Forget designer handbags and couture frocks, these days style-conscious women are spending big on the latest luxury accessory, human hair extensions.
Hot on the heels of celebrity torchbearers like Victoria Beckham and Paris Hilton, women are paying up to 1,000 euros (1,250 dollars) to have someone else's hair stuck to their heads."In a few hours a client can have the sort of length it would take years to grow. That's why it's so attractive," said Eric Roman, an upmarket Parisian hairstylist who honed his extension techniques on top catwalk models.
"Women see stars like actress Sharon Stone, who went from short to long for her role in 'Basic Instinct 2', and they want to do the same without waiting for months," said Roman.
Ethnic women have long used hair extensions to create braids or sleek styles as an alternative to chemical straightening, but new techniques and improved hair quality have propelled the trend into the mainstream.
A decade ago most hair strands were synthetic, screamed fake and were a definite no-go zone for women wanting a subtle look.
These days human hair is widely available and affordable."In the past the techniques were really clunky and it could look cheap. Today they are so advanced it looks totally natural. Women really have the opportunity to play
with their hair as they would clothes or accessories without having to cut it," said Roman.
Attaching hair extensions may sound eye-wateringly uncomfortable, but it's a pain-free procedure. Strands of human hair are attached to the base of the client's own hair, very close to the scalp, with a very mild form of adhesive. They are carefully matched in colour and texture to blend in.
The increased popularity of extensions certainly suggests many women still equate long, luscious locks with being desirable, sexy and feminine.
When British actress Sienna Miller chopped off her trademark, flaxen tresses after breaking up with fellow Brit heartthrob Jude Law, there were gasps of disapproval from fans and fashionistas alike. Miller soon resorted to hair extensions and swiftly regained her status as a hot, bohemian beauty.
Gamine style and boyish cuts tend to dip in and out of fashion, but most hairdressers maintain a generous swoosh of fabulous hair guarantees the X-factor.Twenty-eight year-old chef, Tory Doody took the plunge and had extensions attached after a bad haircut left her with a straggly coiffure she hated. It took four hours and 500 euros to transform her chin-length do into a wavy, chestnut mane flowing down her back.
"Most people have no idea it's not my hair because it matches my hair type exactly," says Doody.
"At first it felt a bit weird because I could feel the extension fixtures but then I totally forgot about them and just got on with washing and brushing my hair
normally. Now I just think they're fun.", she says.
Doody's new hair was, of course, once on someone else's head. Her extensions are made from so-called Indian temple hair, the most popular type of human hair sold in Europe and the United States because it most closely resembles western hair in texture.
In India, practising Hindu women cut off their hair in temples as part of a religious tradition. The hair is then washed and processed by exporters for the world market. "Long is always going to be seen as more attractive and most of my clients want the longest hair possible. They want to stand out or there's no point," said another Parisian hairstylist, Frederique Traucou.Traucou has noticed a growing number of women passing through the doors of her
Bastille salon requesting extensions. "Women don't want to wait for anything they can buy any more. They want long hair now and they can afford it more than ever before."
For between 500 and 1,000 euros, Traucou offers a full head of human hair that will last months. International hair manufacturer Balmain Paris has seen demand for extensions more than triple business in two years with exports to more than 40 countries. "The market has grown tremendously and in most European salons it is the fourth
service on offer," said Balmain's British-based, technical director Dawn Riley.
"Ten years ago human extensions were out of the average women's reach because of high cost but that's changed.
"It's not just young women who are getting them either. They're also really popular with older women who find their hair thinning with age and want a bit more thickness."
Doody's extensions will need to be removed in a couple of months and she admits to being tempted at having another set put in. "The best thing about them is they made me feel instantly thinner." Doody laughed. "If you've got more hair you suddenly feel like you've lost like half a kilo."