Masculine hygeine

In Harmonie Park on the corner of Grand River and Broadway, amid the half-finished roadwork, makeshift parking lots and temporary stop signs that spring up like weeds, sits an elegant juxtaposition: a sleek spa, its name embossed in white lettering on plate glass windows. Occasionally a Lincoln or Cadillac will glide up and deposit someone at the front door. Inside, a sign instructs patrons to shut off their cell phones and pagers before they settle into overstuffed furniture in various plum- and moss-colored rooms. At one point, a boy no more than 13 or 14 years old wanders in off the street, baggy jeans hanging as far down his hips as physics will allow. He sidles up to the tall reception desk. “How much you charge for a haircut?” he asks. When he gets the price (from $25 to $50) he shuffles back out the door. Sorry, kid, you’re not ready for Manhood.

Well, not yet, anyway. As its name implies, Manhood: A Grooming Gallery for Men is light-years away from the quick-trim-and-loud-gossip barbershops most guys were weaned on. But, these days, more and more bearers of the Y-chromosome are demanding more than just a shave and a fade when they tend to their hygiene: They want their cuticles buffed, their tendons unknotted, their pores cleansed. And as the city’s first male-only spa, Manhood was created solely for them.

“You have your group of guys who accept it,” owner Gia Marable says. “And then you still have that group that thinks it’s feminine.” Marable has made a career out of catering to the former, and converting the latter. She’s having an effect, especially if you ask Bartel Welch, a med student and Web designer who’s one of Manhood’s denizens.

“A lot of days I just go, not to get services done, but just to be in that environment. It’s a relaxing, soothing environment, somewhere you can just go to chill out. I do that a lot,” Welch says, adding that it helps that there are no customers of the fairer sex around when he’s taming his stubble or getting a massage. “If women were there as well, it just would not be the same at all — it wouldn’t be as quiet, for one thing. You can talk freely, you know?”

Manhood was first conceived in northwest Detroit in 2000; Marable then decided to relocate the spa downtown in late 2003 to be part of “the whole Detroit resurgence.” Since then, she’s only seen her clientele grow, even if the construction outside has cut down on the amount of foot traffic she sees in the spa. Prices and services range from a simple moustache trim ($10) to a full body wrap ($115).

In addition to providing such classics as the straight-razor shave and the precision haircut, she and her staff are regularly kneading the backs of sundry Detroit Lions, giving facials to local media personalities before the evening news and doting over the toenails of touring R&B stars like Ruben Studdard.

“We get guys, as soon as they hit the airport, they’re like, ‘Gia, I’m in town, I wanna come down there,’” Marable says of her celebrity clients. (For the sake of privacy, she doesn’t like to name names too often.) “A lot of the guys, when they come to town they’re like, ‘Oh, we wish you were in D.C.,’ or, ‘We wish you were in New York.’”

However, changing the minds of Detroit men — a breed more commonly known for hard labor, hard times and hard living than for microdermabrasion — has proven to be an ongoing challenge. But she’s been seeing a definite shift in attitude, particularly from straight men who normally feel that being image-conscious would detract from their alpha-male image.

“They see athletes doing it, so they think, you know, ‘They’re masculine, so we can do it if he can do it,’” Marable says. “And somebody did come to me and say, ‘Well, this guy, he got a facial before his video.’”

Of course, girlfriends and wives play a big part, too. Marable says she’ll often perform pedicures on guys who have been “kicked out of the bed” due to their scaly soles.

“The guys think it takes away from their toughness to have soft hands or nice feet, but really it’s very attractive,” she says, adding her credo: “A well-groomed man is the most attractive thing.”

Silvia Hernandez-Beasley, owner of the co-ed Sylvia’s Day Spa in Dearborn, says she’s seen a steep rise in male customers for similar reasons. “I think it’s wonderful that more and more men are taking care of themselves,” she says. “Women for a long time now have been getting these services, so I believe that they’re sharing that.”

Marable sees the influence as more maternal, even.

“It’s really more from home,” she says. “If your mom brought you up where you make sure your hair is groomed, you make sure your face is washed … you know, ‘Clean those nails.’”

Welch says he didn’t even need a friendly nudge from a mom or a significant other — for him, it’s more a matter of getting in on a well-kept secret.

“Guys are starting to realize it’s not a bad thing to actually go and have a spa treatment done,” he says. “You know, women did it forever; they must’ve gotten something good out of it. Now we’re realizing what it is.”

But whatever you do, don’t tell spa-addicted men that they’re metrosexual. Don’t use the word brought into the popular lingo to describe hip, straight males whose primping habits rival J. Lo’s.

“A lot of guys don’t like that term,” Marable says. “Especially the guys that have been doing it for a long time; to them it’s just a part of their routine.”

The woman behind Manhood won’t entertain any notion that male vanity is a passing fad.

“It’s a slow but sure process. It’s just about educating them and getting them in here for the first time. And then after that,” she says, “you can’t get rid of ’em.”


Manhood is located at 1376 Broadway in Detroit’s Harmonie Park. Call 313-225-9900 for hours.

Michael Hastings is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].
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