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INNER LIFE

His look? Totally rad

English dandy collides with California skater in the L.A. home of fashion designer Johnson Hartig, whose wicked fusion of styles is about to hit the big time.

July 12, 2007|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

FASHION designer Johnson Hartig's dresser is a tableau fit for an FBI profiler. The top of his antique highboy sports an incense holder rimmed with tiny skulls, a padlock and a Victorian glass case containing a taxidermy chipmunk. Nearby, on a Taschen book catalog, lie a black twill bow tie, a packet of Listerine breath strips and a pair of steel handcuffs. Hmmm.

Suave and provocative, this casual collision of objects is pure Hartig. As the Los Angeles-based half of the red-hot clothing line Libertine, he brings 19th century English eccentricity and 21st century California skater style to the label's apparel.

In just six years, Hartig and design partner Cindy Greene have enchanted Vogue grande dame Anna Wintour, "It" girl Scarlett Johansson and British artist Damien Hirst with deconstructed tailoring, Old World silk-screen prints and Swarovski spider webs and skulls. Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld bought much of Libertine's crystal-embellished spring 2006 collection for himself.

On Sunday, Libertine launches its first mass-market women's collection at Target stores. With clothes that cost under $40, about one-tenth of Libertine's one-of-a-kind creations, the new mass-market line dials down Goth glamour in favor of Edwardian dandyism and preppy punk.

In much the same way, Hartig's recently renovated 1920s home in the Hancock Park area has become an exuberant collage of places, periods, preoccupations and prices. There are family hand-me-downs, such as an English Regency chest flanked by a pair of silvery Italian grotto chairs with seashell legs and dolphin arms. Other acquisitions include a midcentury chair by Mies van der Rohe, antique wood-spindle lollipop seats, and side tables scored for chump change at an L.A. estate sale.

"I don't care where things come from or how much they cost," Hartig says, "as long as they are chic and fit in."

The designer, who favors T-shirts and the word "rad," feels perfectly at home flopping onto a pricey whiteslip-covered sofa by Ralph Lauren and propping his bare feet up on an inexpensive white Parsons table from West Elm.

Hartig thrives on juxtaposition, be it of cost, style, material or era. He tosses a Union Jack pillow on a French Louis-style sofa, places a crystal candelabra on an oversized Lucite table and perches cute vinyl Japanese toys near a Hirst sculpture of a dagger piercing a sheep's heart.

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BALANCING luxury with comfort and class with brass, Hartig's interiors are a colorful and cannily edited mix of antiques, catalog furnishings, flea market finds, 20th century designer pieces and contemporary art.

"His house is not some hyper-designed unreal set," says New York menswear designer Thom Browne, who has known Hartig since the 1990s. "It is who he really is -- a unique and sophisticated individual whose taste is always evolving."

That accounts for some of Hartig's odd personal flourishes: a pristine Schwinn bicycle -- all black, down to its spokes -- parked in the kitchen ("I use it for errands in Larchmont Village"), an array of antique scale-model schooners under glass and a vast collection of valuable (and some might say kitschy) Staffordshire porcelain figurines, including a kennel's worth of the English firm's signature spaniels.

Hartig has two live canine companions too: Pocket the Chihuahua and Terrance the miniature pinscher, both rescues.

The row of Staffordshire dogs on the wall-length bookcases in the den is joined by a 19th century Venetian marionette that Hartig recalls purchasing at an antique shop in Pasadena "because it looked like he was dressed in Libertine."

Libertine's pieces "reflect the history of fashion and fuse art and design," says Vogue's West Coast editor, Lisa Love, an early champion of the label. A frequent guest at Hartig's home, she is not surprised that it is so "interesting and wacky."

"You walk through an English country garden and into a Long Island living room and a Hamptons kitchen and dining room," she says. "The master bedroom is a New York City gentleman's apartment, and the pool area is quintessential California."

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FROM the street, Hartig's 2,000-square-foot home is nearly hidden by tall mounds of lavender and purple Mexican heather. Two years ago, when he first saw the house, "it appeared to be a Mediterranean bungalow, if there is such a style," he says.

"The yard was overgrown, and the house was dark and gloomy. My real estate agent could not understand what I was thinking, but I knew it could be something."

Though his design studio is in Koreatown, Hartig chose the Hancock Park area over more bohemian neighborhoods because it has always been one of his favorite parts of the city.

"I suffer from road rage," he adds, "and it's centrally located for where I need to go."

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