BETSEY JOHNSON’S NEW DIRECTION

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — While her namesake label has become synonymous with girly, print dresses, Betsey Johnson also wants her company to be known for tweed jackets, leather coats and denim sportswear.
To that end, Johnson has expanded and separated its sportswear division, with an eye toward becoming a broader lifestyle brand that can outfit women at work, as well as on their evening dates.
“It’s a more grown-up experience to work with leather and tweed,” said Johnson, who still sprouts red, bouncy hair and wore an electric blue sweater, gold skirt and spiked, silver glitter shoes during an interview this week. “It’s more daytime, wearable wear. These are clothes even my sister and sister-in-law would wear.”
In addition, responding to market reports earlier this year that her $50 million, 23-year-old firm was up for sale, Johnson said she made a decision not to sell her company.
“We looked into it and had people checking out the company, but we didn’t find the right partner,” she said.
The brand now has four divisions: dresses, girls, eveningwear and sportswear.
Johnson, who last season featured Playboy bunnies on the runway and has always been fashion’s wild child, noted that, while she has long been interested in doing other categories, her company has been strict about not entering any licensing deals.
“I don’t want to just give my name away,” she said.
The expanded sportswear line includes plenty of knits, including angora and cashmere styles, some of which have fake-fur collars, as well as updated suits in wool blends, fitted denim jackets and trouser pants.
While the line is more sophisticated in fabrics and styling, almost every piece has a quirky touch, such as a sweater with a Lurex tie, leather pants with heart-shaped studs on the back pockets and a flared tweed dress with a small bow on the strap. Wholesale prices range from about $70 for pants to $160 for outerwear.
The division marks the company’s first real entrance into leather and tweed, said Kim Hingley, executive vice president of sales and distribution. Hingley declined to break out sales projections for the line, but said the company views sportswear as a major growth opportunity, since it will target different buyers and offer new opportunities in boutiques and specialty stores, and in different areas of department stores.

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