THE announcement that Libertine would become the seventh designer partnership in Target's Go International program could be construed as only one of two things:
The end of western civilization as soccer moms know it, with Libertine's torrent of skulls and punk-Victoriana iconography infiltrating the blindingly cheery halls of this mass retailer.
Or the end of the indie brand's cool factor among fanatics, who put a serious dent on their black AmEx cards at haute and haughty fashion Valhallas such as Maxfield in West L.A. or Jeffrey in New York.
One of the few labels Karl Lagerfeld and his clique wear exclusively, Libertine has been a fashion darling from the start. British superstar artist Damien Hirst exchanges his art for their clothes and even loaned images of his work to be screened onto trench coats.
The bicoastal designer team — Cindy Greene in New York and Johnson Hartig in L.A. — reconfigures vintage tweed jackets, leaving razor-edged seams and covering the backside with sparkling crystal skulls. They silk screen portraits of Abe Lincoln and Queen Victoria on tulle ball gowns and pleated skirts. And they exact thousands of dollars for these labor-intensive, often one-of-a-kind clothes.
So will the Target collaboration, debuting in stores today, give us liberty by making the Libertine look accessible to all? Or would it be the death of a rising star?
The short answer is, this stuff rocks — Libertine label or not.
A black shrunken jacket with ruffle collar and black short shorts screen printed with a ship, priced $39.99 and $19.99, make a chic and sexy duo. Among the silky blouses — $24.99 and $34.99, some with wide same-fabric scarves to be tied as floppy bows around the neck — is a button-down covered in black scrawl spelling out "Libertine." A navy cotton canvas car coat with large white buttons is timeless and a steal at $34.99.
As for skulls, Hartig and Greene have imaginatively paired them with those twee whales that are embroidered all over preppy clothes. Except in this case, there are skulls and whales sharing space on an oversized navy canvas duffle bag ($39.99), a Kelly green A-line skirt with an inverted front knife pleat ($34.99) and a broad bucket hat ($14.99). Think Pappagallo-meets-punk. When you get down to it, skulls are really as traditional as those preppy motifs. It's a combination as tasty as a Reese's cup, and these are surely to be the first styles to end up on EBay tonight.
It's not all teen and edgy. There's also a pretty, prim black crepe dress with an ivory scallop lace neckline that every fashion editor I've chatted with between here and New York is dying to get her hands on. These discriminating clotheshorses point to the blind-stitched hem and flattering silhouette, and note that it's the kind of vintage-inspired dress perfect for the office or a party. And at $39.99, it makes pairing it with one of those original Libertine skull coats from Maxfield a little less painful.