Take this one example from her line of jewelry. Pink rhinestones adorn a bow in what appears to be a large pin of rose gold. But this is designer Betsey Johnson and a pin would be way too predictable. The jewelry piece is what’s called a double-finger stretch ring. Yes, hidden behind the bow are two bands for fingers.
Johnson’s style is definitely unique and recognizable for the brash and colorful designs that celebrate youth although the wild blonde turns 71 in 2013. Another clue to her one-of-a-kind approach to fashion –and life — is that she’s known for doing cartwheels on the runway at the end of her shows.
Betsey Johnson is her given birth name. Born the middle child in 1942, after a sister and before a brother, she grew up in Connecticut. From a very young age, her love of art and dance, especially costumes, would eventually lead to her designer career. Her college years began at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and continued a year later at Syracuse University. Her entry into the industry came after graduation in 1964. First, she won a women’s magazine’s contest then went on to design for a Manhattan boutique named Paraphernalia. The latter association brought her to London when designers like Mary Quant dominated the fashion scene. That British influence showed in the attitude of Johnson’s clothes, the period often referred to as the youthquake movement. She did hang out with Andy Warhol’s crowd, briefly marrying one of the co-founders of the Velvet Underground in 1967.
Boom and Bust of a Brand
The first Betsey Johnson label launched in 1978 (a partnership between Johnson and a model friend) and the first Betsey Johnson store opened in SoHo in 1979. By the middle of the 2000s, annual sales had reached well over a hundred million.
By 2012, following a huge loan default, the company went into bankruptcy and all stores, 60 some, closed. But the bust was not fatal. Another major fashion figure, Steve Madden, took over the Betsey Johnson brand and named her as the creative head.
Survivor Going Forward
Not only did Betsey Johnson survive overexpansion and a Chapter 11, she has also survived three marriages and, in 2002, breast cancer. That happens to be the same year she was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame.
She’s now a grandmother too. Her relationship with a sculptor resulted in a daughter, Lulu, born in 1975, who has two young daughters. Lulu is apparently following in her mother’s footsteps, although not as far out as the original. The media is buzzing about the daughter having her own collection and the mother/daughter duo starring in their own reality series.
As for Betsey Johnson designs, word is that she is going more affordable with a line that is expected to debut the spring of 2013. Even if the prices go lower, there’s no doubt that buyers will instantly know, by the touch of the bizarre in the design, that a dress or piece of jewelry or any wearable fashion could only be from Betsey Johnson.