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Society

In France, Barbers Are Back

Once a dying institution, barbershops are staging a comeback in France, where men are turning to the classic coiffeurs for everything from oh-so perfect stubble to some much needed guy time.

New facial hair trends have helped bring back barbershops in France
New facial hair trends have helped bring back barbershops in France
Valérie Leboucq

LES ÉCHOS/ Worldcrunch

Whether they like their faces smooth or covered in light stubble, more and more men are paying attention to what beauty experts call "facial hair style." The ritual of shaving, once considered an irksome activity, is now becoming a moment of pleasure, especially when men employ the services of the real artists of facial hair: barbers.

In France, a profession that until recently seemed a sure victim of disposable razors, is suddenly on the comeback trail. New barbers are opening up shop every day, and the shaving ritual is again being adapted to current tastes. In the French capital, people have started emulating the classic Alain Maître Barbier (Alain, the Master Barber), a shop situated in the Marais district. Two new Les Mauvais Garçons (The Bad Boys) barbershops have recently started greeting customers, on rue Oberkampf and in the BHV department store for men.

After a career in women's hairdressing, Michel Dervyn believes that barbers can make a successful comeback. His The Barber salons in Paris, Bordeaux, and near Lille offer, in addition to the usual services (shave, haircut and manicure), products such as soaps and accessories, in particular the famous "Plisson" shaving brush, which he considers "unrivaled."

This new barbershop also pays special attention to decor – which is contemporary – and to the overall atmosphere, by allowing its customers to listen to music, or watch sports matches or movies on its screens. Five salons of this kind have been opened to date.

The only major obstacle standing in the way of rapid expansion is the difficulty in finding qualified staff. The art of being a true barber is not as straightforward as it might seem. First, aspiring barbers must learn how to properly use a straight razor, by practicing on rubber balloons. But mastering the blade is not enough for becoming a true "saloner," says Michel Dervyn. "These are professionals who, having made their career in the barber trade, have acquired the art of conversation."

Hairdressers by trade, brothers Mathieu and Emmanuel Buquen recently opened Barber Clubs in Toulouse, Marseille, and soon Aix-en-Provence. The salons spoil their customers with a jazz-style atmosphere, leather armchairs, and all the beauty care that men indulge themselves with these days, such as hair removal, massage and tanning. It only took the two barbershops one year to break even, says Emmanuel Buquen, adding that "people often contact me for new salons."

Is all of this just a passing fad? Maybe, but apart from the quality of the result – which is far superior to a bathroom shave at home – going to the barbershop also expresses men's desire to "get together and pass down the ritual to the next generation," says Michel Dervyn. "Men are often accompanied by their sons or grandsons," he notes. After years of forced integration of the sexes, the barbershop is once again a place where "men come to socialize. It is like English clubs or tailor shop," says Hélène Capgras, a consultant at Brain for Beauty. "It is a place where men go without their wives."

Marc-Antoine Hennel, head of the Philips Personal Care division in France, draws a parallel between the new barbershops and the increased popularity of "facial styling." According to Hennel, "four out of every 10 men in France have goatee beards, a thin strip of hairs or three days worth of stubble on their faces."

The trend is a godsend for electrical appliance giant Philips, which has developed user-friendly razors and electric clippers that can be used even in the shower. Last year, a whopping 1.1 million facial hair products were sold in France along, 10% more than during the previous year (sales of electric clippers for stubble spiked by 32%).

Manufacturers are also starting to market products that use intense pulsed light to remove hair. Welcome to the "future of shaving with no skin aggression." This method, once reserved just for hair professionals, can now be used at home thanks to Philips's new Lumea. The company expects to sell 50,000 products by the end of 2011, despite their steep prices (500 euros). Beards, goatees, and smooth cheeks have never had it so good.

Read the original article in French.

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