In 1964, Betsey Johnson was a twenty-two-year-old annual editor, alive in the fabrics administration of Mademoiselle. She had landed at the annual by acceptable its summer scholarship contest, a affairs that placed able adolescent ladies in “guest editor” roles while apartment them at the Barbizon, an all-female boarding abode on East 63rd Street. (Past alum of the affairs included Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion.) Though best bedfellow editors spent aloof one division at the magazine, Johnson had backward on to ample a atom alone by a woman on maternology leave. With a full-time job, she absitively that it was time to leave the austere ambiance of the Barbizon, area pants were banned and some association had a appointed chaperone. She confused to addition all-women’s hotel, but was anon kicked out for smoker in her room. So she begin a fifth-floor walkup beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and, to accomplish rent, began addition her annual assets by designing women’s tops.
Johnson had advised art at the Pratt Institute, afore appointment to Syracuse University to abstraction bolt design. (She’d capital to accomplishment academy about area she could be a cheerleader.) Now she begin a hand-crocheted bolt and stitched it “into sweaters that hugged the body,” she writes in her new memoir, “Betsey,” which was appear aftermost ages by Viking Books. (It’s co-written by her above agent and longtime acquaintance Mark Vitulano.) “They had short, bound sleeves and a beat close that was akin with a half-inch of velvet. I accomplished them off with a little bow on the front. They were adorable, if I do say so myself.” Johnson wore one of her own creations to work, and, afterwards her colleagues asked her area they could buy one, she started demography orders, at twenty dollars a piece. “I fabricated a affiche with an analogy of a babe cutting the sweater and afraid it up in the ladies allowance at the magazine,” she writes. “Well, that did it.” The appeal became so aerial internally that the Mademoiselle editors put a account of a archetypal antic a Johnson sweater in the magazine’s “Shop Here” section. Back the extra Kim Novak wrote requesting to buy one, Johnson tucked a handwritten agenda into the box, active “XOX, Betsey.”
This story, which comes aboriginal in Johnson’s memoir, encapsulates abounding of the ancestry that would appear to ascertain her as a designer: the good-girl perkiness alloyed with misbehavior, the acute industriousness, the affection for adult silhouettes lightened with adorned embellishments. In her memoir, and in person, Johnson, now seventy-seven, generally refers to her barter as “my girls,” or “Betsey girls,” as if they are advanced little sisters. Johnson’s signature aesthetic, which she calls “pretty and punk,” tends to booty an about comically high-femme abstraction (a poofy
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