This Los Angeles-based brand is notorious for its no-holds-barred approach to prints, patterns and embellishments, translating everything from ordinary objects to famous faces into sequined jackets, silk blouses and Technicolor trousers.
Which explains the how and the why behind the embroidered, cigarette-covered sweatshirt that Johnson Hartig wore during a recent visit to Fort Worth’s Neiman Marcus at the Shops at Clearfork. Hartig is the punk genius behind Libertine, and this fall he returned to town for a trunk show at the luxury retailer, which staged a veritable Libertine-palooza in his honor. Hartig spent two days meeting and greeting his growing fan base, and he racked up record sales for a second year in a row.
Fort Worth is clearly in love with Libertine; Hartig is not surprised.
“That’s the kind of reaction we get with Libertine,” he says. “It’s such a special line — so individualistic — and Texans are individuals and want to reflect that in what they wear.”
Johnson founded Libertine in 2001 with artist Cindy Greene, and together they caught the attention of the fashion world with their unique style. Using vintage clothing as a canvas, they applied their art — a fantastical and often macabre aesthetic that included silkscreened skulls and crystal-encrusted spider webs — to create statement pieces that were covetable, collectible and ultra-wearable. Success followed, including a 2007 capsule collection for Target, which introduced Libertine to the world beyond the couture cognoscenti.
Greene eventually departed. Hartig took full control of the company and its creativity, glamming up the Goth and creating Libertine’s signature mix of irreverence and excitement spanning both couture and ready-to-wear. In 2015, he published a coffee table book, “Libertine: The Creative Beauty, Humor, and Inspiration Behind the Cult Label,” and in 2016, Libertine collaborated with legendary crystal minaudiere label, Judith Leiber, on a line of fanciful bags. Hartig also began designing his own prints a few years ago. This year’s featured pattern boasts colorful, wickedly funny vignettes by celebrity illustrator Konstantin Kakanias. Up next, Hartig says, is a line of designer fabrics and, well, whatever else seems like a logical fit.
“I am not ever bored by what I am doing,” he says. “Every day is a new challenge. How many careers can you think of where you can go in and say, ‘I can do anything I want at work today’”?
While Hartig is quick to emphasize Libertine’s esprit de corps, he also stresses it’s a serious company that’s obsessive about integrity, authenticity and craft quality. That’s perhaps why funky little Libertine is thriving in a narrow marketplace dominated by massive international players like LVMH.
“Everything’s become so corporate, but with us, it’s specialized — some of our pieces we make five of in the whole world,” Hartig says. “That has appeal for the person who can have anything they want.”
Another reason for Libertine’s appeal: anyone can rock it — from society mavens to hip-hop stars to chic women in Texas towns.
“You’d think our customers would be younger, but some of our biggest clients are in their 80s and 90s,” Hartig says. “It’s all a state of mind.”
Johnson Hartig’s Top 3 (Latest) Inspirations
- India, China, Tibet
- Cowboys, Texas folklore and old tombstones
A Day in the Life of Johnson Hartig
6 a.m.: Get to the office
9:30 a.m.: light breakfast
10 to 11 a.m.: Nap at home
11 to noon: green tea and reading emails
Noon: back in the office for design meetings, corporate meetings
5 p.m.: home, long walk with his dog, surf the Internet, watch TV
Top 3 TV Shows
To check in: Rachel Maddow
To check out: Real Housewives
To an obsessive level: QVC
Jenny B. Davis is a Fort Worth freelance fashion writer and stylist.