Betsey Johnson

Betsey Johnson made her first piece of clothing at age 4 - an apron with a dog print on it - and always has loved costumes. After winning a summer scholarship in 1964, she started working as a guest editor in the fabrics department of Mademoiselle. She stayed on at the magazine and began designing and selling women's tops on the side. Johnson had studied fabric design at Syracuse and had the idea to stitch a crocheted fabric into body-hugging sweaters. She made a poster of a girl wearing her sweater, and after hanging it up in the Mademoiselle bathroom, her design became wildly popular. Johnson crossed highly feminine silhouettes with a punk sensibility, working with bright pinks and tulle alongside leopard print and studs. Johnson's most significant success came when Paul Young, an entrepreneur from London, invited her to sell her designs at his new Madison Avenue store, Paraphernalia, quickly becoming a hub for New York musicians and artists like Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, and Twiggy. Johnson made dresses out of lamé fishnet and faux suede with brass grommets, embracing spandex and bright patterns. Paraphernalia is where Johnson met the members of the Velvet Underground, and began her romance with John Cale, who she married and promptly divorced. In 1977, Betsey Johnson launched her own label with the help of a fashion sales rep named Chantal Bacon, who owned half the company. In the eighties and nineties, Johnson could be found at every New York Fashion Week, where she ended her shows with a cartwheel and a split. Daryl Hannah and rock stars like Debbie Harry and the B-52s wore her clothes. Johnson's brand was plunged into debt after the 2008 crash, and in 2010 Steve Madden bought her out. Johnson stayed on as creative director, but no longer calls the shots. Her daughter, Lulu, helps her run the brand today.

Betsey Johnson

Bringing Femininity to Punk

08-15-21

Betsey Johnson made her first piece of clothing at age 4 - an apron with a dog print on it - and always has loved costumes. After winning a summer scholarship in 1964, she started working as a guest editor in the fabrics department of Mademoiselle. She stayed on at the magazine and began designing and selling women's tops on the side. Johnson had studied fabric design at Syracuse and had the idea to stitch a crocheted fabric into body-hugging sweaters. She made a poster of a girl wearing her sweater, and after hanging it up in the Mademoiselle bathroom, her design became wildly popular. Johnson crossed highly feminine silhouettes with a punk sensibility, working with bright pinks and tulle alongside leopard print and studs. Johnson's most significant success came when Paul Young, an entrepreneur from London, invited her to sell her designs at his new Madison Avenue store, Paraphernalia, quickly becoming a hub for New York musicians and artists like Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, and Twiggy. Johnson made dresses out of lamé fishnet and faux suede with brass grommets, embracing spandex and bright patterns. Paraphernalia is where Johnson met the members of the Velvet Underground, and began her romance with John Cale, who she married and promptly divorced. In 1977, Betsey Johnson launched her own label with the help of a fashion sales rep named Chantal Bacon, who owned half the company. In the eighties and nineties, Johnson could be found at every New York Fashion Week, where she ended her shows with a cartwheel and a split. Daryl Hannah and rock stars like Debbie Harry and the B-52s wore her clothes. Johnson's brand was plunged into debt after the 2008 crash, and in 2010 Steve Madden bought her out. Johnson stayed on as creative director, but no longer calls the shots. Her daughter, Lulu, helps her run the brand today.

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