Fashion Designer Betsey Johnson Reinvents Herself (Again)

Betsey Johnson, the legendary designer with the one-of-a-kind look and eccentric charm, is on the way back from her company’s bankruptcy and documenting her rocky road from highs to lows (and hopefully highs again) in a new reality show entitled XOX Betsey Johnson on the Style Network.

Growing up (according to her bio) she spent a lot of time in dance classes and it was that experience which fostered her love of costumes. Since entering the fashion industry in the mid-1960s, her clothes and accessories have always been about neon colors,  silver miniskirts, petticoats and over-the-top fabulousness. And that served her well for many years as her empire grew, expanding to include perfumes, shoes, handbags and sunglasses.

According to the New York Times, in the mid-2000s Betsey Johnson’s label had over $150 million in annual sales and employed 400 people in over 60 stores. And in a tale of what sounds like overestimating the public’s desire to buy all things Betsey Johnson, she sold a majority stake in her company to a private equity firm in 2007 and began expanding by introducing new stores in new markets. For those of you who may have forgotten, 2007 was the beginning of America’s financial crisis so, as in most things in life, timing is everything and timing sure wasn’t on Betsey Johnson’s side at that point. People who don’t have jobs don’t buy designer clothes so Betsey Johnson’s line started to run into trouble, big time.

Sales in Betsey Johnson’s stores started to decrease with the faltering economy and her company defaulted on a huge loan in 2010. At that point, fellow fashion designer Steve Madden and his company assumed all of her debt and bought ownership of the Betsey Johnson line and intellectual property. Even with that, sales continued to decline and in April of 2012, Johnson shopped the company around, finding no takers and was forced to file bankruptcy and close all 63 of her stores, let all of her employees go and liquidate all of her inventory.

But in the best tradition of Americans who take it on the chin and then come back and fight on, Betsey Johnson is back. Her eponymous label has been reintroduced by Steve Madden to sell dresses at a lower price point (typically in the $100 to $200 range) in such fine stores as Macy’s and Nordstrom and on her own website. And to make sure you know she’s still here and still fighting away, she and her daughter, Lulu Johnson, are starring in the reality show mentioned above.

The show focuses on Betsey Johnson dealing with the aftermath of the bankruptcy and trying to move forward, as well as her daughter’s attempt to start her own clothing line. (She and her daughter are in couples counseling, which seems both hilarious and incredibly emotionally healthy all at the same time). No matter whether you like her clothes or not, you can’t help but be inspired by her endless enthusiasm and ability to re-set her business plan and start all over again.