Betsey Johnson, the iconic designer whose fluffy, candy-colored dresses are a wardrobe must-have for women of all ages, threw herself a birthday party on Friday, August 7, at her Madison Avenue store serving up pink-frosted cupcakes, champagne, and lots of hugs and kisses. Her fans showed up wearing all things Betsey, dresses, shoes, earrings, necklaces, and carrying her distinctive purses. The air was heavy with her fruity perfume and lots of love.
Johnson turned 67 on August 10 and has been making the rounds to collect birthday wishes and to thank her fans for their loyal support. In the fashion industry, where many designers go out of style in a blink of an eye, Johnson has enjoyed enormous staying power. Her vision has never wavered. She produces clothing that is playful, whimsical, distinctive, yet entirely wearable. And she is the best advertisement for her creations: rail thin with her eye-catching platinum hair, Johnson made a grand entrance wearing a red sequined jacket over a Mickey Mouse tee, and a bright blue crinoline skirt. On her feet she wore red and silver wedges.
Caroline Bergan (above with Betsey) said she owns fifty-two Betsey Johnson dresses and never wears another designer. “People know me as the girl who wears Betsey Johnson,” she said. Why is she such a fan? “All her dresses are so feminine and so flattering. You know right away it’s a Betsey Johnson dress.” For the party, Bergan was wearing a brightly flowered dress with a yellow background. Bergan said she also admires Johnson’s business acumen.
Indeed, Johnson’s business is still around because she has maintained her autonomy, not selling out to a large corporation, the route followed by many other independent labels. She continues to own the majority of her company. In June, however, she told New York Magazine that she would like to retire after her September, 2009, show. Johnson told the magazine that Eric Sartori, who previously designed for Vera Wang, Hervé Léger, and Azzedine Alaïa, could become the brand’s head designer. She would remain on as a “megaconsultant.”
Johnson was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, attended the Pratt Institute, and graduated from Syracuse University. She has credited her love of dance for her penchant to create dresses that resemble costumes. Browsing through the racks in her store, we found many dresses that could be worn by members of the New York City Ballet. What girl—young or old—has not dreamed about being a ballerina? Wear a Betsey Johnson dress and that fantasy comes alive.
Betsey Johnson designs have long been favored by young girls looking to find that special dress for that special occasion, whether a birthday party, prom, or bar or bas mitzvah. Anna Sullivan, age nine, came to Betsey’s party wearing one of the designer’s off-white lace dresses with a black sash. “It’s my birthday dress,” she told us, saying she loves the dress because it’s “different, like nothing that I have.” Her sister, Bess, age seven, hasn’t worn Betsey yet. Their mother, Sara Sullivan, accompanied both girls to the store, along with their friend, Bridget, age nine. All the girls posed for a photo with Johnson, who was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm from her young fans.
In honor of Betsey’s birthday, all clothing and most accessories in the store were discounted 30 percent, many items further reduced from an earlier sale price. Eager shoppers kept the store’s sales people busy. The sale will continue as long as the merchandise lasts.
Will Johnson’s retirement affect the label’s designs? Her fans hope not. There are still so many special occasions to dress for.
Betsey Johnson’s New York Stores:
1060 Madison Avenue at 80th Street
248 Columbus Avenue
138 Wooster Street
251 East 60th Street
Visit Betsey Johnson online at www.betseyjohnson.com