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Fashionista: A Tribute To Designer Icon Betsey Johnson

Betsey Johnson is my fashion superhero. Anyone who can do a cartwheel on a runway after every collection for fifty years is an automatic icon in my book Her feminine and whimsical approach to fashion has made her a legend in the industry. Johnson was part of the 1960’s youthquake movement, inspired by Carnaby Street and the British Invasion. She reveled in the underground scene with Andy Warhol and used Edie Sedgwick as her house model at Betsey Bunky Nini, her first boutique.

In the 1970’s, Johnson took control of the fashion label Alley Cat, which was popular with musicians of the day. Her first collection for Alley Cat hit $5 million in volume, and in 1972 she won the prestigious Coty Award. Johnson started her own fashion line in 1978, with innovative designs using simple fabrics, but with an edge. Her styles were aff ordable and made high fashion accessible. While her first collection was a success, her second one bombed, leaving her with 3,000 pieces of unsold spring clothing. In response, Johnson opened a retail store in New York City’s SoHo called Betsey Johnson. Today, there are over forty-five Betsey Johnson stores worldwide and five in the Bay Area. She was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame in 2002, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion in 2009. Her style formula is “take a leotard and add a skirt.

Through the years I have collected some of Johnson’s designs and recently came across an ensemble I bought and wore in the early 1990’s. The top and skirt are Lycra knit with sheer black organza. The top has an off - the-shoulder neckline and the skirt is worn over a leotard, leggings or as a layering piece. It still looks current twenty years later.

This year’s third annual Benicia Fashion Weekend, sponsored by Benicia Main Street, will be held October 7-9. Three days of fashion, beauty and shopping make the event a perfect girlfriends’ weekend. Friday night, October 7, is a Fashion Night Out, which focuses on shopping, trunk shows, guest designers and an assortment of stylish events, hosted in stores and restaurants throughout downtown.

Saturday night, October 8, will feature a multimedia production runway show, silent fashion auction and cocktail reception. Five downtown businesses, Be Chic Boutique, Christina S Fashion Destination, Miguelena, Piccolo and Studio 41, will show the best of fall 2011 from designers and brands seen in any major fashion district in the world.

This year’s show, “Legends to the Future,” will be expanded to include a tribute to Betsey Johnson, with some of her recent New York Fashion Week collection, and celebrity runway personalities. Lluviana “Lluvy” Gomez, from season four of America’s Next Top Model, will be modeling on the runway, and available to chat about her modeling career.

Richard Hallmarq is known as a fashion-forward icon within the industry. He has shown collections at San Francisco Fashion Week, and his styles have even been donned by some America’s Next Top Model contestants. Hallmarq made a name for himself with his first show in San Francisco nearly six years ago. He is the chief designer for Prince, (as in “the artist formerly known as”) and his band and backup singers.

At press time, I await confirmation from Project Runway and The Fashion Show stars, who may also attend the runway show. Sunday, October 9, is another fun day of “finding the finds,” so come back downtown for more shopping and fun activities. Benicia continues to be a destination for women who love to find the extraordinary as the legends and future of fashion are showcased this October. Fellow fashionistas, see you there!

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