I Went To Sweden And Didn't Go Blond

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The obvious thing to do when you go to Sweden to get your hair done (a thing that recently happened to me) is to go blond. And not just because the Swedes know and love their blond. (I confirmed this with some very investigative, on-the-ground reporting.) In reality, it’s because if I had to pick one trend that defines the beauty scene—at least since I started covering it four years ago—it’s going blond. Everyone wants to be just a liiiiiittle bit sunnier, just a tiny bit more sparkly. Here and abroad! In New York, we want to look like we spend more time outside than we do in our offices. For the Swedes, maybe it has to do with the fact that in winter, they only see about seven hours of sunlight each day. After that, the only brightness they get is that which they can artificially muster.

Because it is artificial, I’m assured. “Everyone here wants to be blond, but the problem is, very few people actually are,” my very nice colorist at the Sachajuan salon in Stockholm tells me as I try not to fall asleep in my coffee under a head full of foils. Yes, there is a salon behind the transcendent line of products. In the States, you know them for their volumizing, texturizing Ocean Mist. In their home country, they’re known to service a steady stream of blond-wannabes because, hej, they’re in Sweden.

My colorist is a red head. “The standard here is a lot of highlights, and very cool-toned—almost white,” she tells me. And look, I get it. When I met Emily Weiss she was as blond as chemically possible. It was chic. So chic, I became a little bit of a bleach chaser myself. Never that drastic, but I hopped from highlights to balayage and back again for a couple of years without an escape route. Sun-kissed was the look. “Not very frequently” was the routine.

But the thing about hair color is that even the low-maintenance version still requires some maintenance. I forgot this (fooling myself into thinking the blond streaks grew out of my head naturally and did not, in fact, need to be put there by a professional). About nine months after my last balayage session, what was once a very lovely head of hand-painted hair now looked like a dip dye. Seems I may not be responsible enough to fake my way blond.

This was the directive I brought all the way to Sweden, all the way to Sachajuan. (Did you know that Sachajuan is actually a person? Well, two people. Sacha Mitic and Juan Rosenlind. Nice guys!) I needed my hair back—but better. Something I could wear without worrying about my next salon visit. But something with a bit of oomph. My reference picture kept with the Scandinavian theme: I pulled out a photo of Dane Freja Beha Erichson. We don’t share coloring or hair texture or really anything at all (I’m not a tattooed earth angel who has starred in multiple Chloé campaigns, turns out), but her hair has this wonderful depth to it—and all without being the slightest bit blond. Not even brond! (That’s a portmanteau of brunette and blond, not a typo.) In the industry, they call that “movement.”

Of course, even though I thought not going blond meant I could skip this part, I ended up with a head full of foils. Not for long, though. We did a quick round of all-over highlights—avoiding getting too close to the root or my part—for about a half an hour. Just to lift the color up ever so slightly before toning it back down. After the foils, they mixed a toner as close to my root shade as possible and let me marinate for a little while longer. We cut off the dip dyed part, blow dried, and I was back to full brunette again—but with more movement and dimension than the original model. (If you’re looking to do the same, just tell your colorist: “Babylights all around, then tone it back down to my natural color.” Simple directions, complex hair.)

Maintenance should be the easy part. Wash it infrequently to keep the integrity of the glaze—I use Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo when I need it (one of my most recommended products; the only chic dandruff shampoo that exists) and condition with their Intensive Repair line. When my hair starts to lose moisture on the ends, I mask overnight with Overnight Hair Repair. If it fades, any colorist worth their weight in aluminum can mix up a toner and bring the brunette back to life. And in no time at all. Quite the relief, since I don’t have any plans to go back to Sweden in the next two months. But if you do, you know who to call.

—Emily Ferber

Photographs via the author.

Now to style your hair: Read here for a how-to on easy, natural waves.