Switzerland's first ever beauty salon exclusively for men has opened in Lausanne. The Masculin Centre hopes to ride the wave of growing male interest in health and beauty products.
The very thought of crossing the threshold of a beauty salon would send shivers down the unmassaged, undepilated spine of many men. But the fact that the Masculin Centre's clientele is 100 per cent male makes it much easier for men to make the leap.
"Many men prefer this to a mixed salon. They feel more comfortable surrounded only by men," says Eni Yarden, who set up the salon after 20 years' experience as a beautician. She was aware of the huge potential market, given that 20 per cent of her former clientele had been male.
Nevertheless, she acknowledges that many men need a great deal of persuasion: "We have to convince them that they will not leave here with their fingernails painted, looking like a woman."
That is partly achieved by the Spartan but tasteful décor, the kind that a thirty-something white-collar New York professional might have in his loft apartment. "They like the fact that it's sober and masculine," Yarden says.
Men of all ages - from their late teens to their late 40s - avail themselves of the salon's services, but there is a definite cut-off point at around 50. Younger men have much fewer hang-ups about coming to a beauty salon, while older men need much more convincing that it is not effeminate.
Eni Yarden says around half her customers are initially persuaded to visit the centre by their wives and girlfriends. Only around five to ten per cent of customers are gay.
Like many women, some of the men who come to the Masculin Centre use it to enjoy a special hour of pampering during their daily routine, when they can chat and unburden themselves of their problems. But most come specifically for one of the services the salon has to offer.
These include various kinds of massage, facials, manicure and pedicure, as well as depilation. Several sportsmen go to the Masculin Centre to have their legs waxed, while a number of clients ask for the hairs on their back to be removed.
There is even a "relooking" service, where customers who feel they've lost touch with the concept of style can be made over and advised what clothes, colours and fashions suit them.
"For me it has been a revelation," says Roye Yarden, Eni's husband, who helps run and market the salon, and who has benefited from many of the treatments.
"For the first time in my life, I've had the hairs under my arms removed. Now I sweat less and smell less," he explains. "And it didn't hurt as much as I expected it to."
Of course, revitalisation and de-stressing comes at a price - from SFr55 ($31) for a manicure to SFr165 for the works - facial, massage and all the trimmings.
Roye Yarden says the growing interest of men in health and beauty is more to do with a concern for one's own well being than vanity or an obsession with one's image.
"People are becoming more aware that they are here for only a limited period of time. If we want to preserve our quality of life, we have to invest in ourselves," he told swissinfo.
"It's a question of maintenance - like taking the car to the garage to avoid future problems," he adds.
Masculin Centre seeks to ride that wave of concern for health. Already the Yardens have plans to open similar salons in Geneva, Zurich, Milan and Paris. They have also launched their own exclusive range of male skin-care products, called Performen.
Roye Yarden believes that the sea change in men's attitudes towards health and beauty can partly be traced back to the higher profile adopted by the gay community over the past 20 years.
"This definitely had an impact on the non-homosexual population. They were more prepared to be courageous and expose themselves to new things," he says.
Given that increased openness, it is perhaps little wonder that men might look to the revitalising effects of the beauty salon to wash away the stress of their working lives.
"We are here to give a moment of quality, a moment of wellness," Roye Yarden says.
by Roy Probert