Anyone missing the days of more-is-more maximalism should look to Los Angeles luxury brand Libertine, whose designer has been doing it for 22 years.
Designer Johnson Hartig’s hand-embroidered, crystal-covered confections can run $4,000 and more, but he’s just debuted a more accessible taste of Libertine with Le Sportsac.
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The Libertine x Le Sportsac collection is available exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman now, and will launch at Neiman Marcus and ILoveLibertine.com on March 1. Further drops will happen through the year, and will include handbags, backpacks, totes and weekenders in Surrealist eye prints, geometric patterns, with crystal fringe and more, $90 to $400. Le Sportsac will also be part of the fall show on Friday.
Libertine’s business expanded 38 percent year-over-year in 2023.
“The pandemic was this real emotional and creative recharge,” said Hartig during a recent visit to his L.A. studio.
“We have upped the game,” he said of the brand, which is a favorite with collectors like Danielle Steel, Linda Fargo, and a female executive in the California casino industry he doesn’t want to name who owns at least 60 coats.
Last year, Hartig hired a VIP client specialist who brought 18 years of experience at Hermès, Chanel and Dior, and has helped create client events in The Hamptons, Dallas and Houston.
“We have a loyal clientele,” said Hartig, who wholesales at Maxfield, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. At the San Francisco Neiman’s, Libertine is the second biggest seller behind Brunello Cucinelli — two very different looks to be sure.
“With Gucci so close to our aesthetic for so long, it took a lot of our impact away, especially globally because people knew Gucci but didn’t know us. That was rough,” he said. “Now we’re the only ones doing it.”
For fall 2024, Hartig created photo realistic prints of the view of L.A. landing at LAX at night, and continued his tradition of using text, excerpting a Lord Byron poem called “The Darkness” on tailored pieces. His crafty tendencies are on full display in a jacket completely covered in colorful oversize buttons, inspired by the bibs and bobs on 1920s Memory Jars, which he displays in his Hancock Park home that’s been featured on the cover of World of Interiors.
The Le Sportsac bags use the same prints and similar details.
Hartig is also working on his fourth and fifth collection of wallpaper and home fabric for Schumacher. “They originally approached me because they loved some of the collection prints so it’s funk” he said.
Although he’ll always consider himself a fashion outlier (he started out very punk rock, silk screening vintage clothing, after all), he’s hoping to grow Libertine enough to get investor or buyer interest soon.
“We have a formula like no other in the business,” said Hartig, whose clothes are made in the U.S. “No one has six people hand placing crystals….But we do feel confident that we are getting close to a number that will be attractive to people.”
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