Photography: Alex Wessely
A Sci-fi laser light show opened DRKN’s debut runway presentation, as an ominous, trembling soundtrack filled the smokey space and made for an immersive experience that felt like slipping inside a video game’s opening credits. This menacing intro was a fitting segue into the Swedish brand’s breakout collection, which delivered an aggressive, monochromatic lineup inspired exclusively by the digital world.
“We are an online anarchy,” their website manifest reads, reflecting the clothes’ confrontational edge and clear references to gaming culture: jet-black bombers look well-equipped to tackle challenges seen in Counter-Strike, while some pieces—pullovers and vests—specifically feature the game’s train map as a geometric camouflage print. Closing out Stockholm Fashion Week, DRKN shook up the city’s traditionally minimal ethos and provided a maximalist grand finale, complete with street cast models, blood red glitter makeup and a fiery performance by rapper Silvana Imam.
Following the show’s success, we caught up with DRKN Designer Erik Bjerkesjö to talk about pulling from his impressive industry experience, creating a brand for die-hard gamers and taking a stand for total equality.
Your design background is dense—Acne, Dior, Maison Margiela, as well as a private brand. How have all these different experiences influenced your current project, DRKN?
“I started my role at DRKN a few months back, so it’s hard to say exactly what my experience and influences bring to DRKN. What striked me the most with DRKN is that we are entering a new market, where basically no one is. With this collection, we offer an alternative to most clothing brands out there. We do not have a traditionally defined cultural or social heritage and we have no preconceived idea of who our customers are in the real world. Instead, we want to inspire people to embrace the values of the virtual world and encourage them to not restrict their imagination and become whoever they want to be.”
The root of DRKN is gaming culture. How does this inform the clothing?
“I have been focusing on creating a unisex brand identity. Any person who, just as us at DRKN, feels that they are part of a very dark and chaotic world, partly due to the online worlds they live in, will understand our inspiration and what we fight for. We want to show the world that games matter and that gaming culture, as well as people dedicated to games, should be taken more seriously. Gaming is actually a really cool and interesting lifestyle. With this collection we want people to be able to express that passion and achievement. We are also really into science fiction and how the world is being changed by technology. We believe in a world where humans are much more enhanced by technology, which is something you will be able to see us work with in the future.”
“We believe gamers are pioneers of future society.” Tell me more about this ideology.
“Just the fact that more and more people choose to spend time in the virtual rather than the physical world makes this very clear. Today, people work in the virtual reality and get their income from it. It’s where they build their social network and identity. The power we have is based upon the common values and beliefs that we have developed. When something really concerns us, we are a globally connected subculture that can apply our power very quickly. I don’t need to tell you what computers can do to other computers, and it was more or less the Swedish gaming community, pissed off by privacy invading legislation and the persecution The Pirate Bay founders, who voted the Pirate Party into the European parliament in 2009.”
Tell me about the various “team” patches you’ve been designing for DRKN.
“We work a lot with patches and insigna and one example from our end is our bomber jacket that can be bought with a “Global Elite” patch on it. Global Elite is the highest rank in the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive and you can only buy the jacket if you can verify that you indeed are GE. We are in the making with different collaborations where the patch system is the key. It is also how you as a customer can start collecting limited patches and rewards to develop and help your skills in different games.”
“Darkness” is a recurring allusion throughout the brand. Beyond color, what does darkness represent?
“Darkness represents the anarchy of the online worlds we live in and it also a consequence of the inspiration we get from all the dystopian worlds we find ourselves in when we play games. The darkness is our world—our heritage.”
How does DRKN merge the online experience and offline existence?
“We do it by giving people the opportunity to express their online identity through their DRKN clothing, in a way that makes them proud of who they are. The DRKN brand is in itself connected to gaming and digital culture and then we have a lot of pieces that contain direct references to games, ranks and achievements. We also give our customers the ability to customize their look with different patches based on their favorite game, team and rank. Any brand targeting youth culture should definitely consider the online world and how people build and want to express their identity.”
The models cast for your runway show were incredibly diverse, which, from what I saw, was rare for Stockholm’s fashion scene. Tell me about the models you chose.
“Me and Chris Magsino, who is the stylist for DRKN, have many friends that we thought were perfect for DRKN from the beginning. Today many of them are our ambassadors and the people I get inspired by. For example, the twin sisters Lejonhjarta and Ali Bolala are all huge sci-fi fans, so I created looks suitable for them. All the models walked exclusive for us, and all of them has something important that DRKN stands for. The whole collection has to have a very unisex fit and feeling, as we are breaking in to a new market, so we also want to make new patterns and measurements. I really hate when designers use models that are too skinny or tall, so you later can’t wear the clothes in that standard size. Unisex is for humans, no matter sex, age and height, so the models we picked represent those new strong Swedish characters that form the new wave from Sweden, at the moment.”
There are underlying political elements in DRKN. Beyond gaming culture, what conversations are you provoking?
“We embody a global subculture and an underground movement who’re fighting for their reality and values to be respected. So yes, we are definitely political. We champion the values of online culture, like Internet freedom, the right to online privacy and the fact that nations and all the other hierarchies that this world’s built upon are outdated concepts. We see the future since we live in it, and there are a lot of powerful people and institutions who should be worried. We want to send the signal that we and our values are about to take over, which is true.
DRKN believes you should use the power of your imagination to the fullest and become whoever you want to be, just like we have been taught in the world of gaming, so taking a stand for equality against racism, homophobia and elitism is just natural to us. We are a very powerful subculture; we are millions of globally connected people; we want to send the signal that we can do anything we want. And if we happen to scare some people along the way with our dark inspiration and masks, that is a good thing.”