Readying the hair spray: Marketers betting on big-hair bounce

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Big hair is back-and marketers are on the leading edge of the revival.

The big styles of the 1980s were a boon to hair-product companies eager to cash in again. Not only did they entail more hair, but also lots of sprays and styling products to maintain their poufy, gravity-defying dimensions.

"Big hair is coming back," said one retail buyer. "It's very good news. We could use a boost in our styler segment."

Sales of hair spray and spritz, a key ingredient in big hair, fell 7% to $364.8 million in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 8, the biggest decline of any of the hair-care categories, according to Information Resources Inc. figures that exclude Wal-Mart Stores, club and dollar stores.

product launches

Hoping to promote big hair's bounce, two brands that have been the biggest trendsetters of U.S. mass hair care in recent years-L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis and Kao Brands' John Frieda-early next year will launch styling products with "extra hold," aimed squarely at the big-haired. Fructis' big-hair lineup will include Fructis Surf Hair Texturizing Gum, which will make the jump from Europe to the U.S., and XXL Volume products.

Fructis also will launch a "Long and Strong" range of its shampoos and conditioners, retail buyers said, which should also help support big hair. And Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pantene by early next year will add a pomade to its Full & Thick line, which also could support bigger looks.

Frieda already began taking steps in the big-hair direction last year. "Our Sheer Blonde line has a line of stylers that are reflecting the big-hair trend of today," said Brigitte King, associate VP-marketing for John Frieda. "Women are going much more to bigger hair, more voluptuous curls in their hair. We're on the cusp of that in creating products for that market."

By December, Unilever's Dove will launch its first U.S. foray into styling aids, with "weightless moisturizers" primed to abet big hair-or other styles.

But Allison Harmon, Unilever hair-care marketing communications director, downplays the big-hair theory. Unilever's stylist advisers are instead predicting more of an "anything goes" outlook, saying the trend will be to go off whatever a person's hair naturally wants to do-something, coincidentally, that "weightless" products should help accomplish.

Though very much in recess, big hair never entirely lost its hold among some women in such middle-American markets as Cincinnati or Erie, Pa. But full-blown outbreaks are rare today, and the big hair of the new century is likely to diverge from the tightly permed, heavily teased and combed-back excesses of the 1980s, according to Cody Kukasabe, a stylist at the Gavert-Atelier salon in Beverly Hills.

Mr. Kukasabe is seeing a surge in nouveau-big-hair styles, but, as implied by the term "Surf hair," the looks are messier and more windblown, Mr. Kukasabe said.

tight and loose

Newer big-hair styles involve perms, but with mixtures of tight and loose curls, he said. Teasing is no longer necessary, thanks to new styling products. And hairspray, while still an essential ingredient in big hair, is more likely to be applied to roots, with ends left unfettered to avoid "helmet head" looks of bygone eras, he said.

But a rising tide, or more precisely, rising hair, may not lift all boats in hair care. While modern big-hair looks are likely to require more spray, mousses and other styling products, they're likely to lead to less spending on shampoos and conditioners than the styles they replace, Mr. Kukasabe said.

That could be good news for L'Oreal and Kao, which have relatively stronger shares in styling products, and bad news for P&G, which has relatively stronger shares in shampoo and conditioner.

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