Betsey Johnson (born August 10, 1942, Wethersfield, Connecticut) 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 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 studied at the Pratt Institute and then later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University where she was a member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. After graduation, she spent a summer as a intern at Mademoiselle magazine.
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 1969, she opened a boutique called Betsey Bunky Nini on New York’s Upper East Side. 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 her first year, her first collection for Alley Cat reportedly did $5 million in volume. In 1972 she won the Coty Award.
In 1978, Johnson started her own fashion line. While her first collection was a success, her second one bombed, leaving her with 3,000 pieces of spring clothing and insufficient funds to stage a fashion show to attempt to sell them. In response, Johnson opened a retail store in SoHo. Today, she has more than 45 stores worldwide. 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.
In 2008, Johnson was a contributors to Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna’s book Cherry Bomb.
The National Arts Club awarded Johnson the 2009 Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion. She once described her style as a formula: “Take a leotard and add a skirt.”