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Fashion: Johnson Hartig

Fashion: Johnson Hartig

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Striking is one of the few words that can accurately describe the premiere of Libertine’s Fall/Winter ‘14 collection at Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week. Going into their thirteenth year, Johnson Hartig, founder and driving force behind the label, has clearly taken his game to another level.

Signatures of the collection include layered silk-screening, printed text, and clashing patterns, as every look was paired with electric, grid-like tights, geometric socks, and patchwork heels. Said to be the brand that paved the way for “green” fashion, Libertine was originally the love child of Hartig and Cindy Greene. Both shared a passion for placing a contemporary spin on vintage pieces by infusing them with elements from punk culture, literature, and more; they created their one-of-a-kind-pieces with frayed seams, macabre graphics, and collected beadwork and embroidery. Although Cindy Greene decided to leave Libertine in 2009, that in no way slowed down the creative genius of Hartig as I found out when I sat down with him to discuss the new collection and his brand.

For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with the international force that is Libertine, how would you introduce your brand?
We were one of the first to use recycled vintage clothing, to the level that we do. And we were definitely the first to silkscreen on non-traditional [pieces]. I know that Imitation of Christ was doing it six months to a year before us, but we took it in a very different direction. And looking back thirteen years later and seeing all these horrible knock-offs, it’s almost a little embarrassing to take credit for that, but they were really unique and outstanding looking when we first did it. To see silk-screen printed on a blazer, it just had never been done before.

Speaking of silk-screening, I saw the new Fall Collection—it obviously blew my mind—can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the collection?

Thank you! Well, I was in London last October and I’ve seen a hundred Gerhard Richter [paintings], but was really awestruck by them this time. Shortly after watching his documentary—it was so fantastical—I was reminded of my process by watching his process, [and] so it was fun to interpret one of his paintings onto our clothes. What we did was silk-screen it first in one color and then we’d take something complimentary or opposite and silk-screen it again so it created this vibrating, very striking effect. We were also inspired by Christopher Wool in some of the text. I’ve always loved text. I use to—in art school—do a lot of work that incorporated text, so it’s really been a part of my lexicon for the last thirty years. And I just love the coat that’s covered by the Yeat’s poem called “The Sorrow of Love”, that’s kind of scripted continuously all over the surface.

Well the collection was just stunning, but since Fall has come and gone, what are you focusing on now? Are you already starting to plan for next season?
Well there’s a few days of downtime after a show, but then I come back really raring to go, so we jump right into it hoping every season to get a head start; they come and go so fast. So yea, we’re well into it and it looks like it’s going to be an exciting season thus far. Although I can get this far and have developed a lot and then come in one day and it’s nothing like what I was imagining it and [I’ll] change everything. So at this point, I’m loving what we’ve done, but that can change any day. I tend to work best at the last minute, so the month before the show is always the most hectic.

That makes sense. I’ve noticed as your collections have progressed that the handwork required for the pieces has increased dramatically.
God yes! Thanks for bringing that up. It’s been much more labor intensive for the last few seasons that it has ever been before. But it’s just required [because] our customers have seen us do so much that we have to take it to that point and that requires a lot more interesting handwork.

Of course! Obviously going into your 13th year your customer is expecting something just as dazzling as the last season. But it must feel like such an accomplishment making it this far.
Well it seems like two years to me, it just doesn’t seem possible. And when I really stop and think about it it’s quite depressing because it’s a big chunk of my life that’s gone by in such a blur. And if the next thirteen years go by as quickly as the last then where does that leave me? I guess it could be worse, but the point is that it all goes by so fast.

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As quickly as it’s gone by, did you notice Libertine changing and growing from it’s original conception by you and Cindy Greene?
I think it’s changed most dramatically since Cindy and I separated in 2009. I think it’s more sophisticated; I think it’s more artful; I think it’s more well-crafted; I think there’s a stronger sensitivity that’s there. I think there’s a clearer vision just being myself and not two of us and I think a stronger point of view.

Well that is pretty astounding!
Yea, it feels great! And it feels great every season to have loved the last collection and never think I could do something as interesting, but it just always comes through. The creative mind is a powerful entity. I’m never at a loss for a creative idea. Whether I’m at home rearranging pictures on the wall or picking out a new fabric to upholster a chair in, it’s just what I love most.

Be sure to check out Libertine’s Fall/Winter ’14 collection and look for Johnson’s book, which will hit shelves in Fall of 2015. You won’t be disappointed.

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