This Brand Wants To Normalize Men’s Makeup—And It’s Starting To Do So By Launching At Harvey Nichols
Guys run the gamut when it comes to personal care.
Shane Carnell-Xu and Jake Xu find there’s some slapping on deodorant and maybe a moisturizer. There are others studying products, identifying the formulas that work and don’t work for their skin, and relishing taking the time to care for it. Brothers Carnell-Xu and Xu pay attention to the details of male grooming because they’re behind Shakeup Cosmetics, a new line of skincare-makeup hybrid products out to convince men to give cosmetics a shot, particularly those interested in upping their game.
The transitioning guys “are under the influence of ‘Love Island,’ and actually want to look good and want to try out cosmetic products to give them the ability to cover up blemishes in the short term to boost their confidence and improve skin health in the long term,” says Carnell-Xu. They might be concerned about circles under their eyes and would seek a product to address them, but the task of rifling through copious shades and asking a store assistant for help is daunting. Carnell-Xu explains, “We just want to give them a better, clearer choice.”
That clearer choice is in the form of Shakeup Cosmetics’ three debut products: Let’s Face It BB Tinted Moisturizer, Eye Eye Captain Under Eye Concealer & Moisturizer, and Lip Life To The Full Volumizing & Moisturizing Lip Gel. The products are priced from 12 to 25 pounds or roughly $15 to $32 at the current exchange rate, and their formulas are designed for men with a multifunctional, skin-first approach. They take into account that men’s skin is 20% to 25% thicker than women’s skin, according to Carnell-Xu.
“We have bigger pores, produce more sebum, so we’re more oily. And, also, men shave often, so the uppermost layer of skin has been damaged so it reacts faster,” he says. “There are a lot of different factors to be taken into account, so that requires special consideration when it comes to certain products.” Carnell-Xu doesn’t believe the concept of gender neutrality considers the differences between men’s and women’s skin. That’s why he argues it’s crucial to tailor products and a brand specifically to men. “We agree that makeup has no gender, absolutely no gender at all, but skin does,” says Carnell-Xu. “And that’s our argument. We’re creating for men’s skin.”
“We agree that makeup has no gender, absolutely no gender at all, but skin does, and that’s our argument. We’re creating for men’s skin.”
Hailing from Beijing, Carnell-Xu and Xu, who emigrated to the United Kingdom as teenagers, have witnessed the rise of men’s beauty in Asia. They report it began in South Korea, where members of K-Pop brands like BTS have embraced maintenance. China, Thailand and Taiwan are quickly following suit. “Every time we go back to Asia, we’re surprised by the big billboards. Where five to six years ago, [they] used to be fronted by women, now it’s all men,” says Carnell-Xu. “They’re really redefining what beauty is and what it means.”
He predicts Europe isn’t too far behind. Tom Ford and Chanel have introduced men’s cosmetics ranges. “They are the premium brands setting that aspiration and the validator of the trend itself,” says Carnell-Xu. Additionally, there’s a handful of indie brands and retailers championing men’s beauty. “Men’s grooming has been taking off for the past 10 years very steadily, but it hasn’t actually exploded,” says Carnell-Xu. “What’s different now is that it’s not really the sector that is becoming more on trend, I think what’s happening now is the culture that’s changing.”
Carnell-Xu singles out GQ’s recent New Masculinity issue as an example of the culture shift. It features male celebrities donning makeup. The message is that makeup for men shouldn’t be out of the ordinary—a point Shakeup Cosmetics hammers home in its social media presence. The brand is trying to popularize the hashtag #menwearshakeup. Carnell-Xu says, “We wanted to have that as a very matter of fact statement. It’s about normalizing it and making it more accessible to different types of guys.”
At the moment, Shakeup Cosmetics is available at male-centric e-tailers such as The Grooming Clinic and The Modern Man. This month, however, it’s entering Harvey Nichols. Carnell-Xu and Xu presented their brand to buyers of the luxury retailer at British Fashion Council’s competition for the next big beauty brand in Britain. They didn’t win, but landed a meeting with Harvey Nichols. Shakeup Cosmetics will roll out across the retailer’s U.K. locations and break into the assortment on its website. To support its expansion, the brand has received seed funding from Sally Preston and Neil Mather, entrepreneurs behind the children’s food specialist Kiddylicious.
“We want it to be seen at all of the major credible premium outlets.”
Carnell-Xu and Xu have a buttoned-up presentation to buyers delving into the size of the market Shakeup Cosmetics is in and its growth potential. Xu says, “The retailers are aware that there’s a rise in men’s beauty, and men are spending more time and more money to look after their grooming routine [and] their skincare and, undoubtedly, makeup will become part of that.” Vismay Sharma, L’Oréal’s U.K. manager, predicts makeup counters for men will pop up in department stores in five to seven years. If Shakeup Cosmetics’ early traction is an indication, they could perhaps arrive sooner. Harvey Nichols’ pickup of the brand is confirmation that department stores are heading in that direction.
“We’re grateful that they’ve given us the opportunity to push the message forward even further on an elevated level,” says Carnell-Xu, speaking of Harvey Nichols, which he notes will benefit from the relationship with Shakeup Cosmetics, too. The department store company is keen to draw customers from the burgeoning Chinese middle class, and Shakeup Cosmetics can help it reach that demographic because it’s among a tiny group of brands offering cosmetics for men buying overseas. Carnell-Xu says, “It not only fills a need for existing customers, but also potentially brings a whole new set of customers to their business as well.”
Carnell-Xu and Xu view Shakeup Cosmetics as an international beauty brand. China is in their sights, and Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are countries they’re targeting as well. Harvey Nichols is just a stop, albeit an important one, on a global tour. “It was never just going to be a U.K. brand because U.K. as a market, even though it’s growing, it’s never going to be enough to sustain a niche brand like ours,” says Xu. “We want it to be seen at all of the major credible premium outlets.”