MANILA - The state of New Jersey considered banning it, celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it, while others don't know what it is.
Whatever its reputation, the "Brazilian waxing" craze is slowly picking up speed in the Philippines, thanks to the efforts of Strip and Browhaus, a wax and eyebrow grooming company, which recently opened 2 branches in Manila.
The Singaporean franchise, one of many brands owned by the Spa Esprit Group, came up with novel ways to convince Filipinos - and the world - that waxing the pubic area is painless, hygienic, and fun.
"The perception of waxing being painful is because you see it in movies and TV shows, or based on experience. But with Strip, you'll see the difference. It's a lifestyle brand, you have to keep perfecting it," said Roberta Abad at the launch of Strip and Browhaus's new branch at the Greenbelt 5 in Makati City.
Abad is the head of Harem Inc., the company that manages the Strip and Browhaus franchise in the Philippines.
She said she came across Strip while she was working in Jakarta, Indonesia and was impressed by the service.
Abad confessed that she had somewhat disastrous waxing experiences at salons, both here and abroad, resulting in rashes or once, bleeding.
In the Strip and Browhaus world, waxing attendants are "Striperellas", brow groomers are called "Brow Architects", and their wax is a pliable, specially-formulated variety called "White Chocolate Vanilla" that is guaranteed to take away the slightest hairs.
The entire waxing process takes about 15 minutes, with calming treatments called "Hoochie Coochie Quickie" and "Ice Cream", rich in pineapple enzymes and tea tree extracts.
Abad said customers may feel slight discomfort at the beginning, but it becomes less painful after every session.
Brazilians cost about P550 to P1,800 for women and Boyzilians (the trademark boy version of the Brazilian wax) cost from P700 to P2,500 depending on how much hair a client wants to remove.
Boyzilians are more expensive, said Spa Esprit public relations manager Janet Lim, because men have more "bits and bobs" and it takes more effort to remove hair. Attendants are trained to position a man's privates and carefully remove hair.
If clients have some hair to work with, they can even have it pruned in playful designs like "Love Me" (heart), "Upper Persuasion" (upward arrow), "Downward Persuasion" (downward arrow), "Tease Me" (T-shape), and "Edgy Mojo" (square), or the traditional thin line on the bikini area.
Abad said Strip and Browhaus will be offering Brazilian Crystals (Swarovski crystals for the pubic area), Intense Pulse Light Removal (removing hair via pulses of intense lamplight), and a range of eyeshadow to spruce up the brow area.
Strip and Browhaus managers said the process is less about the kink and more about hygiene or feeling good "all over."
Abad professes to love removing hair as part of good grooming.
Stripping hair off the private areas, she said, can lessen bacteria and the fishy smell. It also helps to look clean and neat down there when wearing panties or bikinis.
Abad even clued in on an extra perk for guys: "Actually, aside from hygiene, it actually makes it look bigger."
The franchise is adamant about never "double-dipping" waxing sticks. This means Striperellas must not use a waxing stick twice on different customers or on different parts of the client's body so as not to spread bacteria.
Striperellas must use a stick only once, then throw it away. As such, each client is designated a sealed "hygiene pack" containing numerous waxing sticks, wet wipes, cotton, and gloves.
"There's a perception that it could be costly, but we won't sacrifice hygiene," Abad said.
Spa Esprit business development manager Dennis Sim said the franchise's ace treatment has drawn a varied crowd of Filipinos, from the gay market to the male market, to couples and pre-pubescent youth.
Abad said they get clients aged 10 to 60.
"Filipinos have been receptive. I think Strip is taking away the taboo. What's nice is we're getting a lot of guys coming in as well. It's not like before that people are so 'Maria Clara' (demure). We made people more aware that it's for hygiene," Abad said.
Various medical experts said pubic hair may prevent dirt from entering the genitals, trap pheromones, or keep the private parts warm.
Critics of the practice also claim that waxing the private areas contributes to public fascination with the adult pornography industry, where many stars sport smooth, underage-looking private parts.
Some cultures and religions, meanwhile, practice shaving pubic hair as a cosmetic and hygienic practice.
Fighting the fear
|Dancers show off their skills at the launch of the Greenbelt 5 branch of Strip and Browhaus, which specializes in brow grooming and Brazilian wax treatments (hair removal at the bikini area). The dancers reportedly sported Brazilian crystals by Strip and Browhaus.
First-time waxers who feel queasy about signing up for a Brazilian wax will have a crash course on the entire waxing process and why there's nothing to fear.
This is with the help of a colorful consultation book called "The Virgin Forest Guidebook", which is shaped like a blimp.
Striperellas have to undergo rigorous training, exams, and demonstrations to ensure that they follow Strip and Browhaus procedures to the letter so that customers get the same exact service in any branch.
Lim said they are even called by the company at random to perform a waxing treatment to make sure no one's gotten lazy with their lessons.
Spa Esprit devotes much of their resources in research and development to constantly improve their techniques and wax formulas.
Certified Striperellas even studied hair cycles to monitor their clients' pubic progress. "They've studied hair, they know hair, they even breathe hair, I think. They're that good," Abad said.
Every Strip and Browhaus branch also sports a different theme, designed by Spa Esprit creative director Jerry de Souza. Customers feel that they're stepping into a new and oddly comfortable world every time.
The recently opened Greenbelt 5 branch has magenta-and-lime green walls and submarine-type doors. The branch in Serendra, opened in November 2008, has a "street scene" theme reminiscent of Amsterdam's paved roads and row houses.
Other branches have portholes in between booths so friends can talk to each other while they are having themselves waxed. There are also themes like carriages and airplane cabins.
As the branch's guidebook proudly states, the company has "done over a million bushes" and counting.
Lim credits the franchise's success to its humorous campaigns and its upscale service that helped people accept and understand the importance of hair removal.
"I think Brazilian waxing used to be more of a Western thing, it's not very Asian at all because they found it a bit of a taboo," she said.
The company ran cheeky ad campaigns like "Down with the Bush", a play on former US President George W. Bush, and some ads that featured gorillas and orangutans alongside people.
Strip, which specializes in waxing, has over 40 branches in Asia alone - including Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai. They also opened a branch in London last July.
Soon, the company will be opening branches in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Thailand, and New York - part of its rapid expansion despite the economic crunch.
"I think It's really interesting because as an Asian company, we sort of brought the brand to a Western country. And it's not just doing Singapore proud, it's doing the whole of Asia proud," Lim said.
Strip and Browhaus is part of Spa Esprit Group's beauty, food, and beverage brands like MASK, House, Tippling Club, Barracks, Skinny Pizza, Qi Mantra, and Potion. Report and photos by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
For inquiries or appointments, visit 4th Floor, Greenbelt 5, Legaspi Street, Ayala Center, Makati City, www.browhaus.com, or call (02) 501-3998.