MEN ARE BACK screamed an ad launching a car. Men? Car? Back? From where …? What’s the connection? It’s the image, silly! In today’s aspirational, media-exposed, globalised world, positioning and perception are the real game-changers. In a Product category blitzed by both fierce competition and deadly parity, it is these two aspects that provide the critical differentiators. In this case, the idea was to loudly and dramatically position the automobile brand as a sexy, masculine & virile number on wheels … or else be another 36th from left, faceless product, sadly altering the great Caesar’s quote to – I CAME, THEY SAW, THEY LEFT!!
As fashion statements go in these nano-second times, traditional lifestyle mores are being demolished every day, replaced by freaky, whacko and unthinkable alternatives. Fuzz, beards and facial hair is an excellent example. World renowned Gillette’s hugely publicised, global campaign, a few years ago, celebrating the advantages and joys of a smooth, clean-shaven male face – The Best a Man can get – & getting a host of attractive female celebs to endorse this claim – is history! Look around and across every spectrum of society today – youngistan, aspirational Professionals, Celebs – it’s a booming case of badti ka naam daadi. How? Why? What happened?
Before we get entangled in the pros and cons of the fuzz, a few facts. Historically – claim analysts – the Beard’s main function was to symbolise male strength, virility and physicality. The ‘Military Moustache’ – handlebar – was revered because it represented, along with their uniforms, mardangi! Many women, even today, are turned-on by this sexy combo. Health benefits also come into play since, doctors suggest, they are a “natural protection against the harmful rays of the sun and a means to keep the neck warm & prevent facial cramp.
A filter to keep germs from getting into the nose and throat.” The Nay-Sayers, however,have their own [negative] story to tell. They point towards surveys which brand bearded dudes to – most likely – be “sexist, misogynistic, love-rats and cheats”; a breed that is uncouth and crass in looks & behaviour. The Bearded gang have retorted with the classic line, “there are lies, lies … and statistical surveys!”
Away from the heat and dust of conflict, Social Commentators believe that there are many reasons why the beard-boom in recent times is embracing – ouch! – the world, full-on. They reckon the new-age-workplace heads the list. Let’s face it, men don’t like [hate?] to shave every friggin’ day but have had to because of their women and workplace. Not any more. The age of the formal, rigid compulsions of dress code at work is over. Even the largest and globally renowned big-ticket corporates have loosened up in this area & introduced a cooler and more informal approach. The once compulsory suited-booted look is out, replaced by a more casual office attire. This is further re-enforced and in response to the profile of the modern workplace. A creative-driven profession – Advertising, Journalism, Entertainment industry, Publishing, Designing outfit, Production house, etc. – does not demand a formal dress code simply because neither the job nor the person requires it as an integral part of either their vision or mission to achieve or excel. Similarly, the once mandatory clean-shaven look at the workplace is also flamboyantly dumped in the bin along with the dress code. On the contrary, the bearded look today is considered cool and a sign of creativity, seriousness, gravitas, maturity … bordering on intellectuality!
Admits graphic designer Sona Khullar “I can’t stand the smooth, chikna looking guys. So effeminate! My boy-friend has a super cool designer beard and I love it!” The 28-year old Bangalore-based young lady, however, laughingly confesses that her mom hates it and keeps complaining why a sweet guy like him has to look “like a sidey villain of a B-grade Bollywood movie of the 70’s!” Ms. Khullar is joined by tons of young women who totally approve of the fuzzy look in males. Says 25 year old Mumbai-based Ad executive Trina Sen, “C’mon guys, Fuzz is the new cool quotient on a guy’s gob, right? Check out the red-hot Bollywood Khan trio, even Akshay, Ajay and now Farhan. The smooth-shaven types are week & shady and clearly retro. I like the grungy look, so much more sexy, interesting and macho!” This anthem seems to be gaining momentum every second …
On cue, the Beard growing business guys have leapt onto the bandwagon to monetise this movement and grab a piece of the action with their specialised offerings. They have understood that this global bimari is not a one-off fashion fad but is clearly [for sociological reasons] hair-to-stay, a part of a very serious existent male sub-culture. This has kicked off an unprecedented boom in this space and even India has witnessed a trend where startups of beard oils & beard-themed T-shirts have screamed centre-stage and given dermatologists amazing business in the form of beard transplants! It appears to have caught on across pan-India because, as Raj Tuli, co-founder of a quirky merchandise company that manufactures a range of facial hair-grooming products called ‘Happily Unmarried’ explains “Beards are in! It is also no longer merely an exclusively metro or urban fashion statement.
Our products under the Ustraa brand – which includes moustache & beard tonics – have enthusiastic clients from smaller towns too. This has forced our Customer Care guys to quickly learn and become fluent in several regional languages with Punjabi & Marathi heading the list.” Recalls an amused senior cosmetic surgeon in Mumbai about a patient requesting Beard-contouring with a round face. “He wanted the chiselled look on his wedding day!” Another wanted to shape his unruly beard in a stylish manner because “my teenage daughter wants me to look cool at her farewell!” As always, ancillary lines have also grown, apparel being the biggest beneficiary. We live in publicity-driven times where slogans define the here n’ now lifestyle in exciting fashion. A T-shirt company ‘Wear Your Opinion’ recently said to have launched a line of beard-themed Tees with an on-line mascot ‘Beard Baba’ whose one-liners are scorchers. A recent one had a smooth-shaven dude pose the question “Does having a beard itch?” to which the Fuzzy Wise one retorted with scathing cool “Not as much as having you around!”