Betsey Johnson: Street Fashion meets the Runway April 19 2022

The first time I saw a picture of Betsey Johnson, it just made sense—the oh-so-blunty cut bangs, the straight bleach blonde hair (that somehow manages to stick out in all directions), the bright red lipstick and even brighter clothing. Sometimes you read designer bios where they say they perpetually live in a uniform of jeans and black t-shirts day after day—Betsey Johnson seems anything but.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Johnson showed immense interest and talent in art and dance as she grew up. The elaborate costumes she wore for her dance recitals eventually led her to the world of fashion designing. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1964 and immediately moved to New York, where she won Mademoiselle’s Guest Editor Contest and later earned a job in the magazine’s art department. A year later, Johnson got a position at a New York clothing boutique called Paraphernalia, where she started establishing her unique fashion style—this included bright, neon colors, puffed sleeves, low waists, low necklines, and the use of unique fabrics (including shower curtains…yup, shower curtains). She became part of the so-called Youthquake fashion movement, which was centered around youthful clothing, music, and culture.

Betsey Johnson Fitting a Model in the 60’s

In 1970, Johnson left Paraphernalia to become the creative director of Alley Cat, a sportswear brand with youthful designs. Just a year later Johnson won the Coty Fashion Critics Award at just 29 years of age—the youngest designer to ever win. Alley Cat soon went out of the business though, and Johnson turned to freelance designing work to support herself. Towards the end of the decade, the punk rock movement began, and in it Johnson found her true comfort zone and creative avenue. Johnson partnered with an ex-model named Chantal Bacon in 1978 to start the Betsey Johnson label, and soon opened the label’s first retail store in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. The brand steadily grew in reputation and size, eventually expanding to have an international presence.

Betsey Johnson

Since the establishment of the Betsey Johnson label, Johnson has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Timeless Talent Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion, and an induction into the Fashion Walk of Fame. Although the brand experienced some financial setbacks several years ago, Betsey Johnson is bouncing back—in 2013 it was announced that the label would be releasing a lower-priced line of clothing and accessories under Betsey Johnson’s parent company, Steve Madden.
Johnson’s designs are bright, in-your-face, feminine, and whimsical. She’s street fashion mixed with dance costuming mixed with ultra-feminine silhouettes—hard to beat it!

A 70’s Betsey Johnson Look

Betsey Johnson Doing What she does best, being herself

written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage