In all of fashion, there is no one quite like Betsey Johnson. Yes, London has Vivienne Westwood, but Ms. Westwood’s emphasis has always been on costuming for the stage, which provides her a unique perspective on clothing. Betsey Johnson isn’t about the drama of the stage; it’s about the spectacle of life. When it comes to sheer spectacle, no one does it better than BJ.
Last season, Ms. Johnson sent her models down the runway to do an energetic workout. The fact said models were wearing pink and green lycra body suits was almost secondary. This season, however, the 73-year-old designer warned that, “It’s all about the clothes, which is very rare for me.” I’ll have to admit to being a little concerned that we might see a presentation that was too serious, a collection that had finally grown up and stopped being fun.
Then, the lights went down, the first model steps onto the runway, and it’s Karlie Kloss wearing one big, cotton candy pink wig blown out to Phyllis Diller proportions. The audience literally screamed with delight. The fact that Karlie was wearing a surprisingly modest 1850s house dress dress done in a tiny pink and blue floral pattern was barely noticed. Then came a body suit, a jumper, a layered flapper-style dress, a calf-length belted t-shirt dress, and a crop top and shorts ensemble all done in the same pattern. These were followed by an equally bright pink prom dress loaded with tulle.
From that point, about the only thing that changed was the color of the clothing, accessories, with a few other adjustments here and there. You’ll be glad to know the same styles are available in white, leopard print, and black/silver. This isn’t a large collection, but the number of people who came to pay attention to the clothes was few so no one was complaining.
Then, as the runway portion came to a close, the show really got exciting. Betsey has long had a tradition of finishing off her shows by walking down the runway and doing a cartwheel ending in the splits. When she arrived at the top of the catwalk with her two granddaughters in two, I wondered whether she would physically be able to keep up the tradition. Not only did the designer do her cartwheel and splits, she let us know the tradition will not die as her eldest granddaughter did them as well! As Betsey leaned over to hug the girl, there was a unified “awwww” from the the audience.
Oh, but wait, the show’s not done! What? The models then came back on the runway wearing white cropped baby doll t’s and colored boys’ briefs. The t-shirts all said, “BJ One A Day.” The back of the briefs were each labeled for a day of the week, with an eighth pair declaring “OOPS!” The models danced down the runway to “New York, New York,” while waving American flags. It was September 11. The crowd roared its approval.
Each season I wonder just how long Ms. Johnson can keep the show going. She has taken a brake before and New York Fashion Week just isn’t the same without her. Her high energy brand of fun is always a welcome relief at the end of a very long and often trying week. What would fashion do without Betsey Johnson? I hope we never have to find out.