Between his tenure at Euro-denim giant Diesel as head of marketing and CEO of their U.S division, founding the eponymous lifestyle brand J. Lindeberg, and working as Justin Timberlake personal stylist—not to mention running the pop star’s brand William Rast—there’s not much territory in the fashion industry that Johan Lindberg hasn’t covered.
After nearly 20 years of transatlantic commuting, the Swedish-born designer with the ale-blond beard of a Norse god now calls New York home. With his settling down comes his new, downtown New York-inspired brand BLK DNM. The brand sets out to twist the conventional designer model of seasonal collections and behemoth flagship stores: unlike most luxury brands, you won’t find BLK DNM in any department store, supplemented only by a handful of BLK DNM retail locations around the world where you’re encouraged to handle the product in person but buy from the online inventory. There will be no conventional seasonal collections or highfalutin’ fashion shows, simply product injections all year round and short lifestyle videos that feature the brand and a few choice product selections. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Johan a few days before the launch of BLK DENIM’s Grand Street showroom to get a sense of his past, present, and—most importantly—his handicap on the golf course.
ALEX HOWARD: Tell us about your history; you’re born in Sweden but have lived and worked all over the world…
JOHAN LINDEBERG: I came here in ‘95, with Diesel, and was here through ‘97. I actually have a very special history with Interview Magazine. When I created the “Successful Living” campaign for Diesel, Interview was the first magazine we gave the ad to, and when I came to New York, Paige Powell, my contact at Interview, took care of me and showed me everything! After that, I moved to Milan, then to Stockholm, then to London for five years, then to Los Angeles, and now finally back to New York.
HOWARD: That’s quite a lot of bouncing around, no?
LINDEBERG: [laughs] Well, now I’ll stay forever and die here…
HOWARD: Before you started at Diesel, were you working in fashion?
LINDEBERG: My first girlfriend, when I was about 18, was a fashion designer, and my sister was a fashion designer as well. I’ve always been into shopping, and I’ve always been very aesthetic, in a sense.
HOWARD: This is your first denim-based line since working at Diesel, which is such a denim-heavy company. What was the impetus for starting a new denim brand?
LINDEBERG: I left Diesel, and was kind of tired of denim when I created J. Lindeberg. When I felt like I wanted to create a new brand again, I wanted it to somehow have roots in denim, but also to have a lot of tailoring, a lot of leather jackets. It’s not a normal or traditional denim brand.
HOWARD: What is the aesthetic inspiration behind this new brand?
LINDEBERG: First, I don’t like menswear that’s too tricky, and I wanted to take a lot of inspiration from myself and really only do things that I like. I don’t like chinos, but I do like dress pants and jeans, so we do them. It’s pretty straightforward, and just a matter of doing the right products. Instead of doing collections, we say that we do products that we’ll update, like leather jackets, cardigans, and T-shirts. For women, I take inspiration from strong women with good aesthetics and integrity, and a little tomboy influence.
HOWARD: Can you talk a little about the different approach to the structure of BLK DNM as a brand? I know you want the brand to be almost entirely based online, which is a change of pace from a lot of other designers.
LINDEBERG: I was tired of doing collections, tired of doing runway shows… there was just so much wasted time and energy doing all the runway product and all the filler product. We also decided not to do wholesale, which gives me a lot of freedom; I can basically do what I want and I don’t need to fit into any department in a store. I have a great respect for retailers, but in this era there’s a great opportunity to be a digital native brand, and our main strategy is definitely online.
HOWARD: So who is the BLK DNM shopper?
LINDEBERG: It’s not really contrived at all from anything in particular; it’s actually quite grounded. I like the attitude in rock and roll, but we do a lot of things across a wide range. For example, we do a t-shirt for $5, but for women I also did a shearling cape for $2,500.
HOWARD: Let’s backtrack for a moment: what was it like working with Justin Timberlake on a celebrity brand like William Rast?
LINDEBERG: Coming to LA and working with brands connected with celebrity was a very different experience. I thought it was interesting to work with someone like Justin and to work with the phenomenon of celebrity in the U.S., and also to take on the challenge of taking a celebrity brand and adding credibility to it. I was his personal stylist for years, so I went to his video shoots and his gigs with Madonna, and I did it very hands-on. It was a great way to experience and understand that part of American culture.
HOWARD: Here’s the million-dollar question: will you ever sell blue denim?