Being a boy in the beauty industry

By Janetta Mackay

We ask what being a boy in the beauty business is like.

Bobbi Brown's senior makeup artist, James Tai. Photo / Babiche Martens
Bobbi Brown's senior makeup artist, James Tai. Photo / Babiche Martens

Dougal Herd has had passers-by do a double-take when they see him at work, stopping to confirm that, yes, he is a man and, yes, he does work on a cosmetics counter. Reactions haven't been negative, but over his four years working in beauty he has had many comments that it is a bit "different".

The 24-year-old is that rare thing in New Zealand, a man standing on the service side of an industry aimed mainly at woman.

In fact, you'd be hard-pushed to find more than half a dozen men currently working on beauty counters here, notwithstanding that many of the world's top makeup artists are male, including Lancome global artistic director Aaron De Mey, who hails from Tauranga.

Fashion-forward M.A.C is an exception in the industry, with male counter staff in Auckland and Christchurch and another long-standing staffer having recently transferred to one of its Melbourne stores.

But times are changing and the counter staff Viva talked to said these days they received fewer raised eyebrows.

All were unanimous in recommending their career choice as rewarding to men with a passion for it and a liking for helping others.

JAMES TAI, Bobbi Brown senior makeup artist

Friends and family encouraged Taiwan-born James Tai to "give it a go" when he considered studying makeup artistry. At the time he had spent several years in hotel management and hospitality after studies in New Plymouth and time overseas. He returned to Auckland in 2004 and has worked with Bobbi Brown for the last five years, also amassing experience with photo shoots, weddings and fashion shows. His ambition is to be an international beauty or educating artist.

What led you to this career?

I felt like I really wanted to do what I was interested in and made me happy.

What do family and friends think?

Mostly supportive. Mum was not very supportive ... until I won the Makeup Artist of the Year for Bobbi Brown.

What do strangers think when you tell them your job?

Mostly [that it is] quite cool and artistic.

What assumptions are made about you because of your job?

That I'm gay, friendly, and have good style.

What do you like best about the job?

I get to play with makeup - I can't stop touching makeup even in my spare time.

What do you find most challenging?

I think timing is key. Sometimes I tend to take a bit longer as I do enjoy a bit of chat with my clients, but I work well when under pressure.

What sort of feedback have your experienced?

There are some sensitivities around cultural beliefs. In some cases, women don't wish to work with a male. Also I'm a straightforward person, so I hope that doesn't offend anyone. Mostly my clients seem to react really well to my personality.

What about male customers?

Some wear products on themselves, and some just get advice or recommendations for their partners/wives. They tend to have little time, and not stick around too long. Most of them are pretty relaxed.

What are the advantages of being male in your role?

I think I can offer a fresh perspective and a different point of view. That helps to create a pressure-free environment between me and the customer.

TOM ELLIOT SCOALES, Kiehl's counter manager

In five years in Auckland, this young man from Manchester with interests in fashion, beauty and design has become a familiar face in retail. With an eye on staying in the beauty industry, but possibly moving into marketing one day, 22-year-old Scoales clearly has the gift of the gab, offering that his family dog Scooby loves Kiehl's Cuddly Coat Shampoo - "he will never use another brand again".

Scoales has worked for Kiehl's for just over two years, launching the American brand's first New Zealand counter at Smith & Caughey's Queen St store before moving to Newmarket six months ago. He finds educating customers about the importance of skincare, which he has long diligently used, to be the most challenging part of his job.

"I believe you should make the most of what you've got - and try to hold on to it for as long as you can."

What other jobs have you done?

I worked at Stephen Marr and Nest, and before that I was a phlebotomist [someone who takes people's blood] - it was a bizarre job for an 18-year-old straight out of school.

What do family and friends think of your occupation?

They think it's great. A lot of my really good mates work in the beauty industry and they think it's fabulous that men are finally starting to get into it.

What about strangers?

So far I've not had a negative reaction. If anyone does ever make assumptions it is that this industry is for women only.

What do you like best about the job?

I love meeting different people from all walks of life. Each person has different concerns and requirements.

How do women customers react to your presence on counter?

Women seem to just open up. I get told the most interesting things. Sometimes I get told too much!

What about men?

Men seem happy enough to be served by me. I think it can be a daunting experience for some guys to go shopping for a moisturiser or an eye cream. They listen when it comes to my product recommendations because I use them myself.

Are there topics that are more difficult to deal with as a man advising women?

I encounter more difficulties because of my age, not my gender. When I'm advising a customer to use a product for lifting and firming sometimes they give me one of those 'how would you know?' looks.

DOUGAL HERD, Clinique service centre

A work trip to Auckland convinced this South Islander to pack in his job in Queenstown and head north. He applied for a job with Clinique hoping to further his love of makeup. "Four years later, after falling in love with skincare as well, I am still here."

Herd is second-in-charge at Clinique, St Lukes, where he has worked for five months after a stint at 277 Newmarket and a time as a counter manager with another beauty brand. Long term he would like to become a brand manager.

What sort of reactions does your job get?

Quite positive, people love to tell me their favourite beauty products and ask for my thoughts. People assume that I work mostly with makeup. I try to explain that actually skin care is also a huge focus for us, and makeup is an extension of that.

What do you like best about it?

I love coming to work and meeting lots of interesting people, and helping them feel better about themselves and their skin.

What is challenging about it?

Trying to convey that there is no one cosmetic product that is going to fix everything. It takes time and commitment to solve a concern, but it can be fun!

Do some women particularly enjoy dealing with a man?

I believe so. I think we are a neutral sounding board. Women tend to find us very approachable. Disadvantages can be that women may sometimes assume we cannot relate to wearing makeup or using skincare products.

What about the men?

Some can be intimidated, while others find it very helpful as I can relate to things like shaving and offer solutions based on experience.

Are areas such as anti-ageing skincare more difficult to deal with as a man?

I believe men have concerns about ageing, just like women.

MARK HYDE, Clarins counter manager

Aucklander Mark Hyde has been in his job for three years and became interested in the industry after helping at a VIP men's fragrance event. Prior to that he worked as a hospital haemo-dialysis assistant. Those close to him are supportive of his career choice and he has encountered very few negative reactions on counter, but says strangers do react with "a look of surprise and then a smile".

What do you like best and find most challenging about the job?

Doing makeup and prescribing lovely skincare. Occasionally, makeup can be challenging, making it rewarding when there is a positive outcome and a happy customer at the end of it

Do some women customers particularly enjoy dealing with a man?

Definitely, they love dealing with me and getting a male perspective on their skincare/makeup needs.

What about men?

Male customers think it's great that I can help them with their skincare needs and offer advice from experience.

Tell us how your gender has caused a reaction?

Some women look at me and say "a man!" and are definitely a little surprised. Then we sit down together and get along great.

What is a plus for you as a man?

The advantage is that there are fewer men in the industry, while the men's skincare business is growing.

- NZ Herald

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