superchat amsterdam: johan lindeberg

© blk dnm

a veteran in denim, johan lindeberg initially helped diesel raise the bar to new heights in the 1990s, before honing his creative skills with a string of other fashion brands. outspoken, sincere and with a keen interest in current affairs, lindeberg is the kind of character who chooses to live in a constant flow yet navigates with a set of cherished values instilled long ago. he's currently based in new york city where he heads blk dnm, an apparel brand which encapsulates such a great deal of his personality, it could easily be seen as his sartorial alter ego. well, sort of. lindeberg recently visited amsterdam on the occasion of the arrival of his brand at edgy multibrand emporium sprmrkt. obviously superfuture seized the opportunity to sit down with the designer to get better acquainted with him and his creative vision.

your name is inextricably linked to denim. where do you think denim stands these days from a both a fashion and cultural point of view? i think culturally, denim is totally wiped out. it has become solely a fashion item, unfortunately. it used to have roots in culture, but no more. when i grew up it was a symbol of freedom. denim has become too proper, too groomed, it has lost its cultural significance.

do you think denim is still an icon of youth culture? not really. there are other things and brands that have gained such status. like supreme in new york city, the whole skate culture. denim lost that essential anarchist element, it has become too ordinary these days.

your design vocabulary contains a lot of references to the rebellious 1960s, but you're a child of the 1970s yourself. what did your adolescence in provincial sweden look like? i'm older than you think. i grew up in a southern swedish university town and i remember the turmoil of the 1960s very well. my father was a very politically engaged journalist, as well as my oldest sister and those years were very influential. my hometown of lund was very progressive with a student movement that was as powerful as the one in paris at the time. the air was filled with idealism and passion, people in the streets discussed ideas. i remember the book cafés and obviously the local music scene which pulled all the big bands at the time played gigs in lund. it was a fascinating time and i'm very influenced by that era, you know. when i started blk dnm it was right after i got separated, a devastating moment in my life.

i decided to create the brand, not as a way of therapy, but as a manifest or some kind of summary of my life so far. i wanted to do something meaningful for myself. you know, as a swede coming from the land of ingmar bergman and dark winters, we go deep, feel things and then finally express them. the launch of blk dnm was in a way cathartic, something i just had to do. and while doing so, i decided to add an element of 1968. but strangely, the launch of blk dnm in 2011 more or less coincided with the arab spring. all of a sudden millions of people in tunisia, egypt and beyond took to the streets to make themselves heard. sure, i miss those tumultuous 1960s, but at the same time revolution is very much back.

the world is in turmoil once again and i aim to create a brand with a voice. i want to inspire people and create culture. you should know that blk dnm hasn't been founded for just commercial reasons only. i recall creating diesel's successful living campaign in the early 1990s. it was powerful concept because it was political. with the campaign we addressed a lot of relevant subjects in society. i've always acknowledged the global reach of advertising, and brands are sometimes more effective in inspiring people than say newspapers. i'd say i'm extremely idealistic. maybe too much sometimes. but that's just the way i am, i'm driven by passion, and at this moment in my life i'm more inspired than i've ever been.

you founded blk dnm after a painful break-up. has that painful event in your personal life influenced your creative output? yes, i think so. i've had different eras as a designer. during my days at j.lindeberg days i listened too much to others, i was easily impressed by a lot of brands, by what was happening in milan and so on, and so on. i wasn't being myself. now i work really hard on using my intuition. i used to carry a lot of pain around and now it's gone. i dug really deep and finally found who i am and what i like. i'd say my taste and my intuition is more pure today. if there's one word that would summarize me it would definitely be passion. my biggest challenge in my life have been women. i've had quite a few, you know. i'm very passionate and intense, also with work. my passion is something that's difficult to balance.

blk dnm's main source of inspiration is strong and independent women. the codes of your men's designs seem exactly the opposite, coming across as a tad macho. what's the creative departure point of the men's designs? ha, me. and on the contrary, i actually believe in good values. what i'm most proud of is the fact that i'm a very engaged father, i have an amazing relationship with my 13-year-old daughter. also, if you ask the women in my life, you'll hear that i'm a giving person. the people i work with will acknowledge that too. my beard and my glasses may perhaps look macho, but i have a very soft side. macho men to me are manipulative and ego-driven, and i think you'll come accross the phenomenon a lot in the corporate world.

when i worked at j.lindeberg in the late 1990s i drastically modernized the look of golf apparel, and just because i wanted to change a side of the conservative establishment. i put american men in tightly fitted garb, even in pink golf pants! but going back to strong women, i think it's something that was instilled in me at an early age. i remember in the 1960s my father was major advocate for women who wanted to become priests, there were a lot of female political players in lund, and a big icon for me at the time was politcal activist angela davis. when i started blk dnm i really had the feeling it's an amazing moment for women right now, there are a lot of great political leaders who are women, and there are now also many in the corporate world.

you're based in new york, a place you say nurtures you creatively. how different is living there from living in sweden, and have you retained any values from the homeland? yeah, being an engaged father is very swedish i think. also, my belief in gender equality. i love new york because the city somehow makes me live in the presence. it's very engaging because i don't have time to think of the future, which for me is very healthy. i can be who i am in new york, i don't need to play a role. 

visual communication seems vital to your brand. how do you differentiate blk dnm from other brands? i don't know. it's been only three years since i first took up a camera. i just started to portray who we are as blk dnm. it's too complicated to look over someone else's shoulder, so i had to look through the lens myself. if you look at my pictures they're very different from hedi slimane's. he's an incredible photographer but his images are meticulously controlled. i'm more fucked up, maybe? 

blk dnm has stores in new york and stockholm. how important is it for you to have your own stores? i think they're very important because you can present who you are, my voice is strongest in my own retail space. my philosophy regarding stores is that i design them as i like to live, they're like my own home. i have only one goal: if i can sleep there, i'm happy. and in both stores i can lay down my head. i'm thinking of opening in los angeles and paris next, but i've learned things the hard way, so i do one thing at a time and take it easy.

any plans for the future that you can reveal? well, i'm currently working on a portrait series with franca sozzani for vogue italia, shooting 50 women from 50 different countries. it'll be about women who have a strong and progressive voice, all artists, politicians, actors, no models. i do a lot photography these days, i'm also going to shoot a series of moroccan women. but we're going to launch a new eyewear collab with moscot and we're also developing scented candles. we're working on a number of small projects. a bigger project is scheduled for early next year but i can't tell you what it is just yet.

© dennis veldman