Five years ago, when Swedish model Erika Linder started booking jobs for men's campaigns, it was headline news. At the time, she was one of the first female models in the mainstream eye to be cast as a male model, and her career took off. Born right outside of Stockholm, Linder has delicate blonde hair and blue eyes, but when she gets in front of the camera, she hunches over with a piercing scowl. For her first gig, she was cast as a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and has gone on to do campaigns for Tom Ford and most recently Louis Vuitton. But in trying to work outside the confines of her female gender identity, Linder would only later find herself boxed into the male pronoun. So, she felt the need for a a change, and has since decided to take up acting. Five years later, the 26-year-old talks about stirring things up and the state of gender politics in fashion.
What was your style like as a kid?
I feel like I haven't changed, honestly. I will wear jeans and a t-shirt forever. The mentality is the same too — I don't take myself too seriously. If I ever did, I would have a hard time doing this job. I just want to do things authentically. I'm not trying to make people change their minds. For example, when I was a kid, if my best friend wanted to play basketball but I wanted to play soccer — some kids would get into a fight about it and walk home crying, but I would just be like, "Okay, you do your thing and I'll do my thing."
Is there anything you would never wear?
Yeah, a lot of things. I hate saying that I only shop in the boys section because that shouldn't even be a thing. But nowadays I'm also way more comfortable wearing dresses. Everyone is like, "Oh, you're just going to wear a suit." And I want to switch it up. But I also like to be as plain as possible.
When were you discovered?
I was 14 and at an outside concert in Stockholm with my best friend. This woman came up to me and said, "Do you want to be a model?" And I was like, "Is she talking to me?" I didn't believe it. I pictured models as being way more girly. I said no and they were on me for a few years, but I didn't do it until it was 21.
And you studied law and language in school?
It was interesting, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking — this is going to sound really bizarre — but that I wanted to be in a boy band. I was a hardcore Nick Carter fan and I looked up to him for years. I was like, "I want to be that." This is not even a joke. I still think about that moment when I was like: "I don't want to be a lawyer. I want to be Nick Carter." I still believe I'm a little bit like Nick Carter...
What about Nick Carter did you like?
I mean, come on. I think it was the hair. And the voice. He was so girly, and I think that's what I liked about him.
It's been five years since you starting modeling as a guy. What's changed? What's the same?
No one asks about that! They always want to know about the beginning. The hardest part has been getting away from that. After a few years of shooting as a guy, they just saw me as this guy.
They actually thought you were a guy?
Yeah, but at the end of the day, I'm a girl, right? I don't want to be a guy.
So in trying to not be boxed in by your gender, you got boxed in.
Right, exactly. And I was like, I need to do something about this. It was hard for the agencies to fix that and for me to do more feminine stuff. I talked to my amazing agent at the time and we had a meeting. I was like, "I need to change my image. I need to do something else." But I wouldn't take any of it away because honestly, if I hand't shot as a guy in the beginning, I probably wouldn't be here. And I had fun doing it.
What did your image then become? Or what do you want it to be?
It's always just been about being me, I guess. Louis Vuitton really helped. Once I started booking lookbooks and shows, that's when it all changed.
And Vuitton is still playing with gender. Like Jaden Smith in a skirt. What did you think of that?
I think it's fun not only because I work with Louis Vuitton and they've been so supportive, but I also feel like Nicolas really follows his own path. He's very open.
So five years ago, girls were modeling as guys. Now guys are modeling as girls. What's next?
Now everyone is on Instagram and we're not even going to shoot anymore! It's shitty. The more followers I get, the more photos I delete. I don't want people to know what I'm doing. I'm paranoid. I took this picture yesterday of me and a puppy but I don't want to post it because I'm in it! I don't know.
Do you have any social media pet peeves?
Oh yeah. When girls shave their heads and suddenly they're a tomboy. Honestly, my hair is way longer than it's ever been and I can still do male modeling. Maybe it has nothing to do with being deep or whatever because at the end of the day it's just a photo, but for me to see that... I'm just like, get over it.
Do you have any beauty routines?
I've recently switched to all organic. And I got some crystals. I don't know much about them, but in the beginning they're just pretty to look at and then they become this weird obsession. I haven't worked out in a while, but I do when I go back home because I have nothing else to do.
What's the gym like in Sweden?
Everyone's a Viking.
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