On Thursday evening, at Betsey Johnson’s 30th anniversary party for her eponymous label, almost everything was hot pink and yellow: the clothes, the glitter, the hair, the flowers, and, oh yes, the cupcakes.
Running around her Soho store were lots of mini-Betseys: twentysomething young women in red lipstick, various shades of intense hair color, dangerously high shoes, and colorful party dresses in patterns of skulls, purple prison stripes, and hearts.
Ms. Johnson and and the co-founder of her label, Chantal Bacon, planted kisses on guests as they entered, and let out an excited scream every time one of their models, assistants, or clients walked through the door.
“I have these wrinkles now and these lines!” said Ms. Johnson, who is 65. She was wearing a tight dress of her own design and a fanny pack belt, and her signature wild hair was ironed into flat crisps. “My granddaughter is always pinching and pulling my chicken skin off like this,” she added, pinching the skin on our forearm to demonstrate.
“I am so happy because I’m bringing back my vintage this year and starting all over with the knitwear and the cotton Lycra—my dream fabric!” she added. But right then, she let out another party scream.
“That dress! That’s my vintage! We want that at the office tomorrow!” she yelped, pointing at a young women who was dressed in one of her earlier designs, a plaid pink dress with a cut-out black bossom. “I need that dress!”
While Ms. Johnson’s designs may have been inspired by downtown, where she lived for 40 years—she moved to East 12th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1964, but has recently moved uptown to be closer to her grandchildren—she describes her daughter Lulu as an uptown girl.
“My daughter was born downtown, grew up downtown. The poor child was forced down the runway in ridiculous outfits!” Ms. Johnson told the Daily Transom. “But she is a total uptown girl! I mean she wears the Dolce and the Luca Luca and she’s married to a wonderful young lawyer.”
Ms. Bacon chimed in, “Lulu grew up downtown so she didn’t want to live here, and New York is so big that that you don’t have to leave, you just move to another neighborhood and it’s like being in a new country,” she said. “Betsey is, like, on vacation up there.”
“I love it, it’s the new downtown!” Ms. Johnson declared.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Ms. Bacon.
“No, no, it is!” Ms. Johnson insisted. “It’s the Carlyle and the shopping is all new! I used to be intimidated to shop there. Now I walk by store windows and they all wave, from inside Chanel!” Here Ms. Johnson leapt up into the air to demonstrate.
“I never think of Betsey as a downtown brand anymore. That’s so ’80s and ’90s," said Ms. Bacon. "Downtown is no longer downtown.”
"The way Soho is right now, I don’t even want to walk there on a Saturday night,” said Ms. Johnson.
“It’s all Europeans and tourists,” sighed Ms. Bacon.
“And it is very bad,” said Ms. Johnson.
Where might the new downtown exist, if not downtown?
“I don’t think it exists anymore!" said Ms. Johnson. “Maybe we need to open a store in Harlem or something?”
“I hear the new downtown may be in Brooklyn,” said Ms. Bacon.
“I don’t know where these places are anymore,” said Ms. Johnson. “I guess I just like the same old shit, that’s my problem.”