A fashion for the plucky; Beauty: At salons everywhere, the business of brows is booming.


If you are a woman who has watched the new ABC show "Once and Again," you have probably, at some point, attempted to analyze just what it is about Sela Ward that makes her so inhumanly gorgeous.

We believe we have the answer: It's the eyebrows.

Don't laugh, beauty neophytes. The brows have it these days, and Ward's are truly sublime: narrow and richly hued, arched in just the right place. Listen as they whisper, "I am woman. See me furrow." OK, maybe our fixation on Ward's was prompted less by their perfection and more by all the fuss over brows these days. At salons and beauty counters nationwide, the eyebrow biz is booming.

Lancome has a new brow kit on the market; makeup giant Shiseido sells more than a million of its men's eyebrow-grooming kits in Japan each year; and top salons are adding high-priced eyebrow specialists to their roster of higher-priced hairstylists. "The eyebrow is, I think, the biggest thing we can change in the face," says Aki Shiratori, owner of Images by Aki salon in Dallas. "It's really the framing of the eyes, so I think it's very important."

A messy brow drives Shiratori nuts, so he frequently offers to pluck the eyebrows of his regular haircut clients before they even know they need it. He even does it for free. "I can't stand watching that [bad] eyebrow," he says.

Shiratori is tweezing more and more men these days, too, fixing man-brows that are too bushy or "washed out." In Japan, he notes, young men especially have jumped on the brow bandwagon, prompted by the example of Nagano gold medalist Kazuyoshi Funaki. Funaki, who sported a unibrow during his winning ski jumps, later emerged publicly with a professionally plucked brow. His fans followed suit.

Trying to avoid the unibrow, some men have the center of their eye-brows tweezed. "The eyebrows are the most important part of the face, other than the lip area because the eyebrows do almost the expression of the face," says JoAnn Rose, owner of Shear Madness, a beauty salon in Towson. When men have one continuous eyebrow, Rose says they always look like they are frowning.

Have you any idea the lengths to which people will go for the perfect eyebrow?

For years, of course, women have tweezed and waxed and electrified themselves to achieve the brow of the moment. In the '30s, Greta Garbo popularized the high, thin arch. In the '50s, Audrey Hepburn defined eyebrow style with her thick, heavy brows (accentuated by those super-short bangs). Eyebrows shrunk again in the '60s (Twiggy) and grew again in the '80s (Brooke), and now the trend-setters have settled (for this season at least) on "the natural look."

Today, the routes to brow bliss are plentiful. Women and men have never been bombarded with more ways to craft the "in" brow. There are itsy-bitsy razors made especially to shave that hairy ridge above the eyes. If too few brow hairs are your misfortune, you can have some tattooed on. Can't see those little suckers clearly enough to grab 'em? Try the tweezers with the built-in magnifying glass.

On the www.shopinprivate.com site, even a pair of ordinary Revlon tweezers is hawked as "the official facial hair removal tool of the rock group Oasis." Now there's an endorsement.

Perhaps the most convenient/bizarre/hilarious/sad (pick your adjective) solution is to simply stencil on the eyebrow of your favorite celebrity. At www.eyebrowz.com, Hollywood lowbrows -- er, eyebrows -- are available at the click of the mouse.

For $19.95, you can mimic the bedroom brows of Heather Locklear or the power brows of Tyra Banks. All it takes is a stencil and Eyebrowz's own "creamy powder" to fill in the blanks. Or, if you find yourself on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, you can drop by the John Barrett Salon for a walk-in appointment with one of the three brow specialists on staff. Before this revolution (the walk-in appointment, that is), clients were actually scheduling their hair appointments around the times they could get in to see Barrett's tweezing guru, Denise Chaplin.

At Barrett's, one of the mottoes is "Stop the Insanity! Don't Let the Pursuit of Perfect Brows Rule Your Life."

Apparently, such things happen in New York.

Sun intern Linda Siemon contributed to this story.

The right look

Guidelines for the eyebrow-challenged:

* Hold a pencil parallel to your nose so that it intersects the inner corner of your eye. Your brow should begin where the pencil hits.

* Hold the pencil on a diagonal so it touches the outer edge of your nostril and intersects the outer corner of your eye. Your brow should end where the pencil hits.

* Want an arch? It should be highest at the point in the brow that lies straight above the outer edge of the iris.

* If your want your eyes to look closer together, leave less space between the brows. Farther apart, leave more.

* "Skinny brows make your nose look bigger," says Marcia Kilgore, owner of the ultra-hip Bliss salon in Soho, in the October Vogue.

* "Don't spend lots of money for an eyebrow pencil," says Aki Shiratori, of the Dallas salon Images by Aki. Shiratori says regular pencils work just as well (and cost gobs less; plus, break it in half and you've got two). The light-browed can stick with a plain old No. 2. If you have darker brows, head to the art-supply store for duskier leads.

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