“Making clothes involves what I like…color, pattern, shape and movement…I like the everyday process…the people, the pressure, the surprise of seeing the work come alive walking and dancing around on strangers. Like red lipstick on the mouth, my products wake up and brighten and bring the wearer to life…drawing attention to her beauty and specialness…her moods and movements…her dreams and fantasies.”
A love of costumes sparked designer Betsey Johnson's interest in fashion, but it was winning a guest editor contest by Mademoiselle Magazine that launched her career. Born and raised in Connecticut, Johnson grew up wanting to be a dancer, a theme evident in her designs to this day. In 1965, only a year after winning the contest, Johnson was chosen as the top designer for clothing boutique, Paraphernalia, where her signature look of sexy silhouette’s, hippie inspired flowing fabrics, whimsical detailing, and a fabulous fit, began to take form. Already part of the “Youth Quake”, Johnson quickly began spending her time with the Warhol crowd, including Edie Sedgwick and the rock band The Velvet Underground. By 1969, she opened her first boutique called Betsey Bunki Nini, immediately followed by a job offer from San Francisco based Alvin Duskin. Betsey Johnson traveled back and forth between the east and west coasts for about a year before gaining creative control over the label ‘Alley Cat’ in early 1970. Johnson and her bohemian and ethnic designs under the ‘Alley Cat’ label set the trends for seventies rock ‘n’ roll clothing.
In 1972 Johnson became the youngest designer in history to win the prestigious Coty Award, along with legendary designer Halston. Also that year she designed costumes for friend, Edie Sedgwick’s last film, “Ciao! Manhattan”. After years of designing under different labels, Betsey Johnson formed a partnership with ex-model Chantal Bacon, in 1978, to introduce the ‘Betsey Johnson’ label. To coincide with the labels launch, Johnson and Bacon opened a store in New York City’s Soho district. Then in the early eighties Johnson became the first to open a free standing store on Melrose Ave, assisting in the street’s worldwide reputation as one of the best shopping locations. The nineties saw the opening of various Betsey Johnson stores in London, Vancouver, Toronto, and Japan. To date, Johnson operates over fifty stores worldwide with products sold in high end boutiques and department stores throughout the US, Europe, and Asia.
Betsey Johnson’s influence in the fashion world is unmistakable, which is why in 1999 the CFDA presented her with The Timeless Talent Award (created just for her) and three years later she was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame. By 2003, Betsey Johnson successfully expanded her label to include footwear and lingerie branching out to a new and broader audience. Continuing expansion throughout the rest of the 2000s, she began designing handbags, cold weather accessories, fragrances, belts, watches, jewelry, eyewear, swimwear, and leg wear. Throughout Betsey Johnson’s forty four years in the industry she has dressed numerous celebrities ranging from Janis Joplin to Cyndi Lauper, Paris Hilton and Helena Bonham Carter.
A cancer survivor, Betsey Johnson donates a significant amount of time and money in the quest for a cure and became the Honorary Chairperson for the CFDA sponsored ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ initiative. She also partnered with author, Geralyn Lucas, to design a t-shirt to accompany Lucas’ book “Why I Wore Lipstick…to my Mastectomy”, which was introduced in her stores nationwide at a string of events called ‘Courage Nights’. In 2003, Johnson fell in love with a little hotel in Mexico and immediately purchased the property to create her dream vacation home, calling it ‘Betseyville’. A year later she purchased a second property, ‘Villa Betsey’, which quickly became her new vacation home while turning ‘Betseyville” into an estate she rents out to the public. In 2005 Johnson received the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from both the Signature Awards & NAWBO-NYC Committee and the Accessories Council. A couple years later, she received the 2007 ‘Designer of the Year Award’, from the Fashion Accessories Benefit Ball (FABB).