The Wild Man: Famed Designer Fearlessly Turns Fashion Into Art — No Wonder Why Taylor Swift and Jagger Both Love Him
Seated on a silver sofa and gazing at a Damien Hirst Spin painting, I am smitten with the L.A. studio of Libertine designer Johnson Hartig. Ten days before his Libertine Fall/Winter 2017 collection shows at New York Fashion Week in early February, Hartig has spared time to meet with Joyce Goss, Kenny Goss, and me.
It’s a perfectly timed visit, as we eagerly await Hartig’s attendance at this month’s MTV Re:Define, which Joyce and Kenny co-host annually and I am privileged to chair this year — and where Hartig will be celebrated for his contributions to the worlds of art and fashion.
Fashion is the preferred medium of this artist at heart: Clothing is Hartig’s canvas; art and life are his muses. “The biggest collectors in the world wear Libertine,” he says. “I manage to merge these two worlds into one, which I think is rarefied and exquisite and unusual.”
Hartig is quick to explain he never studied fashion. He learned about art instead.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by art. Art is like breathing. It’s like life. One of my hashtags on Instagram is #artislife … They’re all one.”
His designs are rich in color, embellishment, and nods to pop culture and history. Known for his punk-rock imagery — skulls, the Queen of England, a Union Jack — the designer is never on trend. He’s too cool for that. His work is so avant-garde that designer Karl Lagerfeld is an avid Libertine collector, as are Mick Jagger and Taylor Swift.
Hartig’s aesthetic is not for the faint of heart. It’s that wild style that has made Hartig a coveted collaborator. He has teamed with Damien Hirst, Goyard, handbag designer Edie Parker, Converse, and Japanese design company Muji.
Last year, he created a limited-edition collection toasting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary, with his work included in the institution’s “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715 – 2015” exhibition.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by art. Art is like breathing. It’s like life.”
Founded in 2001, Libertine launched in the fashion world by restructuring vintage clothing. And four years ago, Hartig added textile design to Libertine’s mix. He creates the designs on a computer, and has them manufactured in Italy For Spring/Summer 2017, signature textiles feature portraits of Paul Weller, Larry Gagosian, Keith Haring, and Queen Elizabeth.
“All these influencers mean something to me,” Hartig says. “The Starn Twins, Malcolm McLaren, Lynn Wyatt …” Next, I am shown the new Fall/Winter 2017 collection. “Look at this Alexis Carrington print,” he says. “Friends and I used to get together on Wednesdays in the ’80s and watch Dynasty. I can’t wait to see Joan Collins in that sweatshirt.”
We then turn to Hartig’s latest obsession: Georgian-era lover’s eyes, prominent imagery in his spring collection. “I’ve loved lover’s eyes forever. I’m collecting a few of them, when I can find them,” he says of the miniature portraits that were a romantic tradition of the 1700s and 1800s. “They are so scarce,” he says. “I just love them.”
MTV Re:Define art auction and gala benefitting the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Dallas Contemporary, Friday, March 24, at Dallas Contemporary; Information, tickets, and sponsorships, mtvredefine.com.
Photos courtesy Libertine