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    China’s Bad Boy Star Goes Beautiful

    Skin care brand Kiehl’s partners with top celebrities to cash in on growing male beauty market.

    In a Shanghai villa decked out with neon strobe lights, the former bad boy of China’s entertainment industry took the stage to remind men to apply toner.

    On Friday night, Hong Kong-Canadian fashion designer and rapper Edison Chen was named one of the first celebrity partners for New York skin care brand Kiehl’s, as the company attempts to lure more men to its stores — and take advantage of the growing demand for male cosmetics and skin care. The L’Oréal-owned brand hopes Chen and fellow celebrity partner Chinese-Canadian actor Dou Xiao will be key in winning over its second-largest market after the United States.

    Sales of men’s grooming products — which include men’s shaving supplies, toiletries, and fragrances — grew at an average annual rate of 7.9 percent between 2012 and 2016 in China, higher than the global average of 5.1 percent over the same period, according to data from research firm Euromonitor International.

    The driving forces behind this trend are young, fashion-conscious men in China’s major cities. Influenced by the almost feminine South Korean aesthetic and encouraged by changing attitudes toward masculinity, male urbanites are embracing the idea of skin care and even makeup. “When it comes to professional knowledge about skin care, some of them know even more than just facial cleansers and moisturizers,” Kiehl’s brand manager Li Lin said at a press conference. “We’ve also seen eye-catching growth in some smaller categories like lip care and hair care.”

    Although Kiehl’s has had male skin care products on the market since it launched its shaving cream in 1978, the company is a latecomer when it comes to proactively courting the male beauty dollar in China, where L’Oréal Paris, Unilever’s Clear, and Procter & Gamble’s Gillette account for one-third of the Chinese male grooming market, according to Euromonitor International. However, Li still sees opportunity in the burgeoning market.

    “When I helped promote [French luxury skin care company] Biotherm’s male line in China several years ago, Chinese men liked to be seen as well-established,” Li said. “But today, men don’t simply want to be successful — they live a more diverse life and have other goals.”

    But expanding its market and shattering society’s views on men’s grooming are likely to be uphill battles for Kiehl’s. “Men’s motivations for using skin care products are different from women’s,” Alice Li, a senior analyst at market research firm Mintel, told Sixth Tone. “Men care more about the health of their skin [than the cosmetic effect].” Li advises brands to focus more on emphasizing what skin problems a product can solve or prevent rather than promoting how it can improve a man’s look.

    While Kiehl’s is betting on its celebrity endorsements, Li Lin said that men were more concerned with the effectiveness of a product than eye-catching advertisements. Brands like Kiehl’s also face challenges in communicating the benefits of their products to men, as there tend to be few forums with information on men’s skin care, she said. “Girls can discuss their favorite products with friends, look up information online, and learn makeup tips from online forums — but for guys, this information is limited,” Li added.

    For now, the company’s celebrity partners seem to have found a way around the problem. Before the event, Chen took to Instagram, where he has 1.9 million followers. “STAY FLY/ALWAYS/24/7/365,” he wrote beneath a photo showing off his flawless skin and smug smile.

    Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

    (Header image: Xiong Tao/VCG)