'Devilish' Jeans a Hot Seller in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden - A punk-rock style, trendy tight fit and affordable price have made Cheap Monday jeans a hot commodity among young Swedes, but what has people talking is the brand's ungodly logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.

The jeans' makers say it's more of a joke, but the logo's designer said there's a deeper message.

"It is an active statement against Christianity," Bjorn Atldax told The Associated Press. "I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion."

Atldax insists he has a purpose beyond selling denim: to make young people question Christianity, which he called a "force of evil" that had sparked wars throughout history.

Such a remark might incite outrage or prompt retailers to drop the brand in more religious countries.

But not in Sweden, a secular nation which cherishes its free speech and where churchgoing has been declining for decades.

Cheap Mondays are flying off the shelves at about $50 a pair. The jeans have also been shipped throughout Europe and to Australia, and there are plans to introduce them to the United States and elsewhere.

The jeans' makers say about 200,000 pairs have been sold since March 2004 — and note they've received few complaints about the grinning skull and upside down cross, a symbol often associated with satanic worship.

Even the country's largest church, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, reacts with a shrug.

"I don't think it's much to be horrified about," said Bo Larsson, director of the church's Department of Education, Research and Culture.

"It is abundantly clear that this designer wants to create public opinion against the Christian faith ... but I believe that the way to deal with this is to start a discussion about what religion means."

Other Christians, however, are calling for a tougher stance against the jeans.

"One cannot just keep quiet about this," said the Rev. Karl-Erik Nylund, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Stockholm. "This is a deliberate provocation (against Christians) and I object to that."

Nylund complained that Swedish companies don't treat Christianity with the same respect that they afford other religions.

"No one wants to provoke Jews or Muslims, but it's totally OK to provoke Christians," he said.

Some buyers have ripped off the logo from the back of the pants, or even returned the jeans once they realized what the symbol means. But such cases are very few, according to the brand's creator, Orjan Andersson, who said he doesn't take the logo too seriously.

"I'm not interested in religion," he said. "I'm more interested in that the logo looks good."

Henrik Petersson, 26, said he picked up his first pair of Cheap Mondays a few months after they were launched because he liked their punk-rocker style and the logo caught his eye.

"I think it's a cool thing. It stands out from the rest," he said. "I haven't really reflected over whether there is an underlying message."

Martin Sundberg, a 32-year-old co-owner of a clothing store in Stockholm's trendy SoFo district, said people shouldn't get upset over the jeans.

"It's just supposed to be a bit of fun, some kind of anti-culture," he said.

The jeans are selling in Norway, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Andersson, the brand's owner, hopes to tap the lucrative U.S. market soon — and said he isn't worried the logo will hurt sales.

"Surely, most people understand that we are not evil people," he said. "My mom doesn't think so, at least."