Betsey Johnson by Charlotte Nord

Betsey Johnson is a free-spirited unicorn, living in a world designed by herself, where the abnormal becomes beautiful and individuality rules. Her body of work consists of a plater of punk fun, suitable for the rebellious cool girl, coming from a place of creativity and talent rather than a designer skilled background. Betsey is a woman of comfort and intrigue and it is her childish attitude and spirit that keeps her work alive and well throughout years of controversy. At the present age of 72, the Betsey Johnson brand has expanded enormously throughout the world, with an assortment of 60 stores internationally.

Betsey’s aesthetic comes from a place of not being afraid of what other people think of her, and it is that weirdness that has made her what she always has been and what the world knows her to be today. Her body of work ranges from the t-shirt flare dresses from the sixties and the long flower silhouettes from the seventies to the punk and velvet trims in the eighties and nineties to her pinup-doll dresses and stretchy, leopard leggings of the 2000s. The key elements of her successful label is how she has absorbed fashion through an artists eye, never confining to the “should-s” of fashion, and experimenting with unique fabrics, such as shower curtains, the interior lining of automobiles and the pinstriped wool of old New York Yankees uniforms. Betsey is also known for employing bright, neon dyes, puffed sleeves, deep necklines, and low waists. (“Betsey Johnson.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 05 May 2015.) 

Betsey, in motion, doing her ritual at-the-end-of-the-runway-show-cartwheel.

From an early age Betsey became acquainted with an array of different fabrics used for dance costumes, such as sparkle, tool, and stretch, but it wasn’t until the 60s when Betsey entered a Mademoiselle Magazine contest, and won, that she was sent to London, then later back to New York, that her knowledge of fabrics and art came to good use, where she was working on a lot of hand-screened fabrics, using colors, and prints, techniques she had learned from her art training background at Syracuse University.

Through winning the Mademoiselle contest, Betsey was offered a job, and stylists would ask her to make clothes and go on fashion shoots with them, which led to Betsey being introduced to Paul Young. Paul had a boutique idea about “Paraphernalia”, he wanted to create a store with the hippest, and newest fashion trends in New York, something that had never yet been done, and for a low costing price. And right of the bat, Betsey was on the label, “Paraphernalia by Betsey Johnson”

Betsey didn’t come from a designer background, it had never occurred to her to ever enroll in a design studio class, her love was found in art and dancing, and it is because of that, that she developed her unique style of design and kept her passion alive, through working with the fabrics instead of against them, integrating all elements of life that she loves; music, dance, painting, and punk

Betsey and her daughter Lulu

Her muse has, in one way or another always been herself, but after a while when the cool zone of the 90s came around, her daughter, Lulu, became that new muse, and as two different souls, they meet in the middle between Betsey’s quirky punk rock and Lulus Marylyn Monroe, which really, defines the Betsey label at this point in time.

Through her courage  and individuality she makes an excellent point of expression of self, where if we don’t express ourselves with how we cook, how we decorate, what we wear, things in our everyday life, there’s no place left: “I don’t care about the money, I would absolutely quit, and they know that, because what good am I if I am not me?” (Betsey Johnson)


Betsey Johnson. (2015). The website. Retrieved 08:45, May 05, 2015, from

House of Style. (2014). Episode 6. Betsey Johnson: This is Me. Retrieved May 03, 201, from

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