Alana Parpal models one of Betsey Johnson's creations, a raspberry-toned lacy party dress ($298) at the new Ala Moana Center store.

It’s about time,

For Betsey Johnson’s Hawaii fans,
the opening of her Ala Moana store
is the answer to a prayer

For about 22 years, no trip to the mainland -- from Seattle to Washington, D.C. -- was complete for me without a search for the city's Betsey Johnson store, a monument to girlie chic.

That's about how long I've been waiting for the designer to set up shop in Honolulu, and it's finally happened, at Ala Moana Center. The boutique opened without much fanfare on Sept. 15, but Betsey enthusiasts could be counted on to put out the word.

"It was crazy," said manager Marilee Mattson, who also fell in love with Betsey 22 years ago when she discovered a few pieces carried at Chocolates for Breakfast. "When women walked by or saw other women carrying the pink bags in the mall, they would pull out their cell phones and call all their friends, saying, 'Omigod, Betsey Johnson is open!' I've opened a lot of stores before, and I've never seen a reaction to a retail store opening such as this."

That might be because Johnson is a '60s wild child who never grew up, and those who wear the line identify with the designer's bold, playful and relentlessly upbeat attitude as reflected in her creations -- as well as her somersaults down New York runways.

The result is that Betsey wearers become part of a vast fan club of strong-willed women who are also young or young at heart, and few of us can part with her clothing, which seems to carry her mana. I know I can't, saving everything from a faux fur-trimmed baby-doll jacket to a tank dress bearing the image of a tattooed dragon, to a romantic, floral tea party dress.

Mattson said she bought one of her Betsey dresses in Tokyo 17 years ago, and she still wears it.

"She pays so much attention to quality, and that attests to that," Mattson said. "She's really ahead of her time. Her styles are timeless, and when you put on a Betsey Johnson, you feel different, sexy and ready to take on the world.

"I want to be Betsey when I grow up. I mean, look at her -- she's 62 years old and she's amazing!"

Betsey Johnson's ruffled dress ($255) is pretty in pink.

Johnson got her start during the youth quake of the '60s, when she was immersed in New York's Warhol scene, marrying John Cale of the Velvet Underground and using Edie Sedgwick as a fit model. She started designing for the boutique Paraphernalia before teaming with other designers to open Betsey Bunky Nini, then moving on in 1978 to create a label in her own name. She's been known for her sexy, form-fitting and detail-oriented garments ever since.

She has the ability to combine the innocence of ribbons and bows with a touch of devilishness, often through jarring uses of color that display the work of a woman intent on breaking rules of time and season. You might find '50s-style cocktail dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts in hot pink, or a vivid purple camisole trimmed in chartreuse lace.

For grown-up Betsey fans there are little Chanel-style cardigans, at $168, and matching skirts, at $118. And new for fall is a collection of soft, body-hugging matte jersey dresses in plum, black and leopard prints, plus denim wear. Arriving this week will be a collection of intimate apparel.

Prices at the boutique range from about $44 to $400, with dresses running about $245 and tops selling for about $115. There are platform shoes for about $206 to $236, and whimsical purses such as a corset bag of mesh-wrapped satin with little pink and green bows, and a rose petal bag for $260. But forget about waiting for sales. Mattson says the company has a policy of carrying only one of each size for every design, "and when it's gone, it's gone."

Especially in a small place like Honolulu, the policy reduces the risk of seeing another woman in your outfit. "We want you to feel special in your Betsey Johnson," said Mattson, who adds that women shouldn't despair if someone beats them to a garment. She knows the feeling, because employees must wait two weeks before buying an item to give customers the first crack at the newest collections, which arrive monthly. A look book also is available for those who want to place dibs on items before they arrive.

"We all know to the exact minute when items come in," she said, and even if they don't get what they want, "that's OK because there's still a lot of great stuff for us."

Betsey Johnson is on the mall level of Ala Moana Center toward the Macy's end. Call 949-3500.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.



E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com