Betsey Johnson

Betsey Johnson

As the excitement builds and we get closer to New York Fashion Week, New York Style Guide will be featuring a designer of the week.

This week’s designer is Betsey Johnson – A Must See Fashion Icon, perennial favorite whose always vibrant personality and vigor are reflected in her work.

See Betsey Johnson’s latest collection during New York Fashion Week, September 11th, 2 PM at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station.

Betsey Johnson’s love for fashion developed when she was just a child. As a young ballet student who learned to sew at a very early age, she started making dance costumes. After finishing college, she moved to New York City in 1964 and began her sartorial career soon after by working as a designer for Manhattan’s popular Paraphernalia Boutique. Johnson’s fashions, which incorporated bright colors, sumptuous fabrics, and bohemian qualities, were anything but boring and gained popularity among members of the art and music scene of that era. Johnson herself hung out with Andy Warhol and his Factory crowd, which included Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, and Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick often modeled Johnson’s creations.

After her stint at Paraphernalia, Betsey began designing her own line, Alley Cat, which had a strong debut collection and was, like her work for Paraphernalia, very popular among the artsy crowd. Alley Cat lasted for four years, during which time she was also creating clothes for the Upper East Side boutique Betsey Bunky Nini.

It was in 1978, however, that Johnson, along with business partner Chantal Bacon, started her own eponymous line that has endured to this day. Betsey Johnson pieces are true originals. She incorporates color and whimsical accents in unique ways—who else could take a leotard and tutu and make it into fashionable street wear?—but also manages to create clothes that the average person can feel good in. Johnson has added to her brand by designing handbags and other accessories, and with 60 boutiques around the world and representation in major department stores, she has created her own fashion empire.

At age 73, Betsey Johnson, known for her bleach blonde hair and bright red lipstick, is still a force to be reckoned with. She raised her beloved daughter Lulu as a single mother, endured three divorces, and has survived breast cancer. And yet, through it all, her enthusiasm for life and for her craft has remained unquenchable. Her fashion shows are always a reflection of her talent, creativity, and indomitable spirit, and each one ends with Betsey’s walk down the runway, followed by her signature cartwheel and split. After 50 years in the industry, Betsey Johnson is still going strong while remaining true to her vision and herself. So do yourself a favor, fashion lovers, and check out this one-of-a-kind designer’s show. It’s an experience you won’t forget!

photos by Andrew Wright