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PARIS (Reuters) - French people are still spending money on their hair styles, but tougher times could be ahead as the global economic downturn catches up, according to Europe's biggest franchised hair salon chain.
"For the moment, we are not really being impacted by the crisis," said Marc Aublet, chief executive of Provalliance, the group behind Jean-Louis David and Franck Provost salons.
"It is when times are difficult that people need to be pampered," Aublet said.
He said his chain, which has 1,600 salons in France, was just starting to feel some pain in Paris and was braced for a slowdown in the months to come.
Provalliance has a further 800 salons across Europe and has already seen trading worsen in Spain, where turnover has fallen between 5 percent and 15 percent in the past six months. "There, since the spring, we are seeing a real slowdown," Aublet said.
Provalliance is the world's second largest franchised hair salon group behind U.S.-based Regis, which runs Vidal Sassoon and Supercuts salons.
Regis, which owns 30 percent of Provalliance, has announced a near 30 percent fall in net income for the quarter ended September 30, saying consumers were cutting spending.
In France, some stylists fear the downturn being felt in the United States and Spain will soon be catching up with France.
"The crisis is relatively recent, I think French people are only now taking the full measure of it," Michele Duval, head of the French National Council of Hairdressing Businesses, which represents 4,500 salons. France has a total of 55,000 salons, too many for a population of 63.7 million, Duval said.
Duval said there was no evidence yet of a slowdown in France's 5-billion-euro hair salon industry but she said hairdressers in Paris were suffering more than elsewhere as there was more competition there.
"Perhaps also, people in the regions are less bombarded with media reports about the crisis so they worry less about it," she said, adding that many hairdressers now were managing their stocks more carefully than a few months ago.
Jean-Claude Biguine, the last French hair salon chain to belong to its founder, has already been hit by the downturn, with sales down 10 percent in the quarter to October. The chain has 318 outlets, 189 of them in France.
"We have been impacted by the crisis, that is for sure, people are depressed and afraid of spending money," Jean-Claude Biguine, director and founder of the chain, told Reuters.
The situation was worse in places like New York, where he said his chain's sales dropped 15 percent in recent months.
"There, people who used to go to the hairdresser 2-3 times a week for their job, now go less regularly," he said of New York.
Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Eddie Evans