Beyond the Runway: Johnson Hartig of Libertine Opens Up On Resisting In The Name of Beauty

Photo Credit: Mitchell Sams

Photo Credit: Mitchell Sams

By: The Making it in Manhattan Team

There is no denying that the NY-based emerging brand Libertine is known for throwing out the rules and recreating their own. Season after season, designer Johnson Hartig creates ridiculously fun, brilliantly embellished, and unforgivably eclectic collections that leave you drooling for more long after the clothes sashayed down the runway. His Fall/Winter 2018 collection was no different with maximalism at the forefront of every piece right down to the fringed nails, courtesy of CND. And even though Libertine always gets a good dose of buzz, for this collection, the chatter could be heard the moment the first model stepped foot onto the crisp white runway.  With some serious 1980s influence, sequined portraits of Cher, and a sophistication that resonated to your bones, this collection was a testament to how resistance can present itself in the form of beauty.

Read more about the collection and its inspiration from our exclusive, behind-the-scenes interview with Hartig directly following the show.

Caroline Vazzana: Your models are beautiful!

Johnson Hartig: Our philosophy with models is that we never look at their books. I told them before the show that I’ll engage with them a little bit, ask them a few questions, but it’s really how our energies connect. If they’re going to bring what I want them to bring to the collection on the runway. ‘Cause after all, we’re all tired. Some of us came from uptown, an hour and a half to get here. Let’s provide a really devine show. So it’s 100% the models; they’re the hardest working kids in town.

CV: Well, you always present a really good show! And this collection was especially so. It seemed super sophisticated, even down to the music.


JH: Isn’t it incredible? It’s the most sophisticated collection that I’ve ever done. And look at how I dress! Do you not see after seeing the collection why I dressed like this? (Hartig opens suit jacket and shows off his look)

CV: Yes, now i get it!

JH: This collection was masterly, if I do so say myself. I mean, it was.

CV: It was amazing! Is there a message the brand is trying to send with that sophistication?

JH: Maybe...well, I don’t know. I didn’t do this consciously - it just came out of my fingers. I was in Tibet in November, my mother died in November, my sister was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's…so, it’s just a lot of stuff going on.

CV: I’m so sorry to hear! That is a lot of to have to deal with.

JH: It’s a lot of shit! And it seems like we’re living in dystopia where lies are the truth, and I mean, it’s really a f***ing head f****. And I think the best way for people like myself to resist is to create the most f***ing beautiful things. Because the strongest form of resistance is to be like “F*** you f***ers. You’re not holding me down.” I’m creating the most outrageous beauty you’ve ever f***ing seen.

CV: You absolutely succeeded! Is there someone you think that has great style?

JH: Yes, there are a lot. I always say that contemporarily, I think people don’t commit enough. There are a few that do… no, there aren’t actually. I mean, historically I think there are, but we could do a lot better. I think this is kind of the zeitgeist, but I’m really into these hip hop guys that are pushing it, pushing it, and committing. And wearing sequins with whatever they want. I mean that’s inspiration! And it’s strange because our male client is the hip hop guy, but our female are the Upper East Side Doyennes. So it’s kind of a funny, blurry line but I think we do it well.

CV: It was truly incredible! Always one of my favorites!

JH: I’m so flattered! Thank you so much! Ken Downing said that it was the closest to haute couture that he’s ever seen in years.

CV: I couldn’t agree more! It had that feeling, and we definitely need that!


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