Despite the fact that one year ago biologists solemnly declared society had hit “beard peak ” (the point where the more people grow facial hair the less attractive it is), there are still signs aplenty that the international and pan-generational love affair with the mandible carpet still has a long way to grow.
One of the most hotly anticipated exhibitions of 2015 is Somerset House’s Beards – a photographic celebration of pogonophiles, people who love beards (5-29 March). Meanwhile the newly launched dating app, Bristlr, is dedicated exclusively to beardy blokes and their admirers. And then of course, there’s the boom in both grooming products targeting the hirsute male (from labels like Baxter of California, Natty Man or Murdocks), as well as a new generation of barbers shop,s including London’s new Barber & Parlour (B&P) which offers an all-day experience and nifty amenities, such as the indie cinema in its basement.
The recently opened B&P occupies a prime spot in the hip neighborhood of Hackney, whose trend setting inhabitants, along with those of Portland and Brooklyn, were among the early adopters of the millenial fashion for facial hair, back in 2005. According to cultural commentators, like the New York Time’s Ekow Eshun, the dot com bust, 9/11 and women’s increasing financial power spurred young men into sprouting whiskers, as a means of both expressing their yearning for a simpler time and re-asserting their masculinity.
Beards subsequently entered the mainstream, thanks to the endorsement of hipsters, celebrities like David Beckham and George Clooney, as well as the popularity of the Movember campaign. There’s also growing acceptance of facial hair in the traditionally conservative boardroom (with Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, and Goldman Sach’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfield, all on the bandwagon) – although anything longer than a mid-length beard is a no-no here.
The beard boom initially hurt what was once seen as an unstoppable growth industry – men’s grooming. In 2013-2014 there was a £72 million slash in sales of shaving products and skincare, in the UK alone. However its not all bad news, as the decline in wet shaving products has paved the way for the steady rise of facial hair grooming products.
Barbershops are also making a big comeback with over 150 of them springing up on the UK’s beleaguered high streets in 2013, more than any other kind of business, throwing shade on more expensive unisex hair salons in the process.
The barbershop 2.0 is all about accessorizing and self-expression, with the staff providing invaluable tips on how to keep your facial furniture neatly trimmed, moisturized and sculpted into shape. It’s also about being manly.
“Yes, it’s a very masculine environment, like a private members club where town meets country” acknowledges Brendan Murdock, founder of cool, high-end gentlemen’s grooming emporium Murdock, which has spawned six London branches in under a decade, in addition to a product range encompassing everything from beard moisturizers, to special horn beard brushes. “Our aim is to create a lifestyle brand, with events, books and a space where people want to belong.”
Unsurprisingly, for someone whose hero product is a beard oil, the 39-year-old is wary of making a big pronouncement on when the beard might finally fall out of favor, though he’s posited elsewhere that long hair with beards, or even the long derided mustache, will be the next big trend to be embraced by the fashion forward. For him, facial hair is a welcome counterpoint to the homogeneity of contemporary male fashion, a way for men to express their personality and experiment. However, whatever the next big thing might be, Murdock and his fellow players in the grooming industry will be primed and ready to evolve with it: “I genuinely think that our role is to challenge our customers and encourage them to constantly push their boundaries.”