True to the character he famously plays, Isaiah Mustafa doesn't kick off a recent promotional appearance in Toronto by striding into a restaurant or a hotel room or any other conventional meeting place. Rather, the actor better known as the Old Spice Guy sails up to the city's waterfront, slowly, on the tall ship Kajama, his toned arms crossed against a marine-blue Vancouver Canucks tee, a big smile on his lips. Once in port, Mustafa remains faithful to the now-familiar script, interrupting the proceedings to acknowledge an approaching female. "Hang on," he says to a clutch of reporters. "There's a lady getting on board."
In his pitches for Old Spice, Mustafa is typically clad only in a towel or tight trousers, but on this occasion he is also wearing jeans, Converse sneakers and a full beard. When the brief introduction mentions that Toronto was ranked second in PriceWaterhouseCoopers' annual Cities of Opportunity rankings, Mustafa picks up on the fact, clearly aiming to seduce the crowd.
"You said second [among]cities of opportunity? Well, the female welcoming committee that you sent last night said it was first. Oh, you guys didn't send that committee? It was someone else?" Laughter all around.
Mustafa, 37, certainly is comfortable in his own skin, which is a good thing, as it's frequently on display. Since he first appeared as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like in Old Spice's extremely successful TV spots, the image of his sculpted body has become ingrained in popular culture. The first ad, aired during the 2010 Super Bowl, has been viewed more than 33 million times on YouTube. The campaign it launched - a hit with both men and women - has helped reinvigorate a brand previously associated with grandfathers.
Noting, during an interview on the boat, that his character lampoons the stereotype of the manly yet sensitive male - "Ladies, do you want a man who smells like he can bake you a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built for you with his own hands?" he asks in one ad - Mustafa also feels that the persona "makes it real. It makes that image available." He may be on to something.
Reggie Tan, 29, is also aboard the Kajama. A staffer at the Gotstyle men's wear store in Toronto, he says that he likes "the idea of the Old Spice guy" because he reminds men of "the way we should be" but uses humour to get the message across. While guys bust up at all the faux posturing, the notion that "we should be giving a crap about our appearance, about the way we talk to women" also sinks in. "It's the whole idea of take care of yourself and ladies will like you," Tan sums up.
For his part, Mustafa offers few specifics, beyond using Old Spice products, about how dudes should take care of themselves exactly. Asked about men's fashion, for instance, he provides only the vague suggestion to "keep it simple."
"I have to be honest and I apologize: I don't spend too much time looking at men," he says.
When it comes to women's style, however, Mustafa is a lot more effusive. In particular, he is put off by the return of harem pants, a trademark of the 1980s rapper MC Hammer, who, perhaps coincidentally, also attempted a comeback not long ago.
"The Hammer pant is coming back in. It is called something else now but it's coming back and women love to wear it to yoga class," he says. "You have to use a lot more of your imagination with that pant than with a spandex [one]by Lululemon, which is a Canadian company, isn't it? Out of Vancouver?"
Mustafa's visit to Toronto for this event isn't his first. He has, he says, come up twice before, both times to see - who else? - "a beautiful young lady who worked for Air Canada."
According to Mustafa, though, they did not meet at Lululemon, but in a Roots store in Calgary.
Special to The Globe and Mail