Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Libertine! Protesting Everyday Fashion Trends

While I was covering New York Fashion Week Spring 2012 this past September, I got to interview a few designers about their collections for next year and sneak in a few questions about how their childhood still inspires their creativity.
The most standout designers that really captured the rebellious sentiments of what would become the “Occupy Enter City Name” movement was the Libertine show by Johnson Hartig.

Johnson launched Libertine in 2000 with Cindy Greene, an Indie rockstar in Fischerspooner. Cindy later went off to explore other creative ventures leaving Libertine to Johnson’s whimsical and bold intuitions. It is befitting to Johnson’s persona that the term “libertine” is defined as “a person who is morally unrestrained” that has roots in 17th century France and Britain. Johnson captures a vintage rebellion with a tailored edge, inspired by elegant and highbrow themes. He is like a dandy court jester who has the ability to make fun of the aristocrats while frolicking amongst them.

Backstage at his downtown show at Exit Art, another little rebel yell to the commercialized Lincoln Center shows uptown; I found Charlotte Free the pink-haired model that is hard to miss on the runway. I asked her if a mama could rock pink hair and she gave me a few pointers on how to use beet juice instead of dyes. She was super sweet. I will have to try it one of these days since my Romanian husband cooks a lot of beets. I just need to figure out how to avoid dying my entire head pink. With my beauty skill level I would end up looking like something my 3-year-old daughter painted.

Johnson was jumping around each model adjusting hair and hems, basically avoiding the pregnant mama standing in the corner with a camera. However, he did come up to me and give me a peck on the cheek, “Sorry darling I am crazy.” I was like, “Wow!” maybe I will forgive him for making me wait an hour or more for a little interview that would only last five minutes. For a moment I felt a little glamorous to be greeted like a friend by a world famous designer.

Although Libertine has been an exclusive label only available in brick and mortar stores in places like Bergdorf, Saks Fifth Avenue, and in locations like Tokyo, he has had a few collaborations with Target and Converse. He even partnered with way-out-there artist Damien Hirst.

His trademark is painting or printing graphics on beautiful pieces, sort of mixing it up while keeping it sophisticated. Sometimes the image is an animal or a design painted across a perfect suit or blouse.

For this season he created striations of white on black that evoked a winter forest silhouette on some pieces. The slogan “Tax the Rich More” appeared on a skirt. Most of the collection appeared with painted graffiti-like “X’s” and “O’s”. I thought it was a nod to the political sides like red and blue states, but actually Johnson told me it was hugs and kisses because “What’s a kiss without a hug.”
Not surprisingly his childhood was inspired by his own little world that he began creating and also in part by the elegance of the women of the 60s and 70s.

“When I was a kid I had a little bit of a morbid curiosity with death,” he says after we establish he initially mistook me for someone else. “I remembered I would build these mausoleums for Kennedy and Abe Lincoln out of bricks; then I would go around the neighborhood and pick little bits of ferns and foliage and landscape these mausoleums. It started with statues you got from gas stations.”

Many of his collections are modern vintage interpretations of flirty, but feminine looks. “I think women were super glamorous then and women paid attention to their hair and make-up and what they wore.”

Ironically, the Maybelline make-up artists were told to give the girls a 60s look with only slate eyelids and a little lipstick. The persona was that they didn’t need much more to look rebellious. I think the look is very “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” minus the Goth outfits and tattoos, of course.

The whole time I was straining to keep standing in heels and a pregnant belly I couldn’t help to admire Johnson’s collection of large diamond animal rings on each finger from Van Clef archives and Cartier. When he would button a jacket or puff up a model’s hair it looked as if the little sparkling creatures were guiding his hands or doing his bidding.

Of course, I was standing there a long time staring at him rubbing my belly like a Buddha doll trying to summon him to come and talk to me. I got a little kiss out of it at least and he approved of my baby’s name Lazar, Americanized to sound like “laser”.

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