Betsey Johnson’s signature happy kissy faces, tutus, lips, hearts, roses and cartoon script have always appealed to girls and toddlers. Now the designer is courting the youngest of all consumers — babies.
The new collection bowed last week in about 900 Babies ‘R’ Us stores across the country. Prices range from $24.99 to $39.99.
“The babies line has both sides of me,” Johnson said. “The pretty girly, tomboy and the rock ‘n’ roll-ish punk.”
The collection features tiny punk rock faux leather vests; letterman jackets; faux fur accents; leopard prints; kissy-lip tutus; rose gold skirts; hearts; bows, and plush puffer vests.
Laura Bennison, vice president and divisional merchandising manager of apparel at Babies ‘R’ Us, said she received a “cold call from Betsey who introduced us to the brand. Once we viewed the line we were pleasantly surprised. We think of Betsey as a true iconic trendsetter. You can translate the trends in a fun, colorful way for babies.”
Pieces come in matching sets to help “coordinate flawless looks without hassle or fuss,” Bennison said. “The bright colors, fun graphics and playful touches make the collection sweet but expressive, encouraging individuality and personality early on.”
If there were ever a designer who represents individuality, it would be Betsey Johnson. With her trademark yellow hair, often worn in high ponytails; her striped tops, which make her look like a French mime, and her signature runway show finale, cartwheeling down the stage and finishing with a split, Johnson is an original.
Reached in Malibu, Calif., where she’s closing on a little house in Paradise Cove, which she calls a “glorified trailer park,” Johnson is enjoying life on the West Coast. “I was very connected to New York City since 1964,” she said. “I realized, I can keep up with all my creative ventures on the phone. I mostly bob around and do appearance stuff. I’m extremely happy.”
“Now I’m on to infants,” she said. “It’s some crazy dream, I had. I established my look with big girls, then did seven and up. Kids love it and parents are buying it.”
While her own grandchildren are too old for the new collection, Johnson said Ella and Layla Margulies, eight and 10 years old respectively, each embody an aspect of the designer. “Ella is really a girly-girl and loves roses,” she said. “Layla is a real tomboy, who just wears jeans.”
Kids in general like the spirit of the brand, she said. “The rainbows and flowers. It wasn’t meant to grow up.”
And you think, neither was Johnson.
“She came in with a very consistent brand point of view to her Betsey Johnson brand and it was tailored to our fashion customer and trend customer,” Bennison said. “It focuses on the better range of our assortment. We think it will appeal to the Millennial mom and younger customers.”
Bennison said Babies ‘R’ Us works with celebrity brands and celebrity-endorsed ones, some of which are developed in-house. “We work with outside agents in collaboration with celebrities, where they guide the line,” she said, citing as an example a collection by Jessica Simpson bowing this fall.
“We’re looking for incremental and differentiated opportunities,” Bennison said of the Betsey Johnson babies line. “Product extensions are a possibility. I can easily see expanding into diaper bags.
“Betsey is working on marketing,” she added. “We just had a [Betsey Johnson] fashion show and social media launches. A lot of buzz will be coming soon. The team internally is excited to see the product live this week online.”
“I would love to get into color cosmetics,” Johnson said. “That kind of volume could be such a solid business. I’d love to do cosmetics for kids. I really prefer the kids’ market. I like big girls, but my look works [better] the younger they are. I’ve never outgrown that.”
It should come as no surprise that Johnson “lives in a little doll house. I feel like I’m five years old. Paradise Cove with all the little tiny houses.”
Johnson, who recently celebrated her 74th birthday, said she has “a great boyfriend. I’m busy. It’s great to make a big change like moving across the country when you’re still alive.”