Fashion

Chatting Up Betsey Johnson

Even by the most conservative measure, Fashion Week is eight days long. New York’s official event, sponsored by Olympus, made its home in Bryant Park this morning, and its 80-odd designers will show their wares for the spring season through next Friday night. But there are even more fashion shows presented elsewhere in town and any number of parties, product launches, media events, and who-knows-what-else drawn into the orbit of the thing in the days before and after. The week is a fortnight, and in my imagination it begins when some junior Vogue girl cozies into her seat on a Labor Day Hampton Jitney and ends when the last of her bosses has safely made it onto the Continent for the shows in London, Milan, and Paris.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

My personal fashion week—the maiden voyage of a naif whose knowledge of the industry derives almost entirely from CNN’s much-missed Style With Elsa Klensch and Robert Altman’s widely mocked Prêt-à-Porter—began on Wednesday evening with a trip to Christie’s. Martha Nelson, the editor of People, was playing hostess at a party for photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose new book is called Look: Portraits Backstage at Olympus Fashion Week. Its cover features designer Betsey Johnson, who, despite being of a certain age, chose to adorn herself in a baby-doll dress, a mess of bracelets, and a smear of clown-red lipstick.

In the flesh, there at the party, 8 feet in front of her portrait, Betsey wasn’t half so subtle. Accessorized with enough gaudy bling for a flock of Bronx homegirls, she further wore a tight leopard-print skirt and, bralessly, a T-shirt with text that included the word babycakes, that being the theme of the collection she’s about to show. Betsey told me she’d been putting together spring collections for about 40 years—”from 1965 to … what year is it now?”

Advertisement

“You come up with a theme almost 100 years before you show the collection,” she said. Really? When did she start with the theme for this one? “Oh, about six months ago.” That is, since she finished with the fall collection that’s in stores now. What’s this “babycakes” business? “I’m very into little girls’ clothes … maybe it’s because I have a granddaughter now.” I wonder if you can call protective services on a grandma; Betsey said that the “progression” of the collection—the theme within the theme—goes “little girl to Lolita to sexpot to siren.” I told her I’d see her Tuesday.

Hanging with Betsey was Joe, shaggily handsome, an “actor” “in from California.” He knows Betsey through Amanda Lepore, the renowned transsexual party fiend, and he knows Amanda “from out and about.” Asked what the most important thing to know about Fashion Week was, Joe said, with a fantastically louche drawl, “Have fuuun, baby!”

Advertisement