I’m fairly excited about this show because I have coveted many Betsey Johnson pieces over the years–plus she seems like just a great lady who could can toss a cartwheel like the best of them. Betsey’s also a local gal who stumbled upon the thick of the fashion industry in the most awesome of decades (the 1970s) and guided my most misguided wardrobe choices throughout the 1980s. Her daughter, LuLu, has been working for her mother’s fashion empire for years. By the 1990s, Betsey Johnson had sixty-five stores worldwide, and business was booming. Until the economy bottomed out in the 2000s, ending in bankruptcy in April, 2012.
Betsey and LuLu live in the same apartment building, on the same floor. It’s a little too close for LuLu’s comfort as she tries to start her new fashion line out of her living room. Meanwhile, Steve Madden bought out the Betsey Johnson brand, with Betsey acting as the creative director to relaunch and expand the brand.
It’s the first kickoff meeting at Madden, so Betsey arrives in head-to-toe sparkles, right down to the gold shoes. Betsey starts the meeting by giving Steve Madden a neck massage, as all meetings should begin. Then, she meets the rest of the team, including Zina who seems to have her act together, and everyone else’s act as well. I get the impression that under Zina’s leadership, we’re about to witness a brand rise from the dead. Zina starts the relaunch with a series of appearances to show the world that the brand is still here, and sets the tone for the entire brand. And, there’s a launch party at the end of the week. But Betsey still hasn’t figured out if she is able to work for anyone else, after a lifetime of working for herself.
After the meeting, Betsey meets her former design assistant, Brandon, for drinks. She explains that Madden wants her to have a big presence, but she’s concerned about not being the person who calls all the shots. But Brandon explains that having a billion-dollar company bankroll your creative vision kind of sounds like a good thing. She then tries to recruit Brandon for another round of crazy, and he explains that he’s on hiatus at the moment, which is a polite way to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We then hear my new catchphrase, “Hail hiatus.”
LuLu’s line is in early stages, so Betsey takes that as an invitation to pop in and comment. All the time. They fight over needlepoint, but it’s more about Betsey’s needling. Somehow, Betsey ends up underneath an Eero Saarinen table and it’s covered in LuLu’s kids’ crayon drawings, which is sort of a great parenting tip: if you can’t stop your kids from coloring on top of the vintage furniture, let them color underneath it, where nobody will ever see it.
LuLu and Betsey go to couples therapy (Betsey in a shimmery fuchsia poufy skirt and a lifetime of bangle bracelets) to talk about individuation–which sounds like a made up word but is not. LuLu needs some separation, and Betsey likes the togetherness. What Betsey does not like, however, is therapy. Later, Betsey is off to dinner. “I’m a car service girl. You can get so much done in a car! You can sketch, you can call, you can drink champagne.” She’s drawing bunnies for her animal bags, and a multicolored straw pom-pom hat for girls to wear in Saint Tropez. She then decides that a five dollar bill would make a great scarf. And it would. I would wear the heck out of that scarf. The car drops her off at an Italian restaurant where she eats dinner by herself and flirts with the waiters.
LuLu and her partner, Allison, go shopping for her new line in one of those entirely overpriced vintage shops where everything is clean and organized. The salesgirl tells LuLu that, “We’re a big fan of your mother….” which must get annoying real fast. (Also, we’re reminded that XOX, Betsey Johnson was originally announced as Betsey + LuLu.) Back at her apartment, LuLu explains that a licensing agent will set up designers with manufacturers. In preparation for finding one, LuLu, Allison, and their assistant, Ashley, go over all of their design ideas to organize it into a presentation. They’re going for a high-end 1970s theme, and the three girls are pretty much pulling vintage clothes off of a rack and…I guess they’re having the assistant, Ashley, sketch knock-offs of them? I can’t quite figure out how this is fashion design, but maybe they will put some new spin on old looks.
Betsey tries to find her way to Penn Station so that she can take a train to New Jersey to find a trainer she met on the beach ages ago. Everybody knows Betsey, which makes her trip to Penn Station a very long affair. People chant, “Bet-sey! Bet-sey! Bet-sey!” and she responds with, “You GUYS! You GUYS! You GUYS!” She finally makes it to Nowheresville, New Jersey, but not much exercise happens because she has her water bottle with a mimosa.
While getting ready for her launch party in a gold lame vintage Betsey Johnson ruffled dress, Betsey wobbles around with what seems to be her umpteenth glass of champagne. Her new crew from Madden, and her old crew from the Betsey Johnson stores are at the party, and reporters jot down very important notes. The new crew buys her a whip, which makes Betsey happy because it means that they get her concept. There’s a lot of drinking, and spinning, and posing, and I kind of want to work for Betsey Johnson.
Next week, Betsey gets a retrospective fashion show together–including a trip to Japan–and Betsey questions Allison’s value to LuLu’s company.
Linda Sue Strong is the founder of entertainment blog TerribleTelevision.com and an occasional attorney. Her life has not yet been turned into a reality television show. Follow her at @themisslinda.