NYFW: BETSEY JOHNSON S/S 2016

Betsey Johnson S/S2016
Betsey Johnson S/S 2016

One of the challenges of following fashion year after year is seeing the people who become icons get older and less able to participate in their brand. I was severely worried about Betsey Johnson when she didn’t show back in February. While that was not the first time she’s skipped a fashion week, her absence from the runways was felt strong and become a frequent topic of conversation. So, when this season’s schedule came out and Betsey’s name was there I was quite excited for what she might present.

What we saw this afternoon defies any simple explanation. The four images at the top of this page don’t even come close to representing everything that Betsey sent down the runway. Granted, a Betsey Johnson show is always quite eclectic and often defies easy explanation. This one was even more so, though, as the 73-year-old designer celebrates her 50th anniversary as a designer with a review of looks from all five decades. This made the show much larger than normal and tremendously more diverse as she didn’t just bring back looks but re-imagined them in new ways. As a result, we were treated to 42 looks that were as wild and crazy and fun as Betsey has ever been.

Being Betsey, there were a few elements that have become standards for her. Bustiers and corsets were present in almost every decade, for example. So were petticoats and crinoline and patent leather. Bright, rainbow colors, that consistent pop of cherry red, and the most outrageous accessories possible filled the runway as Betsey’s own backstage narration took us from decade to decade, night club to night club, and pop star to pop star. Betsey has been to them all, outfitted the most outrageous, and thrown some of the biggest parties.

Keeping everything consistent was over-the-brow rainbows on a plethora of faces and hairstyles consistent with each decade. For a presentation, these touches were wonderful and fun. We don’t actually expect anyone to emulate them outside the runway, though. Some things are just part of the show and that’s it.

Diversity has always been a strong suit for Ms. Johnson, who was including black and Asian models when no one else dared, and has even included transgendered models on more than one occasion (no word as to whether there were any in today’s show). With all the various looks, I’ll admit that I lost count, but nearly half her models were not Caucasian. For that, and for her history of inclusiveness, we’ll give Ms. Johnson an eight of ten on our diversity scale.

At the end of the show, the models returned, all wearing black tutus and carrying giant mylar balloons in the shape of either a 5 or a 0. Yes, after a lot of hugging and greeting, Betsey did her trademark cartwheel at the end of the runway, then rolled over in a faux collapse. Her daughter helped her up (a first) and the two took their final bow together at the top of the catwalk.

There’s a rumor, which I’ve yet to confirm or repudiate, that this is Betsey’s last show. After all, she’s been doing this a very long time and even if she hands over the reigns to her daughter it’s not likely to be the same. The mere thought of that makes my old heart sad. If this is her last show, though, she couldn’t not have created a more exciting note on which to exit. We wish her well and hope to the heavens that those rumors are very wrong.

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