• Dreamers + Doers: Erika Linder

    "I think I forgot to tell anyone I dyed my hair blonde" are the first words out of Erika Linder's mouth when we meet. Standing on a street corner outside Blue Bottle coffee in New York, the 24-year-old Swedish model's recent travel schedule has been, in a word: insane. She's on the heels of a shoot in Paris followed by a week in New York followed by 24 hours at home in Los Angeles and back to New York on a night's notice; somewhere in the middle were three days in the Cinderella suite at Disney World. (Long story.) After this: Toronto. Then Big Sur. We'll forgive her lapse in hair updates.

    It's well-warranted demand — in an industry that seems cut and dry, Linder is rewriting the rulebook. Working as both a male and female model, images in her book range from personifying a young Leonardo DiCaprio to rolling around a Malibu beach in a bikini. She's striking in both a suit and a fully made-up face; it's an extreme versatility Linder carries with a cool, unflappable confidence and an eagerness for challenge. 
     
    We spent the day with Erika on set of UO's newest lookbook, shot at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Westchester County. In between takes, she talked with us about Nick Carter, crying-on-cue, and how the biggest advantage you can have is simply knowing what you want. Photography by Bobby Whigham. 

    Tell us more about growing up in Sweden.

    [Points to the giant field we're shooting in:] This is my vibe. I grew up probably two hours away from Stockholm, on what was basically a farm. It was our house and a farmer's house. It was everything you imagine: When we got food, we would get it for like two weeks to stock up...we had cows, horses, chickens, all that. 

    Do you think about going back there? 

    I've never been a big city fan. I have a vision for how I want things to be: my goal in life is actually to just get a cottage in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. People always ask, 'What do you want to do with your modeling career?' and I'm just like, 'I really just want that house.' Sweden is so beautiful, especially the countryside. So, for sure I plan to move back. I don't know when, but later. 

    You were scouted as a teenager but didn't have any interest in modeling at the time, right? 

    I got scouted when I was 14 outside a concert in Stockholm. I was such a tomboy. I mean, I still am, but back then, when you're 14? I imagined that being a model was more about being a princess. I played soccer and could never have envisioned myself in this industry. So after high school I went to university but I didn't know what I wanted to do. 

    What did you study in school?

    Funny enough, I studied law. Then I studied language — Japanese. But don't ask me to say anything in Japanese.

    What! Law and Japanese? What were you thinking you'd do?

    Yeah...I know. I don't know why I did that. I thought it was cool! Anyway!

    Then I finished school and graduated and then was at that age where — like everyone else — I was like, 'I want to travel.' So I returned to the thought of modeling and realized maybe I should just try it. I didn't have any expectations. My first photoshoot was dressed up as Leonardo DiCaprio for Candy magazine [in 2011]. And then it just kind of took off. 

    So your first job was modeling as a male — was that a hard thing for agencies to get behind?

    The first year was pretty hard because people didn't know what to do with me. I get it. I mean, I'm a girl! So when they started pushing for me they were like, 'You have to be this, this, and that. You have to walk in heels.' I get that they pushed me for that. But at the same time I had my own vibe and was like, 'Well I think I want to shoot as a guy because that's how I started off.' I always had a vision that I didn't want to change myself. I still wanted to be me. 

    But then I went to LA for the first time like two years ago and was really embraced — that's how I kind of became more of a 'character model' I guess. That's how it started off: LA pushed for me and that's why I am there now. 

    It sounds like you've really been able to maintain a lot of freedom over what you do.

    Yeah, for sure. I feel like people are wanting me for me. It's funny, I can go do the most girly shoot in Malibu, running around in a bikini, and then the next day I go shoot a suit story. I like to keep a balance between them because it's so much fun to be able to do both. And to see the pictures afterward because it doesn't look like me at all! 

    It messes with you, though. I did this shoot where I was a girl and a boy in the same one. And when I saw the pictures I was like, 'Oh my god.' I'm used to seeing myself as both a guy and girl but both in one frame…I don't get it. It was weird. Then they used part of it as a commercial where I'm making out with…myself? I actually saw it for the first time when I was at a theatre waiting for a movie to start. It's playing and I hear this dude behind me say, 'You can totally tell that's a guy.' And I was like, '…Well, I guess I'm doing something right!' 

    Do you think about using that versatility you've developed in your career to do other things? What are your other creative outlets?

    I play guitar, drums, and piano, and I have been writing music since I was six years old. When I was a kid, I literally thought I was Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. I still love Nick Carter.

    Nick Carter! Such a rise and fall!

    But Nick Carter in the 90s! He was the best! I am such a 90s kid—he's my man-crush Monday every day.

    With his big middle hair part?

    Oh my god, yes [moves her hair to be parted down the middle a la Nick Carter]. It's so funny, once I did this to my hair and said to my friend, 'Who am I?' and she said, 'Aaron Carter.' And I got so pissed off. 

    That is incredible. 

    It's terrible. Anyway, I grew up playing guitar. I'm scared of doing it professionally or whatever, because I don't think I'm ready for that. It's something I want to do. But right now I just do it as a meditation. I go home and play guitar. 

    I also have a movie coming out that I will start shooting in November. Have you seen "Big Fish"? It's kind of like the weirdness level of that. I can't really tell the story, not because I'm not supposed to but because I don't really get it, honestly. But I'm excited about having that coming up. 

    What's a typical day when you're not working?

    I play guitar, I go to bookstores...this is so boring! I go to Skylight Books in LA, that's my favorite. Right now I'm really into biographies. It's nice because you don't have to be reading it 24/7 to stay in the story. I read mostly men's biographies, recently Marlon Brando and River Phoenix. I have actually read...a Nick Carter biography.

    What? When was that even written?!

    I don't know! I Googled it! 

    Speaking of 90s babes, let's talk about the Leonardo DiCaprio thing. 

    Oh man, yeah. Well, people ask me about it now—'You know you look like a young Leonardo DiCaprio?'— and I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah...I know! I've heard it before.' I mean, I love him. One of my favorites. I just think people have adapted Leonardo DiCaprio as my male persona or something. I do love getting into that role, though. 

    How did you get into character for the Katy Perry video [Linder stars in Perry's "Unconditionally" video]?

    Oh man, one of the weirdest things I've ever done. First off, I had to get really emotional for it, which I just could not do. So I went into the bathroom and Googled "Lion King Mufassa dying." And, like "My Dog Skip."And I put stuff under my eyes to where they were like, stinging and watering. Everyone knew I was full of shit. 

    It's great you've been able to do a lot things other than just "model."

    It's crazy because I don't do what models do. But I want to do it anyway, even if I'm not 'modeling.' I'm shooting as a real person, a figure. It's not just "a guy" or a "girl." I'm going with what is. Whatever comes at me I'm just going to try to do my best.