Throwback Thursday || Bestey Johnson

“Take a leotard and add a tutu!”— Betsey Johnson 
- Fun Facts -

Who: Betsey Johnson. Born August 10 in Wethersfield, Connecticut, to Lena and John Johnson, Betsey spends most of her childhood immersed in the world of dance, inspiring a lifelong love of costumes
Occupation: American Fashion Desinger
Known For: Her edgy, unique, bright, fun, offbeat, punk girly style during the new wave/punk era of the late 1970s.
Location:  United States
Why We Love Her:  Shes crazy talented and is a big inspiration to us since middle school. Her brand and style  is the true a reflection of what girls are made of: sugar and spice.

Betsey Johnson grew up with a passion for dance and art. Her fashion career skyrocketed when her avant garde designs became apart of the 1960s "Youthquake" movement. In the 70s, however, her career slowed down until the punk rock style inspired her to create fashion for a new generation. Johnson opened a boutique in New York's Soho neighborhood, eventually followed by more than 60 stores worldwide.


 "If stereotypes still linger about fashion as an industry of the self-serious and the unaware, few have done so much to combat that notion as Betsey Johnson has over the course of her four-decade-plus career. In her early 20s with her work at Paraphernalia, she helped to shape the looks of Factory denizens like Edie Sedgwick and John Cale. Later, in the face of the folky aesthetic leanings of the ’70s, she proposed the acid-hued, the form-fitting, stretchy, and comfortable. The biz’s best cart wheeler (she does one instead of taking the standard runway bow), she put an approachable, candy-colored spin on punk sensibilities and offered up a flirtatious vision of feminist dressing: active, easy, affordable, and unapologetic."

 After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University in 1964, Betsey scores a stint as a guest editor at Mademoiselle (RIP)—immediately after graduating from college, Johnson made her first splash in the New York fashion industry by winning Mademoiselle magazine's Guest Editor Contest and earning a job with the magazine's art department; a gig that entails traveling to London to cover the Carnaby Street vibes. (One Of A Kind)  

Edie Locke, former editor in chief of Mademoiselle: “She was this wonderfully crazy, bubbly blond. You couldn’t be unhappy around her. We had a shopping column where we would put items that we thought were great to buy and not much money. Betsey made a wonderful little top in a silvery knit, and Faye Dunaway ordered it. At that point it was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ All of us obviously got them made.” (Vogue)

 Barbara “Bunky” Washburn: “Paraphernalia was a very crazy place to work. It was really hard to work with people who were out of it [on drugs], so we decided we could figure something out on our own—which was silly, but it worked out. We raised the money and opened the store on 53rd Street. There was always one room in the store that was just Betsey’s designs, and that was a big draw when we opened.” (Vogue)

Only one year later, in 1965, Johnson switched from  writing about clothing to drawing them as she began designing clothes as designer at Paraphernalia, an offbeat New York clothing boutique "aimed to bring a touch of Swinging London to modish Manhattanties". At night, she hangs with Andy Warhol and other popular scenesters of her generation.
In September 1965, the very first Paraphernalia opened in New York on Madison Avenue between 66th and 67th streets. A laboratory and showcase for fresh design talent, Paraphernalia led a new epoch in fashionable New York. Founder Paul Young's take on fashion: "Personally, I've always thought anybody who takes fashion seriously is ridiculous. I mean, they're just clothes. Therefore they should be fun, and nothing about wearing then should be taken seriously."  


Johnson would soon become a fixture of the Warhol-Max’s Kansas City crowd. Edie Sedgwick lent her boyish frame to Johnson’s designs, serving as an early fit model, and Sedgwick was allegedly wearing one of the designer’s color-blocked dresses when she nodded off and nearly burned down her Chelsea Hotel pad. During Johnson’s time designing at Paraphernalia, though, she flourished, and also met Barbara Washburn, better known as Bunky, with whom she’d soon strike out on her own. (One Of A Kind)  

Betsey Johnson Recalls Dressing Edie Sedgwick (Gotham Magazine)
"Edie and I first met because of The Velvet Underground [the influential ’60s rock band closely associated with Warhol’s studio, The Factory]. The Velvets asked if I would do their clothes, and Edie came along with the package. When I needed a fitting model, I said to her, “You have the perfect Mick Jagger boy body. Can you come over to my house a few times a week and hop in my clothes?”
Edie was very quiet, and we never got down and dirty. Then, suddenly, it was Edie here and Edie there, Edie the superstar. I don’t remember ever thinking, Was she in it or was she out of it, was she spaced out, was she regular, did her behavior change? She just enjoyed putting on my clothes.

Edie’s own look—big black and white eyes, three pairs of eyelashes glued together, white lips, Sassoon boyish haircut, huge earrings, leotards, and big tops—defined the style and the excesses of the ’60s. But nobody is an invention out of the blue. When I won the Mademoiselle guest editor contest and got to go to London, I came back a fashion designer wannabe. It was so inspiring in London at that time: Twiggy, Mary Quant, the Beatles, the Stones. Edie in New York was a theatrically bizarre form of all that.
Edie kept me centered in my designs, which were focused on body-conscious clothes done in silver and black, turtlenecks, and big zippers. When her apartment at the Chelsea Hotel caught fire, she was in one of my favorite colorblock body dresses. There are pictures of Edie going to the emergency room with her hands bandaged like Q-Tips in that dress!"

Barbara “Bunky” Washburn, former business partner and cofounder of Betsey Bunky Nini: “She was an instant star [at Paraphernalia]. I’ve never seen anyone able to do things so quickly, so focused, and so sweet and cheerful. She knew exactly where she was going. She was a phenomena.” (Vogue)

Betsey Johnson (right) in her New York studio, September 1966)

John Cale, musician, founding member of The Velvet Underground, and Johnson’s ex-husband: [The Velvet Underground] were asked to come play at the opening. It was one of those crazy things that Andy was always partial to—he’d just throw a band in the middle of anything. It was this white store with boxes and marble. They asked us to play, and we didn’t want to play, they asked us to play again, we said we don’t want to play…It was sort of a testy situation, but the clothes were really stunning. It was recognizable to me that something different was going on in New York, very street-oriented, bustling with energy. So Betsey came and did some clothes for us. My aesthetic at the time was all black—black waistcoat, black turtleneck, black pants, and that was my comfort range. Then Betsey came along and—‘Hey, velvet! Oh, man, yeah, I’d like to get some velvet!’ She made herself a pinstripe suit, and I said, ‘Can I have a pinstripe suit?’ ‘No, you can’t have a pinstripe suit.’ ‘All right, well, can I have a black velvet suit, please?’ ‘Yes.’ Sterling [Morrison] got a beautiful deep forest green velvet suit, and Moe [Tucker] had a black one, and Lou [Reed] had a gray leather suit.” (Vogue)

Barbara “Bunky” Washburn, former business partner and cofounder of Betsey Bunky Nini: “She was an instant star [at Paraphernalia]. I’ve never seen anyone able to do things so quickly, so focused, and so sweet and cheerful. She knew exactly where she was going. She was a phenomena.” (Vogue)


John Cale: “As I got to know her, I wondered how she had so much energy. I got a clue because she told me she was a cheerleader. She said, ‘I was the first one on the field, out in front of the team,’ so I got this impression that if you’ve got a team of 300-pounders following you out, it really focuses your mind on keeping ahead of the pack!” (Vogue)

Betsey and Paraphenalia designers  Anita Latour and Linda Mitchell looked to open up their own shop due to  professional frustrations  and the waning style of the of the mid-’60s youthquake . In 1969 the ladies opened Betsey Bunky Nini. They carry their own work and stuff from other up-and-comers. Famous Pop Icon Edie Sedgwick is a customer and also a  model for the shop. (Vogue)

Barbara “Bunky” Washburn: “Because we didn’t have to have fabrics that you could buy in bulk, at one point she made skirts and jackets out of old chenille bedspreads. She made something for me that she called the Scarlett O’Hara Dress. We had gone to see Gone With the Wind—Anita, myself, and Betsey—and she made me this three-tiered dress with all of these ruffles and a fitted top. It was always that wonderful Betsey look. Her involvement in the store is what brought us so much immediate publicity.” (Vogue)

In 1970, Johnson left Paraphernalia to assume creative control of Alley Cat, a youthful sportswear brand, where she continued to design clothes with bright colors, outlandish patterns and sexy fits. In 1971, in honor of her work at Alley Cat, Johnson won the prestigious Coty Fashion Critics Award, becoming, at only 29 years old, the youngest designer ever to receive the honor.  (One Of A Kind)   

Patricia Field, designer, owner of a legendary eponymous shop, longtime friend, and early Alley Cat stockist: “Knitted sweaters and dresses, that’s what I remember the most. Sweaters with cats knitted in and other imagery. They were tight in the body and tight in the sleeve and they had a little poof in the shoulder. She was hot on fire. I have a young clientele, and Betsey was one of the leading designers of the young girls.” (Vogue)

In 1978, the Betsey Johnson label was born

Patricia Field: “Betsey is an artist, a designer—she is not really a businesswoman. She’s got generosity, a good heart, she is positive, happy, creative, and she was getting abused by these commercial companies. And then she met Chantal and the two of them started from ground zero and they built that business. Chantal was the perfect person for Betsey because she was the businessperson, the organizer. They were a match made in heaven, and together they made that a fantastic success.”  (Vogue)
Some of our FAVORITE moments and fits  from the Betsey Johnson fashion show

"New York Fashion Week: Betsey Johnson Shows Vintage Pieces from Previous Collections. Circa 2008

SS 1995 New York

 Betsey Johnson, 1996

Alek Wek at Betsey Johnson FW 1998



 Camille Grammer @ Betsey Johnson Spring 2015


  Betsey Johnson ready to wear spring 2015

Thanks for Reading!

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