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Betsey Johnson

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Submitted By TEKM10
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“I like the everyday process and 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.”
-Betsey Johnson

A journalist once quoted, "If Betsey Johnson didn't exist, we would have to invent her, simply to remind ourselves that fashion can be fun. She's the original wild child and set to paint the town pink!" ( Betsey Johnson is not only a reminder to all that fashion can be fun, but she is also a reminder to all that individuality and uniqueness can absolutely define greatness. In a fast-paced, unpredictable industry like the fashion industry, it can be difficult for designers to remain true to their own vision and creativity. For Betsey Johnson, remaining true to herself and her unique views has appeared to be as simple and easy as getting out of bed in the morning. She doesn’t play by the rulebook; Betsey Johnson creates her own rulebook. Betsey Johnson was one of three children born on August 10, 1942 to parents, John and Lena. She was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, but she grew up in Terryville. From a very young age, she occupied most of her time with her two loves, drawing and dancing. The combination of these two hobbies became the foundation to her ultimate success as a fashion designer. Beginning from the age of four, Betsey trained in all types of dance. She became immersed with the costumes that were used for recitals and would often sketch her own ideas for these costumes. According to Betsey, her decision to pursue fashion design came when “I realized that making clothes is completing what a drawing can’t be – going from two-dimensional to reality” ( She first attended Pratt Institute For Art but eventually transferred to Syracuse. Following college, Betsey won Mademoiselle Magazine’s “Guest Editor Contest” and earned a job with the art department there. In 1965, a year later, she got a job as a designer at Paraphernalia, an “offbeat” New York clothing boutique that was a perfect fit for her unique creativity. After working for Paraphernalia for a few years, Betsey decided to leave there to take on the creative role at Alley Cat, a youthful sportswear brand. Alley Cat set trends for ‘70s rock n’ roll clothing with bohemian and ethnic styles. In 1971, she won the Coty Fashion Critics award in honor of her work at Alley Cat; she was twenty-nine and the youngest ever to be awarded this honor. In the mid 1970s, Betsey’s fast moving career became stagnant, as the youthful demographic started wearing work clothes, and her market disappeared. Soon after, Alley Cat went out of business. In the meantime, Betsey did freelance work in the maternity and children’s department, but it wouldn’t be long until her career took off again as a “Punk” trend was beginning in London. She said, “I thought it was all over until Punk started in London. It felt like a reincarnation of the ‘60s. It felt the same as when I was twenty-two” ( With her career back on track, Betsey partnered with ex model, Chantal Bacon, to start her own company, the Betsey Johnson label. In 1978, they opened the first Betsey Johnson retail store in Manhattan’s Soho. They eventually opened a store in Los Angeles in the ‘80s and continued to open stores all over the world over the next thirty years. There are currently over fifty Betsey Johnson stores worldwide. In 1999, Betsey was awarded the “Timeless Talent Award” by the Council Of Fashion Designers Of America. One year later, Betsey was diagnosed with breast cancer. For many, this would slow them down tremendously; for Betsey Johnson, it was just another bump in the road. It was important to her that she kept her cancer a secret, as she dreaded the public finding out and the questions that would come. She didn’t even tell her business partner, Chantal, until after she was treated. She also conducted a runway show while she was going through radiation treatment. She returned to full health in no time and even performed her trademark cartwheel at a biannual show recently after. Once cancer free, Betsey finally shared her story and became a strong advocate in the fight against breast cancer by making public appearances, taking part in many fundraising events, and creating one of a kind designs that have been auctioned off to raise money. In 2003, she became an Honorary Chairperson for the “Fashion Targets Breast Cancer” campaign. She was also awarded by the National Breast Cancer Coalition for her fight against the disease. She launched a T-shirt in Betsey Johnson stores that was dedicated to the fight against breast cancer, and she still continues to actively participate in these campaigns, serving as a great witness of courage and strength. In 2003, Betsey was honored for her contribution to American fashion, as she was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame. Shortly after Betsey decided it was time to explore an area of fashion design that she had not yet expanded to. She extended her line to lifestyle, bringing her eclectic prints to handbags, footwear, swimwear, and jewelry. That same year, Betsey went on a vacation in Mexico that resulted in the buying of a magical little hotel in which she named “Betseyville.” About a year later, impacted by the culture and surroundings in this Mexican haven, she decided to create a new handbag line and name it “Betseyville.” This line was a bit more inexpensive compared to her other line. In 2007, she added footwear to this collection. She was honored with the Designer of the Year Award at the annual Fashion Accessories Benefit Ball that same year, demonstrating once again how widely and quickly accepted her designs have been. She most recently received the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion in 2009. Betsey has been married three times and has one daughter, Lulu, who is thirty-six years old and works as Betsey’s creative director. Betsey Johnson’s career is far from over; at the age of 69, Betsey is currently still designing and releasing new lines every season. Her influence on the fashion industry is inexpressible; she has created a name for herself by differentiating herself from the rest of the industry through her uniqueness and her ability to express it. Almost fifty years after the start of her career, she has remained true to her own vision. Her designs still reflect her love of drawing and dancing, as she is known for often creating costume like designs and full tutu skirts. While her are bold and shocking, they are also girlie at the same time. She very often mixes leopard and tiger prints with rose patterns, a risky move for most designers but a normal move for her. She usually uses extremely bright colors that can ultimately catch the eye of anybody. She combines whimsical detailing with a fabulous fit and sexy silhouettes to create pieces that stand out in a way that nobody can look away. From the very beginning, Betsey has stepped outside of the boundaries that many designers set for themselves. She has created her own boundaries, which are essentially limitless. Her creativity is an inspiration, but it is her courage to step outside the lines that has truly gotten her where she is today. Betsey Johnson is fearless.

Works Cited
"About Betsey." Betsey Johnson. Web. 18 Mar. 2011. .
"Betsey Johnson Biography." Biography. A&E Television Networks. Web. 18 Mar. 2011. .
Betsey Johnson’s Spring 2011 Show

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