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"I see myself as an architect": Johan Hellström on creating a signature hair look

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Emir Eralp

As part of Vogue Scandinavia's Ode to the Beauty Artist series, we shine a light on the beauty teams behind the scene of our shoots and films. To kick it off, we chat to the hair master himself, Johan Hellström

Johan Hellström is the owner of Björn Axén, hairdresser to Swedish royals, a backstage icon and the go-to hair magician on the set of photoshoots, films and musicals including Phantom of the Opera. He’s also the artist whose whimsical inspiration for Shima Niavarani in the movie Shapeshifter or A Tale of Stockholm was a Spanish courtier. Here Johan Hellström speaks to Vogue Scandinavia about what keeps him creatively inspired, the psychology of hairdressing and the ladies of the 1600s Spanish court.

Do you see yourself as an artist?

Yes, I work very much as an artist. Usually hair and make-up is something you expect to have and no one really thinks about where it comes from or how much work is behind it – the dress, model and fashion house get all the credit. But when I cut hair, I see myself as an architect. I build the shape, I build something that works with the personality and the bone structure with the material that I have in front of me. It’s sculptural but I also have to understand the psychology of the person. My only goal is to make them feel happier with who they are. I can indulge my own ego backstage at a fashion show. But when it comes to clients, I have to try to enhance their personality because when the inner and the outer come together, that’s when you create a signature look that makes this person become something they might not have believed was possible.

What is beauty to you?

When I see someone bloom, when I see someone fall a little bit more in love with themselves and with how they look – that is beauty.

What were you like as a child?

I was into everything that had to do with movement, music and art. I was on the swim team. I was in the top team for skiing and competed for the school in gymnastics. I made my own shirts. Of course, my parents wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, and I had great grades, but that was never going to happen as I loved being creative.

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