances, also has been expanded to include shaving cream, a sport shampoo, lip treatment, soap and tonic water.
“It’s amazing how men have responded to Index,” said Glazman. He thinks that part of the popularity is due to the packaging, which is white or clear glass with black and white labels. The most popular scent in the line among male customers is Tobacco Caramel. Peter Thomas Roth has found a following with men for several reasons. The company has straightforward products; basic black and white packaging, and a man’s name stamped on every stockkeeping unit.
“If you put a lady’s name on a product line, men are most likely not going to buy it,” said Roth, chief executive officer of the company.
“Men are purchasing more skin care products than ever before,” added June Jacobs, president of Peter Thomas Roth. “Our products have a universal appeal and men feel comfortable purchasing these products knowing there is not a feminine look to the packaging.”
Jacobs said some of the products that are popular with male customers include Oxygen Mist, Aloe-Cort Cream, Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Sunblock SPF 30 and AHA Exfoliating Foot Cream.
Roth and Jacobs have noticed that men are not only shopping more for prestige products, but that they are getting more spa treatments. A big part of Peter Thomas Roth’s distribution is in spas and salons and the company has a line of products sold exclusively to spas.
Philosophy, the Phoenix-based beauty company, has found a male following through a combination of unisex packaging and products targeted specifically to men. These include the shaving creams Razor Sharp and The Common Man; a scalp, face and body shampoo called The Power Shower, and an oil-free exfoliating gel called The Afterglow. The best-seller among the men’s SKU’s is Power Shower.
Cristina Carlino, founder of Philosophy, said that men constitute 6 percent of Philosophy’s customer base. “We think we can double that in the next couple of years if we really work it,” she said.
Carlino would like to see retailers help by changing how men’s products are displayed in stores. “Can we please have men’s products broken out,” she stated. “We’ve begged to have our men’s products put in men’s fragrance sections. They’ve been very reluctant to do it and it’s a huge mistake. A real macho guy is not going to be waltzing through a cosmetics department. Fish where the fish are.”
The solution may be found in cyberspace. “We have tons of male shoppers online,” she said. “Common Man is in the top six of products sold through our Web site. Does that tell you how big it could be?”
Chris Gable, co-founder of Demeter, the unisex fragrance line, isn’t sure if he wants to see men’s products taken out of the beauty department. But he does agree that the beauty counter can be an intimidating place for men.
“People in general and men specifically are frightened by the dragon ladies behind the cosmetics counters,” he said.
Rather than shift locations, Gable thinks more stores should embrace open sell.
“The open-sell thing really works,” he said. “That’s why we started in smaller venues because they understand open sell. It works much better for us on a square foot basis than in a caseline.”
Gable pointed to Kiehl’s as a company that is doing things right as far as men are concerned. Its product line-up consists mostly of unisex items in generic packaging; it has a generous sampling policy; it embraces open-sell merchandising in its East Village store, and its sales staff is helpful. “You can go in with a problem and they’ll spend half an hour talking to you,” Gable said.
“All of this was there before I came into this world,” said Jami Morse von Heidegger, chief executive officer and co-president of Kiehl’s. Her grandfather and father were responsible for many of the company’s current practices. “When I was very young, all of the people working at Kiehl’s were male. Men feel comfortable interacting with men. Also, a lot of the original products were geared toward men because my father created products that he would use.”
Heidegger estimated that Kiehl’s customer base is 45 percent male.
Unlike many beauty boutiques, Kiehl’s East Village shop has a masculine feel. “My father has his museum in the store with World War II uniforms and displays with cars and planes,” she added. Today, the store features a rotating exhibit of her father’s vintage motorcycles.
In stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, Kiehl’s is sold in both the beauty departments and the men’s departments. Heidegger has mixed feelings about the approach.
“I appreciate having that satellite exposure,” said Heidegger, “but it’s hard to train people and get the samples and get everything just right. It’s better to keep things focused.”