Bye Bye Betsey Johnson

July 4, 2012 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Designer Betsey Johnson who has wowed the fashion crowd since the 1960s is now going out of business, and her store at the St. Johns town center is just one of the many having a current liquidation sale. Edge City owner Gunnel Humphreys, who is said to have brought the designer to Jacksonville by carrying her creations first, dished to on her love of Betsey, her belief for the designer's demise, and what she predicts she will do next.

American designer Betsey Johnson has graced the fashion industry with her delightfully unconventional clothing, runway shows and overall presence for decades, but the over-the-top creator's debt has forced her to go out of business.

Betsey Johnson at the St Johns Town Center

The St. Johns Town Center is just one of Betsey Johnson's 67 US stores that is closing down and selling all of the elaborate dresses inside for half the price they once were.  But were the designer's extravagant wears the cause of her demise in the first place?  Edge City owner Gunnel Humphreys seems to think so.

"I think she just lost herself in all those big, poofy dresses," she said.

Some of the dresses on sale at the St. Johns Town Center store

Dresses by Betsey Johnson

Humphreys, who has co-operated the Riverside boutique since 1976, said she carried Betsey Johnson before anyone in Jacksonville, essentially bringing the designer to the city and educating interested shoppers on her one-of-a-kind designs.  The eccentric, pink-haired boutique owner said she picks out clothes to feature in her store that "make your heart beat faster," which is exactly what Betsey Johnson's apparel once did to her.

Edge City

Gunnel Humphreys

Inside one of the first Jacksonville stores to carry Betsey Johnson

She said it was evident when Johnson loved something, because it would pour out into her creations.  Working with fabric, Humphreys said, was her strong point.  Cotton and rose-printed lycra, peplums and other playful, form-fitting silhouettes are some of her recalled favorites.

Cotton Lycra dress by Betsey Johnson

Peplum dress by Betsey Johnson

When Johnson first became widely recognized, her whimsical designs were her trademark.  Her strong sense of identity set the tone for others who were trying to break through in the unapologetically cut-throat fashion-industry.

Part of Betsey Johnson's 2011 Ready to Wear collection

But recently, the funky-yet-sexy little numbers took a backseat as more extravagant dresses started to take the lead in her featured runway looks.  This change, according to Humphreys, was the cause of Betsey Johnson's ever-so-fabulous ship to start sinking.

“It might be the dream of a lifetime,” Humphreys said on owning one of Johnson’s decorative dresses.  “But after that, what do you do with it?”

Until some recently closed, Betsey Johnson stores all over the US featured these dresses, but according to Humphreys, areas such as Jacksonville held few opportunities where such a get-up could be worn.

Katy Perry wearing Betsey Johnson at the 2011 People's Choice Awards

"They're OK for big cities," Humphreys said, "but people here don't have that kind of income to spend."  Even if they did, the Edge City owner said the dresses would do best in cities that often have extravagant parties, or where there is competition with couture designers.

However, the more posh, party-friendly dresses may not have been the sole cause of the designer's downfall.  In fact, Johnson has been sitting on debt for years.  In 2010, Steve Madden bought Betsey Johnson in order to clear up her debt in exchange for property and commercial rights.  Even so, Betsey Johnson had quietly fallen too far to be picked up.

Still, Humphreys admires the designer's ability to not go down without a fight.  If she was going to lose in the fashion industry, she would be swinging her fists until the end.

Betsey Johnson wearing one of her own designs

"She's always stayed true to herself," she said.  Even though she became Betsey Johnson with a little extra fabric on her dresses, she has never changed the quirkiness that set her apart in the first place.  According to Humphreys, "she's never sold out."

Johnson doing her signature cartwheel at the end of her runway show

Humphreys also noted how difficult it is for anyone to continue as a designer and constantly be forced to create new things for what she referred to as "a never-ending rat race."  Humphreys said Johnson must have just "lost herself along the line of trying to reinvent herself."

Whatever the reason behind the designer's end, what she contributed to the fashion industry can never be duplicated, and in some cases, will still live on.  She will remain the creative director of Betsey Johnson and her less-expensive line Betseyville will still be sold in department stores.

Humphreys with Betsey Johnson at one of her showrooms

Though Humphreys agreed Johnson going bankrupt is sad news, she does not think the world has seen the last of her.

"We'll see her again on a different level," she said.  "I think she'll continue designing."

Want to score some of the designer's originals before it's too late?  Visit the Betsey Johnson store in the St. Johns Town Center for the final sale!

article by Melanie Pagan