Never trust Betsey Johnson with a rule. She's likely to break it. What else would you expect from an acclaimed fashion designer who made a name for herself, not by walking the line, but by cartwheeling it?
For anyone familiar with Johnson, you already know that the grand finale to her fashion shows doesn't stop when the last look saunters down the runway. While some designers merely peek out from backstage at the end of a show, and others might meet their audience halfway before disappearing again, Johnson turns cartwheels the length of the runway to celebrate her labor of love. Subtlety and the American designer don't mesh.
If ever that fact was crystal clear it's today. The designer has graced her store at Fashion Show mall with her loud presence and the spectacle has all the makings of a dream from which you awake feeling confused, titillated and craving cupcakes.
A live mannequin in the display window wears a barely there bikini and grooves to DJ-spun beats. A batch of models in petticoat dresses and frilly aprons hold trays of cupcakes weighed down with generous frosting. And, Johnson strikes energetic poses in a make-do studio set for a local magazine photographer in front of the store. All the while, more than 100 fans hold camera phones in the air, hoping to get a shot of "that crazy fashion designer" as one woman told her fanny pack-sporting husband.
Johnson just made the kind of entrance to give her fashion show exits a good run for their money. She doesn't do it just because she can, either. This is a woman who loves her fans as much as her job. In an industry that's perfected the snub, Johnson is a rarity in more ways than one.
"You can't be snooty and haughty taughty when you have to get work done," she says.
When your name decorates not just a clothing line, but shoes, jewelry, intimates -- even luggage -- the work never ends. In fact when Johnson first forays into her store on this Saturday afternoon, she marvels for a minute over that live mannequin and wonders aloud, "Is that our swimsuit? Oh, who knows I worked on it so long ago."
The workhorse mentality comes through in the details, but her work mostly boasts her rebellious nature. Fashion designers tend to study the same playbooks each season. They listen to trend forecasters and design collections around whatever they deem the next big thing. (The motorcycle trend didn't inspire almost every designer this fall by coincidence.) Johnson, on the other hand, follows her own rules.
You can't usually pinpoint any given Betsey Johnson garment as a quintessential reflection of one season from one year. But, you can identify them as 100 percent Betsey Johnson.
Her style favors nostalgia. She has a penchant for petticoats and crinoline skirts. Polka dots and gingham never overstay their welcome. Likewise, neon animal prints and ruffle tiered miniskirts were, like, totally cool at Betsey Johnson long before the trend forecasters predicted a comeback for the '80s.
In her late 60s now, Johnson has decades of industry experience under her belt. The last thing she needs to do now is conform. While her free-spirited whimsy has a herd of fans pressing their foreheads to the glass at her Fashion Show store to catch a glimpse of the designer today, she didn't always enjoy such a comfortable fit in the fashion field.
"When I first started I was just a little bratty kid in the middle of all these older fashion women," she says. "I wish I knew then what I know now."