By  on June 9, 2005

NEW YORK — After 40 years in the fashion business, the irrepressible designer Betsey Johnson knows the secret to a lengthy career — keeping your name out there.

Johnson, in recent years, has initiated an aggressive campaign to open retail stores, negotiate new licensing deals and expand global distribution. In just two years, Betsey Johnson has signed eight licensees, and new retail stores are popping out at a rate of three to five a year.

"When you think your name is so well-known and there's so little product available, it makes sense to have many more products," said Johnson at her showroom at 498 Seventh Avenue here.

Dressed in a skirt from her 1978 collection and a rock 'n' roll T-shirt, Johnson was, and continues to be, the walking version of her collection. "We're finally not thought of as kooky crazy,'' she said. "I mean, no one in business for more than 25 years is that kooky crazy."

Johnson attributed her current surge to timing. "I don't think that companies thought we could get to the customer they wanted," she said. "They thought, 'You're a little too far out.'"

The designer recently signed licensing deals with Carole Hochman Designs for intimates; B. Robinson Optical for eyewear; Daniel M. Friedman & Associates for handbags and belts; Geneva Watch Co. for watches; Cejon Accessories for cold-weather accessories, and Titan Industries for footwear.

Chantal Bacon, Johnson's business partner of 27 years, said they were "moments away from signing with a major jewelry company and a company that produces sheets and towels." They're also "in talks," she said, with companies to launch fragrance, swimwear, outerwear, eveningwear, bridal and cosmetics. Bacon said the company would generate $55 million to $60 million in retail sales this year, excluding the licensed categories. Including the licensed categories, the retail volume this year is anticipated to reach $120 million.

"The identity is really so strong now that it's really possible to look at something and say, 'That's Betsey, that's not Betsey.' That comes from having a strong point of view — without that, you can't spread to all these categories," Bacon said.

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