I elbowed my husband, sitting beside me in the nearly empty press room of Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas. "Is that him?" I asked, eyeing the style icon. "I can't tell if it's Maxwell. What's happened to his hair?"
In 1996 when Maxwell burst onto the R&B scene with his debut album, Urban Hang Suite, music fans were as much fascinated by his silky falsetto as the boisterous bouffant afro curls framing a striking square jaw line. His cool, retro mane, Maxwell admitted later, helped him to quickly ascend the star ladder.
But here he sat, sporting a neatly tailored haircut, next to an Amazon representative interested in his new men's line, HUE for Every Man. It's among the more than 1,000 brands exhibited at Cosmoprof, the largest beauty trade show in the Americas, which wrapped up this week. Here, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, exhibitors from 38 countries vie for the attention of distributors and buyers such as Ulta, Sephora, QVC and Amazon. It helps to have a Maxwell as your brand ambassador to set you apart from the pack.
I've attended the three-day Cosmoprof since 2010 to scout for new brands and trends. It's for work, but also for fun. I'm like a kid in a toy store, but in this case, the shelves are chockfull of beauty products and gadgets from around the world. In the past, hair and nail products dominated the landscape. But this year, skin care and fragrance took center stage along with organic, eco-friendly hair-and-skin treatments in the Discover Green area. Meanwhile, the Tones of Beauty section highlighted products for our multi-cultural world.
Here, I played with the new TXture Pro brushes by WET that address the challenges of combing and styling "textured" hair, an industry term for African-American hair or just curly and wavy hair. Nearby, HUE for Every Man, flanked by a larger-than-life poster of Maxwell, attracted a throng of music fans and semi-famous fashion-and-beauty bloggers waiting for a glimpse of the Grammy Award winner.
Here is a snapshot of HUE for Every Man along with other beauty gadgets and products at Cosmoprof 2017:
For the Guys
Maxwell confessed the beauty business is "all new to me." But he was enticed by the idea of partnering with HUE for Every Man CEO and founder Jessica Estrada, who like Maxwell was raised in the Bronx. "To start, it's a woman-owned business," the singer said. "I like that, and I want to support someone who shares the same sensibility many of us have growing up in this country: To find our American Dream."
Hue for Every Man (hueforeveryman.com) targets African, Latin, Asian and Middle Eastern men and their specific hair and skin needs. The five-product line includes a shampoo, conditioner and a black pepper-scented shaving cleanser that preps the skin for a smooth shave while preventing ingrown hair.
Maxwell's personal favorite is the lightweight HUE Pomade, made with natural oils but washes out easily. "The pomade keeps it poppin' and keep it wavy," he said, touching his tightly knitted black curls.
Also keep an eye out for Blind Barber and Fatboy. Fatboy is the brainchild of professional hairstylist and Grammy Award nominated musician, Tyson Kennedy. Kennedy created Fatboy Perfect Putty in his kitchen and in no time he added six more products to the line. Blind Barber started out as a New York barbershop lounge that offers haircuts, cappuccinos and beers. Now it offers a hair wax and pomade along with a signature Lemongrass Tea Shampoo + Bodywash.
But what really got me excited was seeing Hairgum. Celebrity stylist Claudie Jasper introduced the French line to many Houstonians a decade ago. I religiously used the Classic pomade to tame flyaways. But then Hairgum stopped its U.S. distribution. Recently, FISK Brands picked up Hairgum and will relaunch the hair-and-beard line (now even more expansive with gels, balms, lotions and sprays).
Love Your Skin
About two years ago, the hottest ticket at Cosmoprof was BB creams from Korea. This year, another Asian import has inspired countless of skincare companies to come out with their own sheet masks. Japanese women have long believe in the power of serum-drenched masks. "They are everywhere," said Alexander Kwon, president of mishebeauty.com. "It's definitely the hottest beauty trend right now."
In the Discover Green section, Kwon's booth featured botanical-driven products that he discovered three years ago while on a soul-searching trip through Korean. Among them is Whamisa, a certified organic line whose best-sellers include a 100 percent sea kelp mask rich in alginic acid to help improve fine lines.
Meanwhile, his mom, Michelle Kwon, is demonstrating the Mishe Black & Gold Eye Mask, which son Alexander helped to create. Saturated with bamboo water, arnica and ceramide, these gel-like under eye pads work to hydrate, smooth and de-puff the delicate eye area. I've always battled with bags under my eyes, worsened by weight gain and age, so I couldn't resist testing the eye mask the next morning. I placed the squishy, cooling pads under my eyes. I removed them after 20 minutes and my bags were as flat as pancakes!
The number of new skincare lines was overwhelming. Peels and masks of all kinds seemed to dominate the category. The "power ingredients," too, ran the gamut, from atypical coffee oil to help diminish dark circles to snake venom-like peptides combined with caviar and collagen to smooth the skin. Over at Korea-based TonyMoly, women were slathering on snail mucus. TonyMoly Timeless Ferment Snail Cleansing Gel is formulated with 10,000 mg of fermented snail mucus to cleanse and hydrate skin.
I was almost relieved to stumble on Viñali, with its simplistic philosophy of using organic "vine" water instead of regular water in its products. Most beauty products consist of 70 percent water, explained founder Marie-Sixtine de Coral, so why not use grape water to boost the antioxidants?
Grape water is high in resveratrol, which is believed to prevent premature aging and block the production of inflammatory agents. Coral created her beauty creams, soaps and oils a decade ago in Spain. The products are still made in Madrid, and Viñali has a following in Italy and France. But Coral is determined to create a niche in the United States, and so two years ago, Coral relocated her family to Houston from Madrid to set up shop. "Here we are starting from ground zero again," the petite brunette said raising her brows in disbelief. "I know it isn't easy, but I want that American experience."
Fragrances & Hot Tools
Aisles were lined with perfumes from around the world. Global Scent And Concepts featured three celebrity scents for this year's Cosmoprof. The first is from actor and stand-up comedian Michael Epps. ME For Men and ME for Women will launch this fall.
Hip-hop artist Keon "Lil Key" Myers has dual eau de toilette: LIT For Her and LIT For Him. And nearby, Love & Hip Hop Hollywood reality star Rosa Acosta is passing out samples of her perfume, Rosa. "It's clean, but tropical, fresh, with notes of tamarind," said Acosta, who just landed a Playboy radio show.
Styling tools drive a large percentage of the sales in the haircare industry. You've heard of BaByliss, Hot Tools, and of course, CHI. This year, a real standout was the SpinStyle Pro from SalonTech. I love curls; I don't love curling my hair. The SpinStyle made it easy on my first trial run.
Placing the SpinStyle slightly vertical against my head, I pressed the button and the spinning patent dial grabbed my hair, gently twirling the strands onto a hot curling barrel to create perfect ringlets. Unlike my past experiences with other automatic curling machines, the SpinStyle Pro didn't tug or pull my hair. I managed to curl the back of my head without a mirror and my entire head in less than 10 minutes!