"Libertine hasn't gone anywhere," Johnson Hartig was at pains to remind everyone after his Fall '11 Libertine show this morning. "We just haven't done fashion week in a while." Hartig is technically correct, of course. But in spirit, today's outing felt like a return from the dead. Libertine has been pretty much radio silent since Hartig split from his co-founder, Cindy Greene, two years ago, and well before that the brand had started to seem less like a serious design enterprise and more like someone's hipster hobby. Word that Hartig was putting Libertine back on the fashion week schedule generated not a little skepticism.
Well, the joke's on you, haters! Libertine's Fall '11 collection was terrific. Hartig's modus operandi hasn't changed—he's still digging out vintage clothes and tweaking them. But there was extraordinary energy in Hartig's colors and graphics this time around, and they meshed with the collection's vintage silhouettes with real sophistication and polish. By and large, the women's shapes came from the Kennedy-era sixties—lots of A-line coats and prim, boxy suits, many of them painted over in eye-popping colors and screen-printed with a graphic inspired, Hartig said, by World War II dazzle ships. The graphic looked like a drunken check, which made it especially suitable for this punkish riff on ladylike-ness, one of a piece with the Chanel-on-acid collections shown last season by Proenza Schouler and Christopher Kane. And it worked just as well in grayscale on the men's square-bodied blazers, narrow pants, and sweats. Elsewhere Hartig approached the idea of dazzle from another direction, through sparkle and shine: He embroidered both men's and women's looks with crystals, and sent out more than a few winning women's looks in painted sequins and metallic brocade.
Thom Browne and Kate Mulleavy were among the notables on hand to welcome Hartig back to the fashion week fold—an impressive endorsement, given that Thom Browne and Rodarte shows are due shortly. Suffice it to say, he didn't waste his friends' time.