Linnea Elin Maria Måhlén grew up making her own paper dolls and dreaming of being a fashion designer. Linnea studied graphic design and illustration for five years at the London College of Communication. That prepared her for design work in New York, where she immediately fell in love with the city.
She is now back home in Sweden where I met her accidentally in early 2012. Although I interviewed her on the first day we met, she seemed very comfortable with the interrogation. She subsequently invited me to her housewarming party, at which her riotous group of friends made haste to sour Linnea’s neighbors on her new presence in the building.
Born 14 May 1981 in Stockholm
Hazel-green eyes / 164 cm / 55 kg
Favorite Atari game: “Maybe that is more of an American tradition. I’m not sure I have played any Atari games, except for Tetris, but I used to play Commander Keen and Lemmings on our first computer in 1991.”
TITLE GRAPHICS BY LINNEA MÅHLÉN
TELL ME ABOUT COMMANDER KEEN AND LEMMINGS. [laughter] WHAT KIND OF COMPUTER WERE YOU USING AND WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT THOSE GAMES?
Oh, you picked up on that? Yeah, I don’t know much about computers, so I don’t think I could tell you exactly what computer it was. But we only had it for gaming, you know?
WAS IT A GAME COMPUTER?
No, not really. It was like the Text Edit in Mac, where you can type something… Just text. Also you have computer games on those big floppy disks. Remember? [laughter]
WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT THOSE GAMES?
I guess that they were just really simple. I also liked Nintendo. It’s just a little guy jumping around and getting points. [laughs] Stuff like that.
ABOUT HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN THIS WAS GOING ON?
I guess I was ten. Or nine maybe. Nine, ten, eleven? Something like that.
YOU STUDIED DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATION IN LONDON FOR FIVE YEARS. ARE YOU PRETTY GOOD AT DRAWING PICTURES?
Mmmm… It depends on how you see “drawing.” I guess I have my own style. I kind of like doing line-ink drawing, like people’s faces. And I kind of like it when the drawings don’t turn out the way you think they will, when they have a certain expressionism.
WHAT INFLUENCED YOU AS YOU WERE GROWING UP TO WANT TO BE AN ARTIST?
I MEAN, YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO BE A FASHION DESIGNER AT ONE POINT…
A fashion designer, yeah. I’m not sure. When I was that young, I didn’t really have any influences except my family, I guess. But no one in my family is really creative in that way. My dad is a journalist.
Other than that, it was just when I went to school (that I was influenced). It was my classmates and everyone around me. People in London.
HOW LONG WERE YOU LIVING IN NEW YORK?
Mmmm… I lived there nine months altogether. So it was like three months at a time, because of the visa situation. [laughter; visitors’ visas are typically valid only for 90 days] My plan was to move there. It was 2008.
AND YOU LOVED IT?
Yeah, I did. [laughs] Still do.
THERE’S A WHOLE NEW YORK THEME IN THE NEXT SEVERAL QUESTIONS.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER ON SEINFELD?
[pleasantly surprised] ELAINE? IS IT JUST THE WAY SHE DANCES OR… [laughter]
It’s just the way that… I’ve thought about this quite a lot, actually. I think, for me, she was one of the first female characters in a TV show that was portrayed in a certain kind of way. She wasn’t very, you know, “girly.” She was funny and she was doing stupid things. And that’s what I liked about her.
SHE WASN’T THERE JUST TO BE “THE GIRL.”
Exactly. Definitely her.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE EPISODE?
[four seconds] Yeah. I have a lot of them. I think one of them is the Soup Nazi. [laughter] It’s a classic one.
It’s fun. And it’s based on a real guy.
DID YOU EVER EAT AT TOM’S RESTAURANT WHEN YOU WERE IN NEW YORK?
No, I never did that.
YOU SHOULD HAVE FOUND IT.
I know. But it’s not the same interior anyway.
NO, THE INSIDE IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
I could have just stood outside.
I like when I’m watching a movie or a TV show (that was filmed in New York) and I think, “Where are they now?” I always think that I’m going to recognize places, you know? That’s kind of fun. It’s like “going back” to New York.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE PEOPLE WHO HAVE GREEN EYES ARE SPECIAL?
Ahh… [four seconds] I don’t know. I don’t think so, but it’s kind of interesting. I think there are only about two percent of the population of the world who have them.
MINE USED TO BE A LOT GREENER WHEN I WAS YOUNGER.
I think we have similar eyes.
YEAH. KIND OF BROWNISH IN THE MIDDLES.
IT REALLY UPSET ME WHEN THEY STARTED GETTING MORE BROWN. I WAS LIKE, “NO! I WANT GREEN!”
[laughs] Yeah. It’s really nice – green eyes. Sometimes I was sad that I didn’t have blue eyes, but…
WELL, YOU’RE IN SWEDEN. THERE’S SO MUCH PRESSURE TO HAVE BLUE EYES.
Mmm hmm. Yeah.
ARE YOU SMARTER THAN MOST PEOPLE OR ARE MOST PEOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU?
[laughs] I think… Well, most people? That depends on… No, I think most people are smarter than me.
YOU THINK SO?
I mean, it depends on what kind of smart. If it’s like mathematics, yeah, I think they’re gonna be smarter than me. If you would give me the Mensa test, I don’t think I would do really well.
ARE YOU REALLY, REALLY BAD AT MATH OR DO YOU THINK MOST PEOPLE ARE PRETTY GOOD AT IT?
[laughter] I’m not actually really bad. I was. I could train at it. I think I could be good at it, but I’m just not really interested.
WHO HAS THE TIME? [laughter] IS IT A BLESSING OR A CURSE TO BE LESS SMART THAN EVERYONE ELSE?
[laughs] A blessing, I think.
I THINK PEOPLE WHO ARE LESS SMART ARE HAPPIER.
Yeah, I think so! But I wouldn’t say that I’m a “happy” person.
ARE YOU GOOD AT KEEPING SECRETS?
Yes, I am.
ARE YOU KEEPING ANY PERSONAL SECRETS OR SECRETS FOR ANY OF YOUR FRIENDS RIGHT NOW?
Hmmm. [four seconds] No. I might… Yes. Yes. A few.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE SECRETS?
[laughs] I’m not gonna tell you. They might read this. [laughs] But these are secrets from a long time ago. It’s not like a big thing.
OKAY. MAYBE AS WE GO ON AND YOU GET MORE COMFORTABLE… [laughter] MAYBE YOU’LL, YOU KNOW, “LOOSEN UP” A LITTLE AND GIVE THE READERS A LITTLE SOMETHING SPECIAL.
[laughs] I won’t tell you!
I’VE HEARD – FROM YOU – THAT YOU HAVE SOME EARLIER SECRET LIVES. LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR SECRET HISTORY.
Yeah! My secret history. Well, the first thing is that, with most people I meet, I tend to talk about New York and how I used to live there. And I used to live in London.
Then, I always forget I used to live in Florence. I studied Italian there. That was when I was 20. That’s also something that people say, “Oh, you lived there?” Things like that. I keep forgetting that I did some of the things I’ve done in my life.
My grandfather used to live in Italy. That’s why I went, I guess. And my dad knew Italian, so it was just like a language that I learned (because it was there).
DO YOU STILL REMEMBER SOME OF IT?
Yes, a little bit. If I hear it, I can understand it. I’m not sure I could speak it now.
WE CAN’T SWITCH TO ITALIAN FOR THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW?
HOW MANY TIMES HAS A GUY BOUGHT FLOWERS FOR YOU?
[delighted] Oh! I think that’s a great question, because it doesn’t happen a lot. [laughter] I guess, maybe five times.
DO YOU LIKE GETTING FLOWERS?
IF ONE OF OUR READERS WANTED TO SEND YOU FLOWERS, WHAT KIND DO YOU LIKE THE MOST?
Peonies and tulips.
CAN LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS EVER WORK OUT?
[four seconds, slightly torn by the question…]
I mean… Yes. I have had good hope for that, but it has never worked for me. I would be pessimistic if I tried it again. But of course they can work out.
YEAH, IT’S NEVER WORKED OUT FOR ME. I KNOW IT WORKS SOMETIMES. I’VE HEARD THAT IT WORKS.
Yeah? Yeah. Me, too. Who are those people? [laughter]
AT SOME POINT SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE, EITHER THE RELATIONSHIP OR THE DISTANCE.
Exactly. You’re never really on the exact same page. That’s why it doesn’t work.
RIGHT. WHAT’S THE POINT OF BEING “WITH” SOMEBODY IF YOU CAN’T REALLY BE WITH THEM?
Exactly. And then after you’ve had a long distance relationship, if you meet someone close by – that happened to me. I had a boyfriend who lived just walking distance away and it was so, so easy. Then you realize, “Oh, this is kind of good that it’s so easy!” and you don’t want to have a long distance relationship again.
But, you know, it wasn’t all bad either, having a long distance relationship, because it’s kind of…
HOW FAR WAS THE DISTANCE?
Well, Sweden-New York. [laughter] Kinda far! [laughs]
WELL, THAT’LL DO IT.
But then every time you see each other it’s so nice. It’s almost like you have the relationship that’s your head more than you have the actual relationship. So that can make it seem better than it actually is.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SMALL THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY?
Mmm… [five seconds] You know, I like pretty things. [much laughter] I know, it sounds really “cool.”
[sarcastically] OH REAAALLY? I’VE NEVER MET ANYONE WHO LIKES PRETTY THINGS!
Yeah, I know. I just moved to a new neighborhood and I really just like walking around there. I like the feeling that it’s a new place. In the summer I can really picture myself living there. Just that it worked out really makes me happy.
And ceramics, that I’m doing in my spare time a little bit.
Mmm. Everything. Cups and stuff. Yeah. It’s nice when it turns out to be something that I like.
DO YOU BUY APPS FOR YOUR PHONE?
No. Not very often. I’m not like an app lover.
WHAT’S THE MOST YOU EVER PAID FOR ONE?
I think 21 kronor maybe? (about $3.00) I can’t remember which one it was. Oh, I think I bought this smart map thing… where you can use the map without being online.
DO YOU PREFER BEER, WINE OR LIQUOR?
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ONE OR DO YOU JUST BUY WHICHEVER ONE LOOKS PRETTY?
[laughs] Sometimes, but I like red wine most. I think I like… Well I have phases. Sometimes I drink Shiraz, but now it’s Côtes du Rhône.
WHAT IS THE LONGEST AMOUNT OF TIME YOU’VE GONE WITHOUT TAKING A BATH OR SHOWER?
[laughs] Well, that must have been when I was traveling, or maybe at a music festival, but that was a long time ago. That was 1999. [laughs] So probably that was four or five days, I guess.
DID YOU SMELL PRETTY GOOD?
Mmm! Yes! [laughs] But not worse than anybody else. [laughter]
HOW MANY BOYS YOU HAVE KISSED IN YOUR LIFE?
Oh, I never counted.
OR “GUYS” NOT JUST BOYS. [laughter] I MEAN, INCLUDING ADULT MEN, TOO.
[laughter] “Boys!” Well, okay. Approximately, it must be like… thirty? I guess.
[five seconds] No, I don’t think so.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST MOVIE YOU REMEMBER SEEING IN A CINEMA?
Ahhm. Okay, yes. I know, but it was like a kids’ movie. Kalle Stropp och Grodan Boll.
OKAY. I’LL HAVE TO LOOK THAT UP. [laughter]
But the biggest American… you know, “big” movie was Jurassic Park.
(gasps) LOOK AT MY NEXT QUESTION! “HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOVIE JURASSIC PARK?”
Oh, God! [laughter] Yes! I remember. I saw that in the cinema with my mom and my sister.
OKAY, TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS IN THAT MOVIE. WHAT’S THE STORY?
Um… [laughter] I’ve seen it again after that, as well. Two times, I guess.
Okay, let me just … There’s a family, I think. And I think the dad is like the crazy one. There was this mom. I think she’s Laura Dern… hmmm. Anyway, and there’s two children.
They all go away to this island. But they don’t know there’s gonna be dinosaurs there, do they? I don’t remember. [pauses, waiting for help…]
I CAN’T HELP YOU WITH THIS. I’M SORRY.
[laughs] Oh, God. Anyway, they’re at the island and the dinosaurs come out, and they peek in at all the crew that’s there. I don’t remember anything else.
They go home, I guess. I mean, they’re all saved. Yeah, that’s about it.
SOUNDS LIKE A PRETTY GOOD MOVIE. [laughter]
TITLE GRAPHICS BY LINNEA MÅHLÉN