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Libertine designer Johnson Hartig and stylist Maryam Malakpour are standing in the corner of a hotel conference room watching a lanky male model they call “Scottish Toughie” walk the carpet.
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Toughie is outfitted in a bomber jacket covered completely in silver sequins that is accented by safety orange electrical tape around the cuffs and waist band.
Matching disco-ball silver sequins joggers swish around his legs, which descend into all-white Nike high-tops Hartig’s customized with acid-bright pink-and-yellow spiky toy balls, and a kind of glistening gold grill across the laces.
“That is so rock and roll,” murmurs Malakpour, who, as the longtime touring stylist for the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger, certainly knows rock and roll when she sees it.
Hartig nods in agreement. “I think it’s good.”
The L.A.-based designer — who with former partner Cindy Greene almost single-handedly launched the skulls-on-clothes craze that gripped fashion for nearly a decade in the aughts — has relied on Malakpoour’s keen eye since 2002, when the stylist (who also works with Heidi Klum) pulled a few silk-screened T-shirts from the brand for Mr. Jagger.
“Mick loved the shirts and wanted more about what their inspiration was,” remembers Malakpour. “He always wants to know the narrative behind things he’s wearing.”
When Hartig discovered that Malakpour was also based in L.A., “I reached out to her — and then we fell in love with each other!”
Since then, the willowy fashion pro has acted as chief stylist and house muse for Libertine, assembling Libertine’s brave, bold ensembles — and personally trying on every piece to help Hartig fine-tune his luxury-meets-punk-rock-crafting aesthetics.
Their collaborations nearly always begin in the fitting room.
“Maryam knows me so well that we don’t have to [talk] a lot,” says Hartig. “We do our own personal fitting where she tries on everything. The thing about Maryam is that she looks amazing in everything. I ask her every season to walk [the runway]!”
Malakpour, who’s naturally reserved, laughs and says, “It’s never going to happen!” But the stylist (who also co-owns and designs tony shoe line Newbark) is happy to laud Hartig as a designer who prizes art and creativity above all else. “I’m always amazed at what he does,” she says. “He just completely surprises me all the time. I just think he’s a total genius.”
Hartig adds that the real magic in the pair’s longtime partnership brews within “two minds thinking in synch.” A veteran stylist, Malakpour “will notice things about fit that are crucial — things I never thought about, because I’m so involved in the creation of pieces. She also just has a fantastic style.”
At present — two days before their runway show, the duo is trudging through a major “make it work” moment: two boxes of clothes have gone permanently missing — having mysteriously vanished in transit from the brand’s L.A. headquarters to the Hudson Hotel on New York’s west side, where the Libertine team has decamped for the week.
“I’ve been meditating and breathing deeply about it,” says Hartig. “And today I realized we just have to pull it together. We’re okay.”
The boxes were packed with the kind of deeply customized, one-off looks that have always comprised the bulk of Libertine’s offerings, though each collection also features a handful of wholesale-able looks.
The errant boxes are, sadly, likely never to return; UPS is basically shrugging its corporate shoulders in total apathy, reports Hartig, his eyes trained on the many racks of acid-bright clothes that did make the journey, while his hands busied themselves linking together strands of fluorescent-hued plastic chains — a unifying design element in the spring collection.
“The clothes were a lot of labor-intensive work this season — that’s what’s really terrible about it. But we’ll work through it.”
And maybe even with flying colors. The many standouts in the fluorescence-filled collection are as brilliantly mad cap as ever — and seem especially prescient, given fashion’s current obsession with classic club kids and ravers in day-glo.
There’s the “pasta forks” jacket, which is a coat covered in a cartoon fork print that Hartig adorned with “spaghetti” — short strands of golden seed beads that drip off the fabric; the jacket inspired by Culture Club that’s covered in huge fluorescent numbers; the vintage Bill Blass cream trench that Hartig peppered in tiny hot pink metal shapes; and a jacket made from a custom fabric that depicts the perky face of a Staffordshire dog over and over — a textile Hartig calls “1,000 Dogs.”
The cerebrally silly motifs are a far cry from the serious gothic vibe Hartig cultivated for Libertine early on.
“In the beginning, I was much more about the macabre,” he concedes. “But I’m getting older and I’m up for a little more levity. It’s clothing, after all. Why not bring some joy to the joint?”
Photos courtesy of Emili Vesilind
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