In 1978, Betsey Johnson formed a partnership with Chantal Bacon and started the Betsey Johnson label, as it is known today. 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.
The year 2003 marked some exciting licensing endeavors for the company, taking Betsey’s signature prints and whimsy to new audiences with categories including shoes and lingerie. She continued this trend and has since added handbags, belts, cold weather accessories, eyewear, watches, jewelry, swimwear, legwear and a fragrance thus effectively emerging as not only a clothing designer but a top American Lifestyle brand.
For the youthquake generation, the names Betsey Johnson and Paraphernalia symbolized the hip, young fashions of mid-1960s America just as Mary Quant and Biba did for the equivalent age group in Great Britain. In the early 1970s, a second wave of young women with a taste for affordable style discovered the flippant body-conscious clothes Johnson designed for the ready-to-wear firm Alley Cat. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Johnson's clothes have been characterized by her sense of humor and an innocent, tongue-in-cheek sexiness. Wearing a Betsey Johnson dress is like putting on a good mood.
Johnson's approach to clothing is very much influenced by her early days as a dancer. "I am basically about a ballerina torso and a full skirt," she told a reporter for the Soho News in 1982, "a dancing school dress-up craziness." Johnson's emphasis on tight, stretch bodices also grew out of her dancing school background. Not surprisingly, the shift in the 1970s to a subdued, tailored look was incompatible with Johnson's style as a designer. She continued to have her own label with a variety of manufacturers, but it was not until the end of that decade that Johnson's real joie de vivre emerged again, this time for her own company.
Johnson's company and her girlish, bohemian style have continued to endure, despite the economic downturns of the late 1980s and the androgynous "grunge" trends of the early 1990s. In the final years of the century, Johnson's flirty and whimsical designs were again at the forefront of fashion trends.
The youthful spirit of the company is kept alive through Johnson's own playful personality and the design talents of a young staff, including her daughter, Lulu Johnson. Betsey Johnson is the first to admit that her designs have changed little conceptually over her long career, but she is able to manipulate this basic style to suit a contemporary mood. Johnson's loyalty to her own vision has been crucial to her success and appeal.
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