Fashion Bios: New York designer Betsey Johnson has built her long-standing career in fashion by following her own set of rules. Known for her celebration of the exuberant, the embellished, and the over the top, Betsey has been rocking the fashion industry with her unique and original designs since the 1960's. Her commitment to remain true to her one-of-a-kind vision has afforded Betsey continued success in an industry known for its fickleness. Her ability to change with the times while keeping her designs pure has not gone unnoticed. At the 1999 CFDA Awards, Betsey was presented The Timeless Talent Award created especially for her, which recognized her influence on fashion throughout her career.
Betsey was born in Connecticut and spent her childhood in dance classes. Her aspirations to be a dancer and her love for costumes laid the foundation for Betsey's creativity and inspiration, which is still evident in her designs today. In 1964, Betsey officially entered the New York fashion scene by winning Mademoiselle magazine's "Guest Editor Contest." One year later, she landed the top designer position for Paraphernalia, a clothing boutique that at the time housed the hottest young London designers, including Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne, among others. What would soon become known as Betsey's trademark look began its formulations here: sexy silhouettes, hippie inspired flowing fabrics, whimsical detailing and, most importantly, a fabulous fit.
Now firmly part of what was considered the "Youth Quake," Betsey soon found herself in the unforgettable 1960's Warhol scene. Edie Sedgwick was her house model, while the Velvet Underground's John Cale took to wearing her designs both on-stage and off. In 1969, Betsey began her foray into retail by opening a new boutique called Betsey Bunki Nini. Directly following the opening store Betsey was offered a job from Alvin Duskin in San Francisco and thus began living a bi-coastal life for the remaining years of the 60's.
Along with the new decade came new career opportunities for Betsey and in the early 1970's, she came into creative control of the label Alley Cat, a label which set the trends for the 70's rock n' roll clothing, with bohemian and ethnic styles. In 1972, along with Halston, Betsey won the coveted Coty Award becoming the youngest designer to ever receive the honor.
After a decade of designing for other labels, Betsey decided to make a dramatic change in her life and in 1978, she formed a partnership with Chantal Bacon and started the Betsey Johnson label, as it is known today. Designing for herself allowed Betsey the creative freedom to execute her vision to it's fullest potential. The same year Betsey and Chantal launched their first retail store in the heart of Soho. In the early 80's, they were one of the first to open a store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, helping the street to gain its worldwide recognition as one of the best shopping areas of the 1980's. Today there are over fifty Betsey Johnson stores worldwide. International expansion came in 1998 with the opening of the wildly popular London store. In 1999 the Vancouver store opened its doors and Toronto opened in early September 2003. In September 2006, the first Betsey Johnson store opened in Japan. Betsey Johnson clothing is also available in better department stores as well as in specialty stores throughout the country, and in Europe and Asia.
Betsey Johnson, both the woman and the label, is constantly moving forward and continues to keep a strong foothold in the fashion industry with no signs of letting up anytime soon. Her love of detail and design is evident in everything she does in life and in business. Her enthusiasm, creativity and boundless talent that have kept her at the forefront of fashion for the past 40 years will keep Betsey going for years to come.
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