Former Diesel CEO Johan Lindeberg launched BLK DNM (pronounced “black denim”)—a conceptually spare, seasonless, denim-heavy collection—in February from downtown New York City, and the brand is growing quickly. It started out as an online-only enterprise and, four months later, debuted a pop-up shop in NoLIta, the site of which now serves as the BLK DNM flagship. Just before Fashion’s Night Out, we caught up with the Swedish-born denim doyen to discuss his new venture and store and learned why he loves New York.
The shop that began as a pop-up is now BLK DNM’s permanent location. September brings the store its first Fashion’s Night Out. How are you celebrating?
Johan Lindeberg: We want to create a good atmosphere—DJ, drinks, things like that. [Visit fashionsnightout.com powered by QVC for more info.] We actually have a screening the night before. But it’s a very personal film, so it has to be more intimate.
Who is the film by and what is it about?
JL: It’s from a Danish director. His name is Martin de Thurah. It’s an eight-minute film and it’s about the obsession of a woman. It’s the second film we are creating. The first was actually inspired by my breakup from a long marriage. Now we’re launching the second film, which has even more New York atmosphere, and we’ll have a screening for it on Fashion’s Night Out. It’s quite an emotional film.
BLK DNM is based in NYC and has a definite downtown vibe. What do you love about the City? How do you think the brand reflects this?
JL: When I came back to New York two years ago, it was the fourth time [that I’ve lived here]. I came in ‘95 for the first time when I launched Diesel. I know that New York, for me, is the best. And that’s why I’ve decided to stay here now forever. I like New York because people really express themselves. You can be who you are because no one cares how you look. The whole creative vibe in New York is a big inspiration. I’ve created brands from Italy, with Diesel; I was working with Justin Timberlake on William Rast in LA. But I think to create a brand in downtown New York feels somehow real. And I think when you are in a real environment, it gives you a certain strength and foundation.
Some designers have complained lately about the pressure and restrictions of churning out collection after collection each season. But with BLK DNM, you’ve done away with seasons. How do you do it, and why do you think it works?
JL: In starting another brand, I felt like I had to try to be different. [I did] the film and a magazine, called BLK DNM Gazette [warning: link is NSFW], which is a really exciting project. [But I also] think there’s a big change in the market. You see what’s happening this year? It’s earthquakes in Japan, even an earthquake here; revolution in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; riots in London; the shooting in Norway…. I think values are changing right now. I think people need to stop a little and consider. And I think brands need to take [on more] responsibility and create more depth. It’s important to inspire consumers, rather than trying to give them what people think they want. A lot of customers today don’t really know what they want…. They want to be inspired. So I think brands should express themselves differently. They should be here to create things, not only to earn money. That’s the whole purpose of life, more than earning money, and that should be the driving force. I feel it changing a little. People are really ready for something new.
While the brand seems to be growing quickly and maintains a modern approach to e-commerce and social media, it feels organic and authentic. Why is it important for you to keep it personal?
JL: I had a brand for many years under my own name, and in the end I felt kind of stuck. BLK DNM is a little bit of a contrast to that somehow. I took a very generic name, instead of my own personal name, and made it very personal—more personal than ever. It’s my [form of] expression, like a painter. It’s about my intuition and taste.
It feels organic because we are grounded. We do things that we really love. We are trying to create something that can inspire people. I’m really creating a brand that reflects the life I love and love to live. I love to be downtown and I love the people I have around me, that inspire me every second. I’m trying to create things that I’d like to wear myself or that I’d like to see on a woman. And when you have friends with great taste, you know, you need to show that you can do things right, otherwise you’re going to hear about it. So we are trying to follow what we are passionate about. I think people feel that.