EVERYTHING about Hair Expo Australia is big - the crowds, the noise, the amount of product on sale … and the hair.
There is nothing bigger this year than hair, according to event director Julia Erben.
''The trend is for big, luxurious hair that needs a lot of care,'' she says. ''Either wavy or straight, as long as it's luxurious.''
And everywhere in the 10,000 square metre hall at the Darling Harbour Exhibition Centre yesterday that big hair was being snipped, curled, straightened, coloured and generally gussied up in a thousand ways.
One of the first shows of the day involved former hairdresser of the year Joey Scandizzo lowering what appeared to be an oversized lampshade extravagantly fringed with artificial hair onto a model's head then artfully trimming and shaping it as the obviously knowledgeable crowd looked on with rapt attention.
Despite the stop-start economy, the number of visitors - mostly hairdressers and overwhelmingly female - was almost identical to last year, according to Ms Erben. About 10,000 paying visitors were expected over the three-day extravaganza along with some 200 exhibitors.
Ms Erben said the industry benefited from the so-called ''lipstick effect'', the theory consumers are more likely to buy affordable luxuries in hard times.
''I believe women try to pamper themselves,'' she said. ''Any of the businesses we have here that are ultimately selling to the consumer are still doing fine.''
One of those benefiting was Jules Tognini, a second-generation hairdresser visiting the expo from Brisbane with his father, Benni, to promote his product line and spread the hair-is-fun gospel. ''I guess I'm trying to make hairdressing a little bit more exciting again,'' he said. ''My job is to make hairdressing bigger and better than ever and make people feel that a hairdressing career is a choice rather than a back-up plan if they don't get onto something else.''
Backstage, about 500 hairdressers were preparing some of the event's 2000 models who were due to show off their locks onstage in last night's ''Generation Next'' catwalk show.
Among them was 22-year-old Alexis Scott, from Western Australia, who came third in last year's international WorldSkills competition.
For three months she has been creating a hairpiece for the show, using a range of materials and techniques, including crocheting and felting. Hairdressing is a family tradition for Ms Scott, who first picked up the comb and scissors aged 14.
''I grew up with it,'' she said. ''I love the buzz … and that special reward you get when you client leaves … with a big smile.''