Betsey Johnson Talks Expansion Plans And Plays Mad Libs With Us!

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Betsey jazzing up the outside of her Grant Avenue shop. Photo: Klassy Goldberg

This weekend the one and only Betsey Johnson stopped through San Francisco to celebrate the opening of her new-and-improved shop at 33 Grant Avenue. To celebrate the event, she threw a glitter-, live music-, and booze-fueled bash at the bi-level space. Naturally for this Energizer Bunny-like designer, a fresh knee splint didn't slow her down from greeting her many S.F. fans and embellishing the façade of her shop with spray-paint and girly doodles. In between it all, we caught up with Johnson to talk about her new boutique and future plans (Television! An under-$150 line!), and we also challenged the former S.F. resident to a quick-fire round of Bay Area-themed Mad Libs! Check it all out below.

What was your inspiration for this new store?
Betsey Johnson: “We had to move, basically, and Denise, my retail queen, checked out lots of locations. I think the street we were on turned ultra-ultra couture-couture and we also wanted to try a bigger store, since it’s our first West Coast flagship store. It’s twice the size of our other store, and this way we can house everything and really go full-tilt with the swimwear and lingerie. There’s even an elevator that takes you upstairs and there’s a balcony!”



Is there going to be anything else exclusive to the new 33 Grant Avenue store?


“It’s going to have the new Black Label line and my regular T-shirt-y, rock-'n'-roll stuff. And along with our regular collections, it’s also going to carry designer pieces that you usually only see on the runway.”



What are the shop-in-shops in the store all about?

“There’s the jewelry shop, shoe shop, bag shop, and lingerie shop. It will be broken down so it isn’t so confusing. The confusion has been fun, but after a while, you can’t see anything. We’re giving it a try. I just hope that I can signaturize and paint and airbrush the front of the store with my leg cast on!”

How does your San Francisco clientele differ from other cities?

“I don’t think they do. If I have a store in Bangkok or Hong Kong, I don’t think they’d be any different. With the whole global everything, nobody’s very different because they’re all tuned-in. I just know that I have a really devoted and strong chunk of San Francisco people that like my work.”

How would you describe San Francisco style?

“I lived in San Francisco in 1969, and I remember being asked to leave from a department store because I reeked of patchouli and I was going in the perfume area and they said, ‘Could you just leave because you smell too much.’ But I loved living there for the concerts in the parks, the rock ‘n' roll, and the whole hippie timezone that I was in there.”

How do you think San Francisco style has evolved since the ‘60s?

“I think San Francisco is up there on the level of L.A. and New York and London and Paris. It’s one of the best places to live and to visit. I’ve always loved the vintage stores, just hanging out and walking around. It’s much more relaxed than L.A and New York, yet it’s still very hip and cool and happening, and fashion-y and very sophisticated. While I’m here, I want to go and visit the Haight and the funky parts. I hope it still has the edge—the funk. And I hope to do some vintage shopping.”

What big projects do you have coming up?

“We have Pink Label, which is a lower-priced collection of weekend, day, and go-to work clothes. It’s all $150 and under, which I’m excited about. Then there’s the Pink Patch collection, which is more like my rock-'n'-roll tight lycra stuff, my more cartoon-y items that Nicki Minaj wears. Oh, there’s always so much work! It’s work now mixed with traveling, and press things like I just did on Project Runway. And I have another big thing coming up on national television, but I can’t talk about it. I’m very happy, I like the big mix of working and traveling, a little vacation thrown in.”



You have a very whimsical sense of style. Are there any trends that you wouldn’t try?

“I don’t know the trends at the moment. I’ve been there and done that for so long. Color-blocking doesn’t quite excite me as a trend since it’s been around for so long. I’m like Andy Warhol, where I think it will last 10 minutes and then it’s over. I think it’s better to do what I love and go from there.”

Do you have any fashion regrets?

“Nope! I have no regrets! I love my work. I love my life. We had the merger with Steve Madden and it was really good. And I’m more of a powerful company now and able to grow and do much more. I really can’t wait to have stores all over the place. And maybe my daughter will jump back into the company and be a part of it again. She was with me for 10 years, and then she went to hubby-land and baby-land, and now it’s very exciting because she wants to come back. She was the best thing about my fashion show, to see her on the runway looking so great. She has been the ultimate muse for me. That was the best part of the show for me, to see her up there, I was so proud.”

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Betsey takes Klassy Goldberg's S.F.-themed Mad Libs challenge!