Betsey Johnson - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

American designer

Born: Weathersfield, Connecticut, 10 August 1942. Education: Studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1960-61; B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, 1964. Family: Married John Cale, 1966 (divorced); married Jeffrey Oliviere, 1981 (divorced); married Brian Reynolds, 1997 (separated); daughter: Lulu. Career: Guest Editor, Mademoiselle, New York, 1964-65; designer, Paraphernalia boutiques, New York, 1965-69; partner in boutique Betsey, Bunky & Nini, New York, from 1969; designer, Alvin Duskin Co., San Francisco, 1970; designer, Alley Cat, 1970-74; Butterick patterns, 1971 and 1975; Jeanette Maternities, 1974-75; Gant, 1974-75; Betsey Johnson's Kidswear division of Shutterbug, 1974-77; Tric-Trac by Betsey Johnson, 1974-76; Star Ferry by Betsey Johnson and Michael Miles, 1975-77; head designer, president, treasurer, B. J. Vines, from 1978; owner, Betsey Johnson stores, from 1979. Awards: Mademoiselle Merit award, 1970; Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1971; American Printed Fabrics Council Tommy award, 1971, 1990; Council of Fashion Designers of America Timeless Talent award, 1999. Address: 498 Seventh Avenue, New York, New York 10018, USA. Website: .

Betsey Johnson, fall 2001 collection: lurex knit cardigan and chiffon mini skirt. © AP/Wide World Photos.
Betsey Johnson, fall 2001 collection: lurex knit cardigan and chiffon mini skirt.
© AP/Wide World Photos.




Milinaire, Caterine, and Carol Troy, Cheap Chic, New York, 1975.

Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, New York, 1978.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.

Lobenthal, Joel, Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties, New York, 1990.

Steele, Valerie, Women of Fashion, New York, 1991.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.


"We Orbit Around…Betsey Johnson," in Mademoiselle, August 1966.

Fraser, Kennedy, "On and Off the Avenue: Feminine Fashions," in the New Yorker, 1 April 1972.

Comer, Nancy, "Betsey Johnson," in Mademoiselle, August 1972.

Kaiser, Diane, "Profile on People," in Fashion Accessories Magazine, March 1979.

Burggraf, Helen, "Betsey Johnson: Alive and Well and Designing in New York," in Apparel News, 1981.

"Sweet and Tough," in Soho News (New York), 23 February 1982.

Bloomfield, Judy, "Happy Partners: Bacon and Johnson," in WWD, 7September 1988.

Haistreiter, Kim, "Earth to Betsey," in Paper (New York), April 1989.

Benatar, Giselle, "Betsey Johnson," in Mademoiselle, February 1993.

"Betsey Johnson," in Current Biography, January 1994.

Loukin, Andrea, "Betsey Johnson and Tarik Currimbhoy," in Interior Design, May 1996.

Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Betsey Johnson: Honor for a Life of Celebrating Youth," in the New York Times, 18 May 1999.

D'Innocenzio, Anne, "Betsey Johnson's New Chapter," in WWD, 3May 2000.

Shanahan, Laura, "Designated Shopper," in Brandweek, 13 November 2000.


For the youthquake generation, the names Betsey Johnson and Paraphernalia symbolized the hip, young fashions of mid-1960s America just as Mary Quant and Biba did for the equivalent age group in Great Britain. In the early 1970s, a second wave of young women with a taste for affordable style discovered the flippant body-conscious clothes Johnson designed for the ready-to-wear firm Alley Cat. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Johnson's clothes have been characterized by her sense of humor and an innocent, tongue-in-cheek sexiness. Wearing a Betsey Johnson dress is like putting on a good mood.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Syracuse University, Johnson won a guest editorship at Mademoiselle magazine. There, colleagues put her name forward to Paul Young, who was scouting out fresh new design talent to launch his Paraphernalia boutiques. It was a good match: Young encouraged experimentation and Johnson began to develop what was to be a long-standing interest in such unorthodox materials as vinyl, sequin sheeting, and the then-new stretch fabrics. Her "kit" dress, for example, was of clear vinyl with a trim-it-yourself package of stars, dots, and ellipses cut from reflective adhesive foil. The "noise" dress had a hem fringed with loose grommets.

Johnson's approach to clothing is very much influenced by her early days as a dancer. "I am basically about a ballerina torso and a full skirt," she told a reporter for the Soho News in 1982, "a dancing school dress-up craziness." Johnson's emphasis on tight, stretch bodices also grew out of her dancing school background. Not surprisingly, the shift in the 1970s to a subdued, tailored look was incompatible with Johnson's style as a designer. She continued to have her own label with a variety of manufacturers, but it was not until the end of that decade that Johnson's real joie de vivre emerged again, this time for her own company.

Johnson's company and her girlish, bohemian style have continued to endure, despite the economic downturns of the late 1980s and the

Betsey Johnson, fall 2001 collection. © AP/Wide World Photos.
Betsey Johnson, fall 2001 collection.
© AP/Wide World Photos.
androgynous "grunge" trends of the early 1990s. In the final years of the century, Johnson's flirty and whimsical designs were again at the forefront of fashion trends. As of 2001, almost 40 Betsey Johnson stores were open worldwide, with further expansion planned. Her label is available in several upper-end department stores and specialty stores, together with Johnson's designer-price brand, Ultra. Throughout the 1990s, Betsey Johnson, Inc. continued to broaden its offerings, developing a line of accessories, jewelry, footwear, children's clothing, bath and beauty products, and fragrance. Johnson's imaginative runway fashion shows are eagerly anticipated each year, opened by the designer's trademark cartwheel down the catwalk.

The youthful spirit of the company is kept alive through Johnson's own playful personality and the design talents of a young staff, including her daughter, Lulu Johnson. Betsey Johnson is the first to admit that her designs have changed little conceptually over her long career, but she is able to manipulate this basic style to suit a contemporary mood. Johnson's loyalty to her own vision has been crucial to her success and appeal. Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale's fashion director, recognizes Johnson's enduring style: "Betsey reinvents herself," Ruttenstein says. "If she keeps doing what she does, fashion comes around to her every few years."

—Whitney Blausen;

updated by Megan Stacy

User Contributions:

Nancy Daily
On ebay today a Alvin Duskin Vintage 60s Dress for sale is it one you worked on or designed.

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