COURTESY PHOTOWild designer Betsey Johnson

Fashion's Betsey Johnson discovers fountain of youth

Fun, flirty and flouncy – Betsey Johnson dresses are immediately recognizable. After 50 years in the fashion industry, the offbeat designer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My brand has a real look that may not be classic but is certainly timeless. I do the things that I love and would wear. Fortunately, my girls happen to like the same things,” says Johnson, who appears at an event Saturday at Macy’s Union Square hosted by celebrity blogger Micah Jesse. “It’s a meet-and-greet public appearance for my wonderful fans,” she says. “I’ll be talking fashion, girl and boy talk and partying.”

An integral figure in the Youthquake fashion movement and Andy Warhol's Factory scene — Johnson designed celebutante Edie Sedgwick’s costumes for the 1972 cult classic “Ciao! Manhattan” — she helmed three brands and won a prestigious Coty Award before turning 30.

Inspired by the burgeoning punk movement, she launched the Betsey Johnson brand in 1978.

“Those times were so new and different with culture and fashion,” she recalls. “There was so much more individuality and really exciting creative times. Everything is so instant now with the digital world and it’s such a different fashion scene.”

In subsequent years, Johnson would open 65 stores worldwide, expand her line into a lifestyle brand, be inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame and awarded the Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion.

But with the ups came downs, such as three failed marriages, breast cancer, bankruptcy and store closings.

“I don't think about the negatives,” she says. “I keep blinders on and full speed ahead always.”

The quirky designer bravely shared the struggles of rebuilding her brand, along with family therapy sessions with daughter Lulu on the 2013 reality show “XOX Betsey Johnson.”

“It really showed my fans the work and home life side of me. It brought Lulu and I closer together. It was a real trip going through that time in our lives on camera,” she says.

Today, Johnson's products are sold in more than 2,000 stores, including Macy's.

The 72-year-young designer, who used to cartwheel down the catwalk after fashion shows, recently competed on “Dancing With the Stars.” She continues to be inspired by, she says, “movies, art, people, [her] granddaughters…life.”

Her zest for living imbues her new work. She says, “The Betsey Johnson girl is pretty and punk, with a little twist of funk. She's a real happy camper. She's changed over the years, because she keeps getting younger and younger. I've discovered the fountain of youth…my brand.”


Betsey Johnson

Where: Macy’s, Union Square, 170 O’Farrell St., S.F.

When: 2 p.m. Feb. 28

Tickets: Special access to first 50 people who make $50 purchase.


artsBetsey JohnsondesignerMicah JesseOther Arts

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