The gentleman's syndrome

In the much-talked-about, much-watched "A Gentleman's Dignity," men are portrayed as skincare-conscious 40-something dudes who hang out at cafes and are not afraid to gush over their non-alcoholic beverages or be seen shopping together.

With viewer ratings up in the 20 per cent range, this oft-called male version of "Sex and the City" is a hot commodity, but are the attractive, sensitive, metrosexual leading men in the show a far-fetched image of middle-aged male society or for real?

"I think that 'A Gentleman's Dignity' does reflect societal trends, to a certain extent," said men's magazine Leon Korea editor-in-chief Sheen Dong-sun.

"Men really do chat," said Sheen, 41. "Now, instead of moving onto drinks after dinner, guys are going out for coffee, where they sit down, chat and then call it a day."

"Since we first opened in South Korea in 1999, there has been a rise in the number of men who use our cafes as a gathering spot," said a Starbucks Korea representative who observed that male cafe-goers are still outnumbered by female customers.

As for the skincare products that the male leads, namely Lee Jeong-rok (Lee Jong-hyeok), are seen using in the program, Sheen said that there has been a noticeable increase in interest in beauty products and services among men in their 30s and 40s.

Considering the explosion in diversity and variety of men's skincare products in the Korean cosmetics market, it is not hard to believe that men are increasingly more invested in taking care of their complexion.

Take Amore Pacific for instance. The Korean company launched its "prestige" men's cosmetics brand, Hera Homme, in 2005.

Hera Homme then went on to release its first blemish balm (a sort-of multi-purpose tinted moisturizer) in 2010 and just released a three-step skin tone-focused "cell brightening" line this month.

Blemish balm is nothing new to the world of men's cosmetics.

Media coverage of the tinted moisturizer and its more extreme cousins has been extensive, but if anything has changed over the years, it looks like the blemish balm-wearing age group might be getting broader.

"The consumer range that buys blemish balm is growing," Hera Homme PR specialist Park Sung-min said. "In the past, young men were the primary consumers, but now many office workers also purchase the balm."

"The age bracket for blemish balm seems to extend up to men in their early 30s but not further than that," said Leon Korea marketing manager Oh Min-soo.

Park, however, said she heard some men in their 40s ? the age group portrayed in "A Gentleman's Dignity" ? also seek out blemish balm.

"Those in their early-to-mid-40s, an age bracket now-dubbed the 'blossom of middle age,' are showing growing interest in personal upkeep," Park said, adding that their premium Black line attracts that age group and that the average Hera Homme customer is aged 30 to 39.

According to new reports, the men's cosmetics market has been showing an annual growth rate of over 15 per cent. This year, it is predicted the market will reach the one trillion won (S$1,106 million) mark.

When it comes to makeup though, it looks like blemish balm is about as far as the average Joe will go.

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