Any colour, as long as it's black
Johan Lindeberg brings decades of denim expertise to his latest label. Peter Lyle meets the designer
Monday 16 April 2012
Blk Dnm may be missing a few vowels, but thanks to a New York base and Swedish breeding it seems to have the credentials a modern fashion brand needs.
First come the clothes, of course, subtly luxurious wardrobe classics for men and women rooted in a core concept of jeans, blazers and covetable leather jackets that belie a transatlantic back story. Then there is the innate hipness orchestrated from design headquarters on SoHo's Lafayette Street. Unsurprisingly the brand has quickly, and carefully, cultivated a following among downtown scenesters and fashion industry types. In the words of The New York Times these are the clothes top stylists actually wear when photographing the fantasy for their day job, "utilitarian, strong, indifferent to trend... they're anti-peacock, purposefully invisible, and as a result, they transcend".
And as of last month, there was also the seal of approval from that proven fashion kingmaker, Madonna, who dances in a pair of Blk Dnm style Jeans 8 in her video for "Girl Gone Wild".
On a trip to London last month, the man behind the label, Johan Lindeberg, was especially taken with this last endorsement. Madonna. The tall 55 year old decked out in Blk Dnm from top to bottom and sporting an impressive beard said that Madonna was exactly the kind of "strong, independent, political" woman he had in mind when he created the label. As a much-travelled material boy and onetime marketing expert himself, Lindeberg knows the value of getting your wares worn by the right people. Though you may not know his name, chances are you've worn a label that he helped make possible.
Lindeberg made his first major impact in fashion spearheading Italian denim brand's Diesel's celebrated ad campaigns of the 1990s. (As international marketing manager, he oversaw and mentored a Stockholm-based team including Acne founder Jonny Johansson.) In 1995, he left Diesel to form the golf-inspired casual brand J.Lindeberg. In 2007, he sold up to his partners in the label and moved, along with then-wife and design collaborator Marcella and daughter Blue, to New York at the request of Justin Timberlake. Life there working on William Rast and other labels was going brilliantly, until one day, "after 15 years together, and 12 years working together," Marcella told Johan that "she needed space". Lindeberg "ran to the car and drove out to Long Island, and then I just walked crying in the rain for three days".
He decided several things during that walk in the wilderness, he said, like that he'd work even harder to be a good father from then on, and that he'd set up his own label, one that did things differently. In January 2011, he drew his first pattern for the new brand, and the following month, with financial backing and manufacturing muscle from American fashion brand conglomerate Kellwood, Blk Dnm was born.
"I felt like, if I'm going to be involved in a fifth brand in my career, I want to do it very differently from anything I've done before. In that sense I decided to see if I could stretch it in different directions, break patterns ... it's such a great thing to be a brand of this era instead of being 10, 15, 20 years old. I don't need to show respect to anybody, basically."
Fashion seasons, traditional catwalk shows and splashy PR extravaganzas all went out of the window. Traditional distribution was passed over in favour of a wholesale mentality that saw clothes sold direct to customers from the shop-studio or online and at lower prices than the "designer" competition. An image was established not through billboards or glossy mag ads, but via mood-movies, regular blogs and behind-the-scenes snaps Lindeberg posted online. Collections were not inspired by exotic eras or famous painters, but instead built around the idea of a wardrobe and given functional numbers rather than fancy names, "so if you like Blazer 15 and you get on with it, then it's easy to find what you want next time".
"Of course, we do still have stores and traditional things, but I like the digital, and let it dominate the strategy, with everything being complimentary to that. Most brands, they still have it the other way round."
Lindeberg argues that a digitally-enabled, DIY approach to building a label has allowed him to sidestep the normal three-month production cycles and approval processes of big fashion houses and put things out there as soon as they are made, even if there is only one of them. "It's very tiring for people around me sometimes, because if I create a jacket now, I want it out. They'll say, 'But shouldn't we wait for next season?' and I'll say, 'I don't care, just get it out...' You have to learn how to deal with Blk Dnm somehow."
For those who don't have to respond to the veteran fashion mogul's creative whims but are just interested in buying his clothes, the rules are less volatile. Clever, liberating tailoring is a hallmark of Lindeberg's classic-looking blazers, the denim is worthy of carrying the label's name, but the expensive, exquisitely distressed leather jackets, in shades from black to off-white and cognac, are Blk Dnm's real rock stars. And as long as Lindeberg balances the need to stay cool with the bright glare of so-hot-right-now vogueishness, that's not going to change any time soon.
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