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Johnson Hartig Is the Force Behind Libertine’s Bold Aesthetic

Mar 01, 2017

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Johnson Hartig Is the Force Behind Libertine’s Bold Aesthetic

Libertine’s look is driven by strong graphic elements

Johnson Hartig’s loud, live-in-the-moment clothes are the antidote to design by committee and suffocating corporate culture. The driving force behind Libertine, the American fashion label that is rich with humour and beauty, Hartig’s clothes express the way you live: they are loud, embrace life and have a massive amount of personality. Since 2001, Hartig’s use of graphics and spirited eclecticism has been part of a change in the way we see fashion. By reusing, recycling and bringing the bespoke back to the production of clothes, Hartig has also positioned himself as more than just a cult label designer, he is a leading influencer, determining what we might wear.

Johnson Harig (photo c/o Getty Images)

I love Libertine and the aesthetic. It is such a breath of fresh air from the usual stuffiness of brands. What would you say sets Libertine aside from the others?

We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our outlook and perspective is seriously beautiful but also cheeky and whimsical. We love life and it shows in our aesthetic.

Where do you get your sense of humour and inspiration? It is so wickedly fascinating.

Thank you. We think so too. We love fun. We love humour. We love life. I get it from my DNA that’s been passed down for millennia. Combined with my associates, we have these morning meetings and you never know when something funny is going to strike you. I store these anecdotes away until I find the perfect use for them.

What’s your favourite thing about being in fashion? What’s your least favourite?

Favourite: When fans cry in the street when they recognise me. 

Least favourite: When I walk down the street and nobody cries.

Hartig's eclectic living room features a Damien Hirst spin painting

With Louis Vuitton and Fendi bags with faces, Chanel’s robot helmets and Gucci’s ode to Snoopy from Peanuts, fashion seems to be taking a light-hearted approach to luxury. How do you feel about this shift in attitude and why do you think this is happening?

It seems everyone is shifting into the Libertine direction and it’s not hard to see that that we are the inspiration behind a lot of it. It’s been our aesthetic for 15 years and it seems in the past two years it has become everyone else’s. There always has to be an originator doesn’t there? There are so very few “authentics”. It’s always been our credo that it’s fashion, it’s light and it’s a chance to express oneself creatively, easily and effectively, and we’re always taking a more light-hearted approach. Everything is so heavy these days that anywhere one can find a little levity, let’s jump in.

Do you think humorous and comical fashion can coincide with classic, durable fashion? On the other hand, do you think this promotes a fast-fashion mentality?

No. It has been our modus operandi for 15 years. I see people wearing 15-year-old Libertine that looks as original and innovative and fresh as it did then.

Your clothes convey a very strong message. What kind of person does it take to wear Libertine the way that you intend?

Someone who is free thinking, original, innovative, smart, glamorous, witty. It could be anybody who has the right attitude.

A recent look of head to toe Libertine

What informs your design direction?

Art, nature, hummingbirds, cheekiness, cleverness, genius, travel.

Which is your favourite collection to date? Your least? Why?

My favourite? The last one, because it is freshest in my memory. My least favourite collection is any Italian designer that’s been finding our collections very inspiring.

What is one current interest you have that you think more people should know about?

Taking care of the planet and its inhabitants that don’t have a voice.

A striking advertising campaign for Libertine

How did you develop your love for fashion?

Watching Style with Elsa Klensch in the 1980s and reading my mum’s subscription to W magazine when it used to be a newspaper.

What were you like in high school? What advice would you give your younger self?

I was a real outsider. I didn’t really have any friends except my art teacher. I was a classic oddball. My advice? Don’t let anyone intimidate you and be who you want to be.

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Kieran Ho