Betsey Johnson was born in Connecticut, USA in 1942. Betsey Johnson is a fashion designer best known for her feminine and whimsical designs. She also is known for doing a cartwheel at the end of her fashion shows. She took many dance classes as a child and adolescent which inspired her love of costumes. After high school, Johnson spent a year at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, before graduating from Syracuse University in 1964, where she was a member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority.

During 1964, she was guest editor on the summer college issue of Mademoiselle and was hired by the magazine for one year after graduation. During that period she made and sold clothing designs in her spare time and later became a freelance designer, retailing through a New York boutique called Paraphernalia.

In 1967 she married Velvet Underground's John Cale. They divorced later in the year. She had a daughter, Lulu, in 1975 who now works with her.

She is a survivor of breast cancer and is a breast cancer awareness advocate. She has also had numerous facial plastic surgeries.

She resides in New York but spends time in a house she owns in Mexico, which she dubbed "Villa Betsey". Betsey also converted an old, small hotel in Mexico into a house which she rents out to interested people; this is called "Betseyville", and can accommodate 8–10 people.

Johnson's fashion career started when she entered and won the Mademoiselle Guest Editor Contest. Within a year she was the in-house designer for the Manhattan boutique Paraphernalia. Johnson became part of both the youthquake fashion movement and Andy Warhol's underground scene, along with The Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgwick and Lou Reed.

In the 60's, Johnson gained a reputation as a radical young designer, producing chalk-striped 'gangster' trouser suits, a clear vinyl dress sold with paste-your-own star motifs, a 'noise' dress made of jersey with loose grommets attached to the hem, silvery motorcycle suits, clinging T-shirt dresses and a wrapped cowhide mini dress which was worn with thigh high leather boots.

In 1969, she opened a New York boutique called "Betsey, Bunkey and Nini' In the 70's, Johnson turned to Disco wear and showed extravagant body-conscious clothes, many made up of stretch jersey. Edie Sedgwick was her house model and Johnson designed the clothing Sedgwick wore on her last film, Ciao! Manhattan.

In the 1970s, Johnson took control of the fashion label "Alley Cat" which was popular with the rock 'n roll musicians of the day. In 1978, Johnson started her own fashion line and then opened up her first retail store in Soho. Today, there are over forty-five of her stores worldwide.

In 1991, she launched a new division called "Luxe," which drew from her background in dance. The more expensive line was designed to complement the skirts and leggings that had been her trademark. In 1992 she launched her sweetly sexy swimwear collection of push-up bras, bikinis with petticoats, and skirts in black lace, gingham, madras, and velvet, all priced affordably from $35 to $75. She also unleashed a line of clunky funky women's shoes. And her 1993 line of menswear looked tailor-made for all modernday Robin Hoods: velvet capes and tunics, hooded monk robes, forest and mead-hued caftans, and paisley leggings. That year also brought her own fragrance, a light floral scent of lilies and mimosas. Forever evolving, Johnson introduced a new "Ultra" collection featuring better fabrics and more elaborate styling and priced up to $500 in 1996.

In 1999 the Council of Fashion Designers of America, presented Betsey with their Timeless Talent Award, as a recognition of her ability to change with the times and her continued success in the fashion world for over 3 decades.

A dress with a 10-inch extended collar, worn by Julie Christie, the film star, made her name when it sold in the thousands. Betsey says : "fashion is all about having fun and mine are clothes to have fun in". Going into the 21st century, she is still making fun clothes.

For her Spring 2001 collection, Betsey recruited 29 Playboy bunnies to model her line of bikinis and bustiers. It was a real smash.

As of 2001, almost 40 Betsey Johnson stores were open worldwide, with further expansion planned. Her label is available in several upper-end department stores and specialty stores, together with Johnson's designer-price brand, Ultra. Throughout the 1990s, Betsey Johnson, Inc. continued to broaden its offerings, developing a line of accessories, jewelry, footwear, children's clothing, bath and beauty products, and fragrance.

Betsey has been married three times and has a daughter Lulu. She gives no attention to age and says she feels as if she is 22. On her 60th birthday in 2002, she did a back-flip at the party by her pool.

In the year 2000/2002, the city of New York decided to honour American fashion designers by placing bronze plaques along the pavement of 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York. This has been called the "FASHION WALK OF FAME." Betsey Johnson was one of those honoured with a plaque this year. Then in 2003, she expanded her line for 2004 to include handbags, accessories, hats, and scarves.

The Look

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.

Who Wears It

Rockers Now and Rockers Then: Madonna, Courtney Love, Cher, Lil’ Kim, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Sarah McLachlan, Minnie Driver, Paris Hilton, Salma Hayek, Heather Graham, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Christie, Brigitte Bardot, model Twiggy, Jackie Kennedy,


2006 Betsey Johnson (W)
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