As a designer she is known for two things. She is delightfully over the top, and will embellish just about anything.
Betsey Johnson was born on the 10th of August 1942, in Wethersfield, Conneticut. She is one of three children, and grew up taking dance lessons at a local dance studio. Johnson has said many times that it is her early years of dancing that inspired her love for costumes, an in-fluence that is clear in her designs to this day. After graduating from college, Johnson won a contest to be guest-editor of now defunct women’s magazine Mademoiselle. This was the beginning of her career in fashion.
Finding her feet with Maedemoiselle, within a year she was the in-house designer for Manhattan boutique Paraphernalia. Johnson was a figurehead of the “youthquake” movement. The term was coined by Vogue editor of the time, Diana Vreeland in 1965. The fashion of it was fun, and free-spirited. This has clearly influenced her signature style through the last 50 years. Johnson’s own brand got off to an uncertain start, her second collection left her with 3,000 pieces of unsold clothing. This led her to start her own store in Soho in 1981. Johnson now has more than 65 stores worldwide.
Johnson’s flirty, feminine clothes are some of the most vivid in the fashion industry right now. One of my favourite Betsey Johnson collections, an ode to her growing bridal interests, is equal parts chaos and beauty. It’s wedding couture meets Alice in Wonderland. It’s revolutionary. It was Johnson’s brand taking something that’s been done to death - in this case, wedding attire - and moulding it into her own vision, creating something dazzling.
At the beginning of her Spring/Summer 2015 fashion show - my personal fave of hers, ever - the words (spoken by Johnson herself) “We make your dreams come true!” rang across the loudspeaker. In Johnson’s case, it couldn’t be more true. As usual, she did her trademark move of cart-wheeling at the end of the catwalk.
At the time, she was 73. That's no mean feat! I probably couldn't even do that now. That's the beauty of Betsey Johnson. She never delivers what you'd expect, but whatever it is, it's always beautiful. It's always a combination of chaos and carnival.