2011 April 15

Johan Lindeberg: The Next Chapter

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(NEW YORK) After stints at Diesel, William Rast, and his highly-regarded, eponymous collection, J. Lindeberg, fashion vet Johan Lindeberg is unveiling his latest project, BLK DNM, an affordable, separates and denim-based offering that already has editors placing personal orders. The Daily checked in with the daredevil designer yesterday at the Mercer Hotel. MARIA DENARDO 

So before BLK DNM...
I had J. Lindeberg for 11 years. It still exists today, but I left three years ago. I felt like I was creatively trapped. I wanted freedom. I moved to New York and decided to be here for the rest of my life. I worked with Justin Timberlake as his personal stylist, and I worked with William Rast for three years while I was thinking of what to do. The clothes for BLK DNM are what people are wearing or want to wear today. I don’t want to do a theme collection, I want to make real product.

How did you come up with the name?
I just love black jeans. I wanted a generic name, like American Apparel. And I think it was a little bit of a reaction to the whole J. Lindeberg thing.

Many jeans are very expensive these days; yours are $129. Why?
A lot of brands want to be high or low—I want to be both. When I produce in New York, it’s more expensive. When I produce in Asia, it’s cheaper. I produce in both. $129-149 is a great price range. Jeans shouldn’t cost $200. I like more clean jeans. The fancier the detail, the more expensive the jean.

How do you keep your margins with the prices of raw materials increasing significantly?
Kellwood is excellent—they’re my Swiss watch. It’s all about organization, sourcing, negotiation, and the right product. Secondly, I think people have adapted and conformed to a certain price structure that's not realistic. Jeans are a symbol of freedom. It’s always been a part of anarchistic rebellion and student revolts and movements of the 70s. Jeans became too much about celebrity, fashion, and soccer moms. I want to bring jeans back to where they should be.

Why did you decide to offer free U.S. shipping and a yearlong return window, no questions asked?
I wanted to not see the website as a compliment to a wholesale structure. I wanted it to be our core structure, but digital. We felt like free shipping just made sense; it makes it easier to buy and it attracts people. For returns, it’s easy to recycle and redo. We can do archive pieces. The returns take off the pressure people feel when they buy. I want to build a brand that people can trust.

What’s your must-have BLK DNM item?
I really believe in our high-waisted Jean 6. I lifted the back pockets a little bit which makes it look cool from the back—that’s important. I have demanding girlfriends in my life.

You launched a movie called Film 1 along with your first collection. How did you come up with the idea?
When I created the Successful Living campaign for Diesel in 1991, I did a completely different campaign than everything that was out there like the Bruce Weber-Calvin Klein campaigns in black and white. I did powerful, ironic ads that were almost political or masochistic, somehow. They really made the consumer think. I’ve always had the opinion that you want to add layers to brands. So when I created this brand, that’s what I wanted to do—add different content. We’re in a period of awareness and consciousness right now. We’re shifting from the L.A. celebrity movement with fancy back pockets.

What inspired the story of the film?
I went through a breakup a year ago after 15 years of marriage. I thought it was more interesting to be a part of the creative process making film than doing a fashion show or a fashion film. I wanted the story to be center and the clothes to be secondary. Since I wanted a very personal brand, we wanted something to touch people. 

What was your budget?
$200,000 for two films and stills. We shot it really guerilla, full-on for three weeks. We did everything low-key and pulled favors from friends. Martin de Thurah, the director, shoots a lot of tight close-ups and makes film very human. Film 1 was shot in Queens and the second film, about the obsession of the woman, was shot in downtown New York. That one will launch May 20.

How have people reacted to the video?
It’s very emotional. People identify with the dynamic of the relationship in the video in different ways—a lot of people cry. It’s very hard to find synergies between two strong energies, especially in New York, with the ambition. It’s hard to commit. There are so many things happening and a lot of pressure to perform. I’ve been a bachelor for a year, and I've met a lot of lonely, lost individuals.  

Online dating is big in the city. Have you ever tried it?
No, never. Maybe I would as an experiment. I have a very idealistic view of my woman, maybe too idealistic.

Do you only wear BLK DNM?
Yeah, I have some vintage shoes and a vintage leather jacket, but otherwise I live in the brand. I’m the best when I create things I love myself. For instance, I don’t like chinos, so I don’t do them. I like only dress pants or jeans.

What's the story with your leather jacket?
I bought it at Rose Bowl for $20. I ride a motorcycle. I wear it in the middle of the summer to the beach. I’m obsessed with my leather jacket. I think it has a soul and an attitude. When you create a brand like BLK DNM, you need both. It's easier for me to make a Fall collection rather than a Spring collection.

Who is your customer?
My downtown friends are really demanding, so if I can attract them, that’s a good start. It would be a pleasure to dress Jennifer Connelly or Charlotte Gainsbourg. I like a strong woman with identity; there’s nothing more attractive. It’s great if people love it, but I’m over chasing.

Have you sent Justin Timberlake any of your new stuff?
No. We have a really good connection, but he should wear William Rast. He’s a great talent and a great personality, but I think he has enough jeans.

What's next for BLK DNM?
We’re opening a pop-up shop May 23 for six to seven weeks on Lafayette between Spring and Prince. Then we open a proper store in September during Fashion Week, along with a pop-up store in London and Stockholm.

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