Valentine's Day: Retro gifts cater to the manliest of men

Artisan flasks, whisky-scented soaps hot this year

ORLANDO, Fla. - Next to the button-down shirts and brown-leather boots at the Cloak and Dapper store, you can find make-your-own-gin kits and beard-grooming oils.

The retailer that opened in November in Orlando's Ivanhoe Row neighborhood is what owner Calvin Cearley would call "a general store for the modern gentleman."

That is, if you're a guy in the market for ceramic flasks and whiskey-scented soaps.

Retro men's styles are hip once again at retailers and other businesses.

For a generation, men's retail has been geared toward technology and sports. But with slim-cut suits finding their way back into style and beards gaining in popularity, men's boutiques and barbershops are finding a growing audience.

"We are starting to see companies capitalize on a group that hasn't been marketed to all that specifically," said Brett McKay, a blogger and author of a book titled "The Art of Manliness."

"On the boutique level you are seeing a lot of entrepreneurs and artisanal stuff that is geared towards men. Some of it is cool, and some is downright silly."

Around Cearley's store, canvas satchels are filled with chopped wood, and the cologne has names such as Moonshine.

"We wanted to create a throwback, general-store type of vibe but a modern, tech-friendly version of that," Cearley said.

Gene Zimmerman, a Cloak and Dapper customer, said he likes the store because of its local ties and because many retailers aren't giving attention to the styles the store carries. He has purchased items such as boots and jeans.

"You can go to a Bloomingdale's, and you can find things that have a similar look, but you have to dig," Zimmerman said. "These aren't just off-the-rack brands, they are American brands, and they are handmade and not necessarily mass-manufactured."

Much of the trend started with conglomerates such as Procter & Gamble creating lines of soaps and shampoos with manly scents. Just think of the popular Old Spice advertisements and products.

Craft liquors and cocktails also have roared back into popularity along with home-beer brewing.

"It's a combination of people wanting authentic stuff, and it's also men wanting to feel like men," McKay said. "They want to differentiate themselves from women."

Procter & Gamble has opened Art of Shaving locations at two Florida Mall and Mall at Millenia, in Orlando. The stores have seen an increased demand for products such as beard oils and mustache waxes as facial hair comes back into style, said Florida Mall store manager Juan Vasquez.

"Adding a lather and a brush really takes a shave to the next level," Vasquez said. "It's really for the benefit of their own skin."

At Orlando's Liberty Barbershop, tattooed and bearded barber John Duvoisin is giving more close-shave, comb-over style haircuts. Clients can have a beer as they wait.

Beard-cutting services, using an old-fashioned straight razor, are more popular than ever at the Orlando establishment.

"Working-class guys understand there aren't many things a man can do to feel good about himself better than getting a haircut, a shave and getting his shoes shined," Duvoisin said.

The revival of beards is a reaction to the "metrosexual" fashion movements of the mid-2000s, he said. Then men's barbershops took off in popularity when the economy tanked in 2008, and a simpler haircutting service was needed.
Duvoisin's old-fashioned barbershop is so popular he's opened a second place called The Den Shave Parlor.

"It's just a more 'high-end' experience where we hand out craft cocktails instead of Miller High Life," he said.