June 22, 2003
By WARREN ST. JOHN
BY his own admission, 30-year-old Karru Martinson is not
what you'd call a manly man. He uses a $40 face cream,
wears Bruno Magli shoes and custom-tailored shirts. His
hair is always just so, thanks to three brands of shampoo
and the precise application of three hair grooming
products: Textureline Smoothing Serum, got2b styling glue
and Suave Rave hairspray.
Mr. Martinson likes wine bars and enjoys shopping with his
gal pals, who have come to trust his eye for color, his
knack for seeing when a bag clashes with an outfit, and his
understanding of why some women have 47 pairs of black
shoes. ("Because they can!" he said.) He said his guy
friends have long thought his consumer and grooming habits
a little . . . different. But Mr. Martinson, who lives in
Manhattan and works in finance, said he's not that
"From a personal perspective there was never any doubt what
my sexual orientation was," he said. "I'm straight as an
So it was with a mixture of relief and mild embarrassment
that Mr. Martinson was recently asked by a friend in
marketing to be part of a focus group of "metrosexuals" -
straight urban men willing, even eager, to embrace their
Convinced that these open-minded young men hold the secrets
of tomorrow's consumer trends, the advertising giant Euro
RSCG, with 233 offices worldwide, wanted to better
understand their buying habits. So in a private room at the
Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park recently, Mr.
Martinson answered the marketers' questions and schmoozed
with 11 like-minded straight guys who were into Diesel
jeans, interior design, yoga and Mini Coopers, and who
would never think of ordering a vodka tonic without
specifying Grey Goose or Ketel One.
Before the focus group met, Mr. Martinson said he was
suspicious that such a thing as a metrosexual existed.
Afterward, he said, "I'm fully aware that I have those
America may be on the verge of a metrosexual moment. On
July 15, Bravo will present a makeover show, "Queer Eye for
the Straight Guy," in which a team of five gay men
"transform a style-deficient and culture-deprived straight
man from drab to fab," according to the network. Condé Nast
is developing a shopping magazine for men, modeled after
Lucky, its successful women's magazine, which is largely a
text-free catalog of clothes and shoes.
There is no end to the curious new vanity products for
young men, from a Maxim-magazine-branded hair coloring
system to Axe, Unilever's all-over body deodorant for guys.
And men are going in for self-improvement strategies
traditionally associated with women. For example, the
number of plastic surgery procedures on men in the United
States has increased threefold since 1997, to 807,000,
according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic
"Their heightened sense of aesthetics is very, very
pronounced," Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer at Euro
RSCG, who organized the gathering at Eleven Madison Park,
said of metrosexuals. "They're the style makers. It doesn't
mean your average Joe American is going to copy everything
they do," she added. "But unless you study these guys you
don't know where Joe American is heading."
Paradoxically, the term metrosexual, which is now being
embraced by marketers, was coined in the mid-90's to mock
everything marketers stand for. The gay writer Mark Simpson
used the word to satirize what he saw as consumerism's toll
on traditional masculinity. Men didn't go to shopping
malls, buy glossy magazines or load up on grooming
products, Mr. Simpson argued, so consumer culture promoted
the idea of a sensitive guy - who went to malls, bought
magazines and spent freely to improve his personal
Within a few years, the term was picked up by British
advertisers and newspapers. In 2001, Britain's Channel Four
brought out a show about sensitive guys called
recent years the European media found a metrosexual icon in
David Beckham, the English soccer star, who paints his
fingernails, braids his hair and poses for gay magazines,
all while maintaining a manly profile on the pitch. Along
with terms like "PoMosexual," `just gay enough" and
"flaming heterosexuals," the word metrosexual is now
gaining currency among American marketers who are fumbling
for a term to describe this new type of feminized man.
America has a long tradition of sensitive guys. Alan Alda,
John Lennon, even Al Gore all heard the arguments of the
feminist movement and empathized. Likewise, there's a
history of dashing men like Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart
who managed to affect a personal style with plenty of hair
goop but without compromising their virility. Even Harrison
Ford, whose favorite accessory was once a hammer, now poses
proudly wearing an earring.
But what separates the modern-day metrosexual from his
touchy-feely forebears is a care-free attitude toward the
inevitable suspicion that a man who dresses well, has good
manners, understands thread counts or has opinions on
women's fashion is gay.
"If someone's going to judge me on what kind of moisturizer
I have on my shelf, whatever," said Marc d'Avignon, 28, a
graduate student living in the East Village, who describes
himself as "horrendously addicted to Diesel jeans" and
living amid a chemistry lab's worth of Kiehl's lotions.
"It doesn't bother me at all. Call it homosexual, feminine,
hip, not hip - I don't care. I like drawing from all sorts
of sources to create my own persona."
While some metrosexuals may simply be indulging in pursuits
they had avoided for fear of being suspected as gay - like
getting a pedicure or wearing brighter colors - others
consciously appropriate tropes of gay culture the way white
suburban teenagers have long cribbed from hip-hop culture,
as a way of distinguishing themselves from the pack. Having
others question their sexuality is all part of the game.
"Wanting them to wonder and having them wonder is a
wonderful thing," said Daniel Peres, the editor in chief of
Details, a kind of metrosexual bible. "It gives you an air
of mystery: could he be? It makes you stand out."
Standing out requires staying on top of which products are
hip and which are not. Marketers refer to such
style-obsessed shoppers as prosumers, or urban influentials
- educated customers who are picky or just vain enough to
spend more money or to make an extra effort in pursuit of
their personal look. A man who wants to buy Clinique for
Men, for example, has to want the stuff so badly that he
will walk up to the women's cosmetics counter in a
department store, where Clinique for Men is sold. A man who
wants Diesel jeans has to be willing to pay $135 a pair. A
man who insists on Grey Goose has to get comfortable with
paying $14 for a martini.
"The guy who drinks Grey Goose is willing to pay extra,"
said Lee Einsidler, executive vice president of Sydney
Frank Importing, which owns Grey Goose. "He does it in all
things in his life. He doesn't buy green beans, he buys
Other retailers hope to entice the man on the fence to get
in touch with his metrosexual side. Oliver Sweatman, the
chief executive of Sharps, a new line of grooming products
aimed at young urban men, said that to lure manly men to
buy his new-age shaving gels - which contain Roman
chamomile, gotu kola and green tea - the packaging is a
careful mixture of old and new imagery. The fonts recall
the masculinity of an old barber shop, but a funny picture
of a goat on the label implies, he said, something out of
In an effort to out closeted metrosexuals, Ms. Salzman and
her marketing team at Euro RSCG are working at perfecting
polling methods that will identify "metrosexual markers."
One, she noted, is that metrosexuals like telling their
friends about their new finds.
Mr. Martinson, the Bruno Magli-wearing metrosexual, agreed.
"I'm not in marketing," he said, "But when you take a step
back, and say, `Hey, I e-mailed my friends about a great
vodka or a great Off Broadway show,' in essence I am a
marketer and I'm doing it for free."
Most metrosexuals, though, see their approach to life as
serving their own interests in the most important marketing
contest of all: the battle for babes. Their pitch to women:
you're getting the best of both worlds.
Some women seem to buy it. Alycia Oaklander, a 29-year-old
fashion publicist from Manhattan, fell for John Kilpatrick,
a Washington Redskins season ticket holder who loves
Budweiser and grilling hot dogs, in part because of his
passion for shopping and women's fashion shows. On their
first dates, Mr. Kilpatrick brought Champagne, cooked
elaborate meals and talked the talk about Ms. Oaklander's
shoes. They were married yesterday.
"He loves sports and all the guy stuff," Ms. Oaklander
said. "But on the other hand he loves to cook and he loves
design. It balances out."
The proliferation of metrosexuals is even having an impact
in gay circles. Peter Paige, a gay actor who plays the
character Emmett on the Showtime series "Queer as Folk,"
frequently complains in interviews that he's having a
harder time than ever telling straight men from gays.
"They're all low-slung jeans and working out with six packs
and more hair product than I've ever used in my life, and
they smell better than your mother on Easter," he said. Mr.
Paige said there was at least one significant difference
between hitting on metrosexuals and their less evolved
predecessors. "Before, you used to get punched," he said.
"Now it's all, `Gee thanks, I'm straight but I'm really