FIRST there were New Romantics in the 1980s, who cast male caution to the wind by daring to wear a slick of eyeliner and a swish of blusher. Then there were metrosexuals, fashionable young urban men who were happy to shop and take care of their appearance in a way that would have had their grandfathers spluttering into their pints.
But now it seems men aren’t just content to indulge in a little beauty therapy – they want to be the ones dishing it out as well. Male students now make up ten per cent of those attending Stevenson College’s beauty and complimentary therapy courses and they say customers, male and female, are more than delighted to be seen by a man who can manicure.
They’re not alone. Door-to-door make-up company Avon is seeing increasing numbers of men signing up as reps, with more than five per cent of its workforce now male. Avon claims men are attracted to the job because of the flexible hours, the chance to be your own boss and to make decent money.
Those studying at Stevenson echo that view, saying that they see studying on the courses as a hard-nosed business decision to join an expanding industry now worth around £17.4 billion a year.
Among them is Christo Karabounarliev, currently studying on a one-year complementary therapies course and with aims to set up his own clinic once he qualifies.
The 24-year-old Bulgarian is learning about aromatherapy, Swedish massage and reflexology but says he was actually amazed when he signed up to find himself very much in the minority. “I thought there would be more guys doing this course,” he says. “But everyone is very friendly.”
His initial interest was in hypnotherapy, which he studied while living in Spain. That led on to an interest in reiki. “I just found both very interesting. I wanted to set up my own business but I didn’t think two therapies would be enough, so that’s why I studied this course,” he says.
As part of their studies, students practise on real clients – the college’s salon is open to the public – and Christo, who lives in Pilrig, says he’s had very positive feedback. “A few guys say they actually prefer a man, especially for the massage, because of the firmer pressure,” he says.
He has no fears about making his mark in a traditionally female world. “I have been told it might be harder to get busy in this type of industry, but I think if you are professional and provide a good service, clients will come back,” he says.
Fellow student Reece Smith also harbours ambitions to set up his own salon. The 18-year-old, who lives in Livingston, says out of the hundreds of clients he’s treated at the college’s salon only three have refused him on the grounds he was male. “And one of those was for religious reasons, which is fair enough,” he says. Reece, who is 18 months into a two-year beauty therapy course, says he was attracted to the industry because “I like making people feel good about themselves”.
It’s the Botox and electric therapy treatments he enjoys – “I don’t like doing the make-up or the nails as much,” he admits. He became interested in such treatment through watching TV shows but also through science lessons at school, and says most people don’t realise how much of an academic basis there is to beauty studies. “There is a lot of hard work involved,” he says.
Like Christo, below, he says he’s had no problems fitting into a mainly female world. “Everyone thinks the beauty world must be bitchy, but everyone is really friendly.”
That’s a view echoed by one of the most successful beauty therapists currently working in the city. Jamie Chalmers, the director and founder of Rasayana, has been a therapist for nearly a decade and has won Body Therapist of the Year at the British Beauty and Spa Awards twice. Formerly head therapist at One Spa at the Sheraton, he now provides his own set of treatments for the spa. He says: “It’s not the catty atmosphere that everyone expects, everyone keeps it very professional.
I have worked in this environment for over nine years now and attitudes have changed – nine years ago clients were surprised to see a male therapist but now people don’t even comment on it. Many actually prefer it.
“We need more men in the industry,” he adds.
To book a treatment at Stevenson College’s salon, call 0131-535 4758. For more information on Jamie’s treatments, visit www.rasayana.co.uk