Betsey Johnson leads a conga line of models after
her swim show.
ó First things first.
the music plays, before the first cocktail is served,
before the models gingerly step onto the rooftop,
designer Betsey Johnson is in an underground hotel space
prepping for the evening show at which her swim
collection will be unveiled.
prepping, we mean planting a beauty mark on the face of
each model, just east or west of the smile. The moment
comes with a warning label: "The most important
thing is I want you to have fun! You really canít get
it wrong. You want a glass of champagne?" she asks
the models as she morphs from impromptu makeup artist
into bartender. "This swim collection is all about
Spring/Summer 2014 swim line, meant to bottle Johnsonís
legendary quirk and endless energy, is a party
collection of bows and peplums, of mesh and ruffles,
built around retro, nautical and glam rock themes.
before the show, Johnson held court in The Betsyís
down-under speakeasy, whose low-slung space ó exuding
an air the exact opposite of the touristy vibe outside
ó was serving as a styling salon for the Saturday
night show. The sofas are now overflowing with Johnsonís
trademark baubles, wigs and a rainbow of high-heeled
stilettos and platforms. Oh, and there is a stash of
licorice sticks and rosebuds that will become props too.
is where Johnson seems most at home, on triple duty,
engaging the questions of reporters, sipping champagne
and vamping by way of the models walking by and her
suggesting another layer of whimsy. "Try the
thigh-highs. Roll them up even first, then roll them
down kinda messy with that suit," she implores
before taking on the task herself. "Wait! Where is
my personal collection of pinafores?" she says,
grabbing a white one and tucking under a belt across the
bottom of one of the models. Now the one-piece has a
ruffled back, suited for the beach or the streets ó at
least in Betseyís world, where the goal is to capture
the imperfect nature of fun.
you like my dress?" she asks, never really pausing
for an answer. "Itís really not a dress. Itís a
skirt! I just pulled it up and put on a belt."
loves the black skirt/dress. Skress? Loves the white
skull prints, the simple yellow flip-flops and the blond
extensions askew. The flip-flops even make the cut for
her appearance at the show later that night, along with
a fistful of necklaces.
who turns 71 Aug. 10, started the label in 1978,
building a brand that always winked at youthful
rebellion, the octane of punk and rock-n-roll and the
frill of femininity. By 2004, the label broadened as a
lifestyle brand including handbags and luggage,
footwear, bridal, kids, jewelry, eyewear and fragrances.
Today, her collection can be found in more than 2,000
specialty boutiques along with wholesale ventures.
personality ó she is known for doing a cartwheel
and/or a split at the end of her runway shows ó has
also inspired a reality show, "XOX Betsey
Johnson," on the Style Network. Of course, she has
been approached before but didnít want the intrusion
of 24/7 cameras. Johnson finally relented, deciding to
try it with her co-star and daughter, Lulu Johnson, who
also has an eponymous label. The show debuted in May.
know, I didnít think I would ever get used to the
cameraís being around all the time, but after a while,
in some weird way, you forget they are there," she
says. "We were pretty open about my bankruptcy and
my daughterís divorce. I think fans enjoyed seeing
another side of me."
eight-episode arc, which follows a tumultuous period for
Johnson ó from her filing for bankruptcy last year and
closing her 63 retail stores to building her
mother-daughter-relationship to Steve Madden taking over
her company, where she is now creative director. The
show was thick with Johnsonís energy but also
chronicles her drive to reinvent herself at an age when
others are retiring.
comeback includes a new dress line (same DNA, lower
price tag) available at brand-name department stores.
She says she is now ready to take on other projects,
too, including, eventually writing a book.
back to Johnsonís reason for being in Miami. This was
her first time at Mercedes-Benz Swim Week.
than doing a runway show, Johnson unveiled the line at a
launch party on the Betsy Hotel rooftop ó hyped as
meet Betsey at the Betsy ó an event celebrating her
new partnership with swimwear manufacturer Malibu Design
standout: a black one-piece called Betsey Meets Friend,
featuring an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe that she
describes as "kind of Lichtensteiny."
wanted this to be a little bit of pretty girl and a
little bit of rock-n-roll," she says. "It is
all about feeling sexy and comfortable. It is all about
the fit and having lots and lots of fun."
the show, Johnson was strolling down Collins Avenue in
Miami and ran smack into a group of her fans.
they were, telling me how happy they were to see me and
how much a part of their lives I have been. These were
women in their 40s," she says, flinging her arms
into the air as a sort of exclamation point. "They
still remembered wearing my stuff when they were
teenagers and into being an adult, and now too. They
still remembered how much fun they had in that Betsey
Johnson dress they wore for the prom. They still
remembered the little girl in them. I wish them
happiness forever and ever."