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Benson Ang
Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Showbiz

The fuss over fuzz

The Straits Times | Benson Ang | Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Michael Ng, 29, public relations consultant.

Moustaches have become fashionable but many say the look is still associated with villains

His mother loathed his moustache so much, she offered visual artist Hariz Rosli $2,000 to shave it off four years ago.

The 27-year-old, who sports a curly growth on his upper lip, took the bribe.

"She kept complaining that it made me look old and untidy," he recalls.

But he then grew it back again and his mum has given up trying.

Mr Hariz says with a smile: "It was easy money."

Moustaches, it seems, are in vogue, say barber shops here.

Upscale "manscaping" shops are seeing strong demand for moustache-related products and services, such as shaves and styling.

For example, over the past year, We Need A Hero in Tiong Bahru has seen a 20 per cent jump in demand for its services, which include shaves (from $28) and moustache designing (from $15).

Its chief barber, Mr Quester Ng, 45, says: "Moustaches are becoming trendier and people are becoming more receptive to them.

These days, you can follow moustachioed models such as Joel Alexander and Ricki Hall on Instagram. Even superheroes like Iron Man have moustaches."

Says Mr Jerome Chee, 25, marketing manager of The Panic Room in Geylang: "We see customers walking in every day asking about our moustache-related products and services. With different designs and styles available, more young men are seeing moustaches as a way to express their personality."

The fuss over fuzz can also be traced to celebrities such as Ryan Gosling, Zac Efron and some members of the popular boyband One Direction, whose manicured bristles on fashion blogs and social media have won them fans.

Then there is Movember, a movement which celebrates the moustache.

The charity initiative encourages men to keep moustaches for a month in November to raise funds and awareness for men's health issues, such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

Started in Melbourne in 2003, Movember was launched in Singapore two years ago. Sign-ups for the annual movement have jumped from more than 2,000 in 2012 to more than 2,700 last year.

Mr Greg Rafferty, 38, who heads the movement in Asia, says: "We want to encourage people to see moustaches as a way to do good and start conversations about men's health. We want to put a good cause behind the moustache."

But some people are adamant that facial hair makes a man look slovenly or, worse, dishonest.

Image consultants, for instance, are loath for clients to, well, let it grow.

Says Ms Agnes Koh, 43, an etiquette, image and style consultant with Etiquette & Image International: "Moustaches can make the wearer look untidy, or suggest he has something to hide. There's simply too much cultural baggage regarding moustaches.

"Movies have long portrayed men with moustaches as villains, lechers or fugitives who escaped from prison."

Indeed, the moustache has been a dead giveaway of baddies since the silent movie era, when moustachioed villains were typically shown tying damsels onto railroad tracks.

Ming the Merciless from the 1980 movie Flash Gordon and Jafar the evil royal adviser from the 1992 Disney animated film Aladdin are among other whiskered villains who have left a deep - and bad - impression.

No wonder Ms Koh maintains: "Unless the client is in a creative field, I'd always advise him to shave the moustache off before interviews, business events or dates."

Talent agencies, too, say most clients prefer clean-shaven models for commercial and campaign shoots.

Says Ms Ice Sherry Lee, founder of Shine Models & Aphrodite Image Consultancy, who is in her 30s: "Most clients want the model to look neat, clean and fresh. They feel the public will relate better to a clean-cut guy than to someone with facial hair."

Adds Ms Bonita Ma, head booker of Basic Models Management who is in her 20s: "Only one in 20 clients ask for models to come unshaven for, say, a beer commercial, where the model is supposed to look rugged or tough."

Model Edward Russell, 25, who keeps about three days' worth of facial hair if he is left to his own devices, says: "For commercial shoots, I'm usually asked to shave before the shoot so that my character can be seen as approachable and nice. People with moustaches are still assumed to be lazy or unkempt."

Ms Koh agrees. While she applauds the Movember charity movement, she notes: "I doubt moustaches will ever become mainstream."

Mr Fadli Osman, 30, a barber who has kept a moustache for four years, is no stranger to curious looks. "People tend to stare at my moustache when they talk to me and I have to remind them that my eyes are up here," he says.

Not every guy who grows a mo has to battle predjudice, though.

Mr Alfred Ong, 51, managing director for Europe at Ascott, a home-grown company that operates serviced apartments, believes his moustache, which he began growing in June, has not put off any staff member or business associate.

Substance, after all, triumphs over style. "In business, when people know you, they know you. They don't care how you look," he asserts.

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