The Return of Libertine


Photo courtesy of Libertine

Libertine Designer Johnson Hartig

The release of the Fashion Week lineup is always an exciting moment—a new designer may be discovered, an old one refound.

Such is the case for Libertine, the Los Angeles–based line that took the New York fashion crowd by storm in 2004. Johnson Hartig and then partner Cindy Greene turned out vintage pieces with silk-screened graphics. They showed again in 2006. Then, silence, until 2009, when they presented a prep-school/ Anglophile-themed collection.

Now, Hartig is back (sans Greene) and ready to shake things up. He took a few minutes to speak to FashionEtc about his upcoming presentation and Libertine’s new direction.

Libertine Spring 2011
Photo courtesy of Libertine
A sketch from Libertine's Fall 2011 collection.

We’re excited for Libertine to be at Fashion Week. What we can expect?

It’ll be different in that once Cindy and I separated, I stopped using placement prints—I mean literal images—and it’s become more abstract. And there’s going to be a lot more color. I haven’t met a color I haven’t liked this season.

You last showed in 2009 and prior to that was 2006?

We did a presentation in our New York studio in 2009, and before then in 2006. The first time we showed was 2004 … At times we felt we’d be forgotten if we didn’t show our ugly heads.

So you’re right on schedule.

[Laughs] We are right on schedule. I think at this point I’m going to be more consistent.

Libertine is now a one-man show. How has that affected things?

It’s freed me up a lot, for sure, but I really miss having a partner. It took some of the burden off. But in the end this had to happen. It’s really fun to be able do anything I want without checking in with them.

So Libertine’s been going on all this time, despite not showing?

We were designing the whole time, our customers have been behind us the whole time. There hasn’t been any downtime—been busy as a bee. Having said that, I have a pretty lovely life. I take a nap every day. That’s the luxury of figuring out one’s own career.

You went for a prep-school/Anglomania feel with your last collection—what is your inspiration for Fall 2011?

That Anglomania/prep-school thing is the great love of my life. After it became the great love of everyone else’s lives, we had to move on. [The new collection] feels a little more fashionable. It seems more grown up. And that probably is no coincidence, because I feel like I’ve been doing so much of my own personal work in the last few years. There are no coincidences, are there?

Can you tell us what Cindy is up to these days?

She’s enjoying herself and figuring out what’s next. [The split] was completely amicable; I talked to Cindy last month and it felt as fresh and fun as when I just met her. I think we both just understood this is what needed to happen. She’s doing all kinds of things and seems really excited, whatever lies ahead.

Your Target collaboration was such a hit. Do you have more in the works?

Gwen Stefani
Photo courtesy of Libertine
A sketch from Libertine's Fall 2011 collection.

My dream is to do a home line that sells on QVC or at Target. I’m a really good decorator and I have great interior-design sense, and I think that’s where I’ve got to go next. So I’m taking baby steps toward that. [Libertine is included in Target’s rerelease of Go International designers, slated for March 2011.]

It’s amazing how quickly the fashion world rallied behind you after you débuted.

I think we were offering something exciting, and within three months, Vanity Fair called us and it was mind blowing. We’re still amazed at how naturally it happened. And there’s no real explanation. I used to say that it happens so easy. I studied and I learned didactically, and so I was just ready. It kind of felt like the first thing I did that worked.

Libertine’s new collection will début February 12 at 10 a.m.