Betsey Johnson

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Betsey Johnson
Betsey Johnson, Red Dress Collection 2007.jpg
Johnson at the 2007 Red Dress Collection show for The Heart Truth campaign
Born (1942-08-10) August 10, 1942 (age 80)[1]
OccupationFashion designer
Spouse(s)John Cale (1968–1969)
Jeffrey Oliviere (1981–1984)
Brian Reynolds (1997-present)
A yellow Betsey Johnson dress, 2006
Betsey Johnson jewelry, 2011

Betsey Johnson (born August 10, 1942) is an American fashion designer best known for her feminine and whimsical designs. Many of her designs are considered "over the top" and embellished. She also is known for doing a cartwheel ending in a split at the end of her fashion shows.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the second of three children born to Lena and John Johnson. She has an elder sister, Sally, and a younger brother, Robert. Johnson grew up in Terryville, Connecticut,[3] and took many dance classes, which inspired her love of costumes.[4]

Following her graduation from high school, Johnson studied at the Pratt Institute and then later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University,[5] where she was a member of the Alpha Xi Delta women's sorority.[6] After graduation, she spent a summer as an intern at Mademoiselle magazine, where she was mentored by Edie Locke.[2][7][8][9]


Johnson's fashion career started after she entered and won the Mademoiselle Guest Editor Contest. Within a year, she was the in-house designer for 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, Nico, and Lou Reed. In 1969, she opened a boutique called Betsey Bunky Nini on New York City's Upper East Side. Edie Sedgwick was her house model and Johnson designed the clothing Sedgwick wore on her last film, Ciao! Manhattan.[citation needed]

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 her first year, her debut collection for Alley Cat reportedly sold $5 million in volume.[10] In September 1971 she received the Coty Fashion Critics' Award (a 'Winnie').

In 1978, Johnson started her own fashion line.[11] Her second collection did not sell well, leaving her with 3,000 pieces of spring clothing and insufficient funds to stage a 1981 fashion show to sell them and Johnson opened a retail store in the SoHo area of New York City.[5] She designed the dress that Lisa Loeb wore in the music video for her 1994 hit "Stay (I Missed You)".

In 2002, Johnson was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame. Her bronze plaque held one of her original sketches. In 2003, she expanded her line for 2004 to include handbags, accessories, hats, and scarves.[3]

In 2008, Johnson was a contributor to Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna's book Cherry Bomb.[12][13]

The National Arts Club awarded Johnson the 2009 Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion.[14] She once described her style as a formula: "Take a leotard and add a skirt."[2] As of 2011, she has more than 65 stores worldwide.[citation needed]

In September 2010, her Spring/Summer 2011 Ready-to-Wear fashion show generated a lot of buzz before it started because models were rumored to come down the runway riding bicycles.[15] However, the original concept proved too dangerous during the rehearsals,[16] so Betsey asked model Kim Matulova to ride a skateboard while wearing open-toed platform heels instead. She ended up falling to the ground and losing one of her shoes, and she had to get off and shoulder her skateboard all the way back up the catwalk.[17]

On April 26, 2012, Betsey Johnson, LLC filed voluntarily for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[18]

On September 12, 2012, she celebrated 40 years of her brand with a retrospective fashion show with Cyndi Lauper performing.[19]

As of May 2013, Johnson and her daughter Lulu Johnson have a reality TV show that airs on the Style Network.[20]

On September 4, 2014, it was announced that Johnson would be one of the celebrities competing on the 19th season of Dancing with the Stars.[21] The couple was eliminated in week 4, finishing in tenth place.[22]

In 2018, Johnson appeared on Sugar Rush as a guest judge (Episode: "Frosted Fashion").[23]

In 2022, Johnson appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars as a guest judge (Episode: "Legendary Legend Looks").[24]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson is a long-term breast cancer survivor.[25]


  1. ^ "Betsey Johnson".
  2. ^ a b c Anne-Marie Schiro (May 18, 1999). "Betsey Johnson - Honor for a Life of Celebrating Youth". The New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Betsey Johnson". Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  4. ^ "Betsey Johnson Still Loves Cheerleaders and the Prom". New York Magazine, February 14, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Michele Ingrassia (August 20, 1981). "Her reputation for bizarre pays off". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved March 9, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Summer 2006 Quill – Distinguished Designer" (PDF). Alpha Xi Delta. 2006. Retrieved September 19, 2007.[dead link]
  7. ^ Green, Penelope (September 22, 2020). "Edith Raymond Locke, Mademoiselle Editor in the 1970s, Dies at 99". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  8. ^ Hagerty, James R. (October 2, 2020). "Edie Locke, Refugee From Nazis, Edited Mademoiselle Magazine". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  9. ^ "Edith Raymond Locke obituary". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  10. ^ Marian Christy (September 15, 1971). "Betsey Johnson Hits the Top With Funny Off-Beat Designs". Reading Eagle. Retrieved March 9, 2010.
  11. ^ Phoebe Hoban (June 7, 1998). "For Betsey Johnson, the Voice of Maturity Is Her Daughter's". New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2010.
  12. ^ "Cherry Bomb: Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna's Ultimate How-To for Budding Rock Chicks". Archived from the original on December 1, 2008. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  13. ^ "WHO SAYS COOLNESS CAN'T BE TAUGHT? – Skope Entertainment Inc". Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  14. ^ Ramirez, Elva (October 14, 2009). "Betsey Johnson Receives Award, Pledges Allegiance to Fashion "Through Hell and High Water"". The Wall Street Journal.
  15. ^ "Bicycle-Riding at Betsey Johnson". Marie Claire. September 13, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  16. ^ "Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011". Melissa Kruse. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  17. ^ "Fug Girls: Skateboards, Sailor Outfits, and Secrets From One Tree Hill at Betsey Johnson". The Cut. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  18. ^ "Betsey Johnson Declares Bankruptcy". Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  19. ^ Mariana Leung. "Betsey Johnson and Cyndi Lauper – NY Fashion Week". Ms. Fabulous. Retrieved September 13, 2012.
  20. ^ Sheila McClear. "Betsey Johnson and Lulu Johnson do serious stylin' for new reality show 'XOX Betsey'". NYDaily News. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  21. ^ Elizabeth Wagmeister (September 4, 2014). "'Dancing With The Stars' Season 19 Cast — 'DWTS' Celebrities Announced". Hollywood Life. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  22. ^ Reiher, Andrea (October 6, 2014). "'Dancing With the Stars' Season 19 week 4 scores and elimination results – Zap2It". Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  23. ^ Frosted Fashion, retrieved June 28, 2019
  24. ^ Spencer, Samuel (June 24, 2022). "'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' Season 7, Episode 7 Recap: Project Run-gay". Newsweek. Retrieved June 25, 2022.
  25. ^ " - Betsey Johnson fashions fight against breast cancer". March 13, 2002. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

External links[edit]