Madcap Betsey makes acrobatic debut

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The Independent Online
SPORTSWEAR MAY have been America's key contribution to fashion in the past 30 years, but there has been one designer who has consistently bucked all trends and done her own thing.

That designer is 56-year-old Betsey Johnson, and yesterday she brought her madcap, OTT, colourful and very girlie style to her debut London Fashion Week show, with a collection that Madonna circa 1984 would have loved.

Supermodel Esther "the lips" Canadas camped it up along the catwalk in a flirty bra covered in rosebuds, a mini-tutu with layers and layers of colourful tulle, and matching pedal pushers.

Chanel muse Erin O'Conner was barely recognisable beneath a long black wig and porcelain doll make-up as she stalked the runway in a skin-tight red dress covered with prints of the Black Widow spider. Understated it was not. Think Come Dancing meets South American naughty party girl on the beach and the idea comes across perfectly.

Johnson's "Cholita" collection for spring/summer 1999 reflected her joie de vivre, which if it hadn't come across in the exuberant clothes, was most apparent at the end of the show when she burst from behind the scenes to deliver an athletically executed cartwheel. It has been said in New York that if Betsey didn't perform her seasonal acrobatics it would be like the Statue of Liberty disappearing overnight.

Johnson was the darling of downtown New York and swinging London in the 1960s and 1970s with her first label, Paraphernalia, and then her own New York boutique, Betsey, Bunky, Nini. Late 1998 sees her energy unabated. Her American business is thriving - there are now 21 Betsey Johnson boutiques across the US.

The designer with her trademark bright red hair, glam-rock boots, fuchsia pink tutu, and lightning tattoo above her cleavage, is thinking about moving to London full-time, having opened her first shop in the capital in June. In London, "I can feel happy about the way I look," she says.