YEEZY & Playboi Carti Muse Betsy Johnson Is Making PRODUCTS, Not Clothes

You might not know Betsy Johnson’s name but if you’ve been plugged in to a specific fashion niche, you’ve certainly seen her work. To name a few recognizable instances: she walked Balenciaga’s Summer 2022 red carpet, oversaw a memorably weird YEEZY GAP campaign, and snapped a mirror selfie that was immediately immortalized as a Playboi Carti album cover.

This is the kind of resume that’d make anyone a best-kept fashion secret but to Kanye “Ye” West and Carti’s rabid fanbases, Betsy Johnson has become a veritable influencer.

Desperate for insight on their reclusive idols, they track the British creative director’s every move (literally), sharing screengrabs of Instagram Stories and updates on every little goings-on.

As such, YEEZY fans were first to catch wind of the enigmatic PRODUCTS By Betsy Johnson line. Can’t say they don’t get results.

Intrigued by the proposition of a Betsy Johnson clothing brand, I reached out for context.

PRODUCTS was teased in a manner typical of Johnson’s oeuvre, with iPhone snapshot teasers lensed so casually as to appear incidental. PRODUCTS’, er, products were all presented bluntly, facile-free and rich in intrigue.

Even the brand name is unassuming. It’s barely a brand name, even! But that’s also the point: it’s a reminder that you’re paying up for material goods, not some frou-frou storytelling dreamed up by overpaid Madison Avenue marketers.

Johnson herself isn’t keen to get terribly specific about PRODUCTS’ output just yet, though she makes no bones about her intent.

“PRODUCTS aims to challenge how we communicate products and slow down pathological consumption,” Johnson told Highsnobiety.

“At the start of 2022, I had spent many years unpacking and observing the complexities of having a ‘brand’ and how launching a new project into the market was irresponsible,” she added.

“The best way to introduce new ways of doing things is with the support of existing infrastructures that exist in the market [and] need infiltrating, hence why each PRODUCTS is POWERED BY an existing company. “

The debut PRODUCTS By Betsy Johnson collection, appropriately titled PRODUCTS 01, is soon available exclusively on PRODUCTS’ website, encompasses shin-swallowing boots tipped in a stiletto heel, a sleeveless cape wrapped around the torso of musician Yves Tumor, and bonnets. Lots of bonnets.

“PRODUCTS is a segment of my world to collaborate with existing companies,” explained Johnson. PRODUCTS will “use their expertise and infrastructure to create products and an editorial universe around them with storytelling and vehicular change.”

Shot in Johnson’s hometown of Grimsby, PRODUCTS’ debut campaign imagery presents stone-faced models wearing YEEZY SEASON-like shrunken T-shirts, floor-scraping sweatpants, and a very Princess Diana dress and muff set.

Though PRODUCTS By Betsy Johnson obviously only bears Johnson’s name, it’s not a solo effort. Every yearly PRODUCTS drop will be a series of collaborations.

Italian footwear label GIABORGHINI and Berlin-based creative agency and atelier UY STUDIO — that’s a lot of all-caps — helped with Johnson’s initial launch. That she elected to partner with these two brands is partially a matter of timing and partially a matter of shared interests.

“Within the space of two weeks, both UY STUDIO and GIABORGHINI reached out to me to collaborate on separate projects,” Johnson explained. “UY and GIABORGHINI made sense to bring together on this unique new approach to collaborative projects.” 

UR and GIABORGHINI share with Johnson a hunger for distinct, personal creation. They also gel naturally, not least because Johnson specializes in a particularly creative form of collaboration.

She’s worked with Balenciaga Creative Director Demna from a consultancy perspective, for instance, a connection forged while she worked with Ye on his first DONDA album. In the ensuing years, Johnson’ particular brand of earnest provocation has helped shape both the luxury label and troubled rapper‘s visual language.

Johnson’s own work is driven by a fairly novel perspective: she simply treats clothes as clothes. I mean, that’s what they all are, regardless of whether there’s a Balenciaga or adidas tag stitched inside.

Thus, she’ll style secondhand sportswear with a four-figure bag or wear scuffed ballet flats with football shorts because there’s beauty in juxtaposition, in creating unusual stylistic bedfellows.

On one hand. nothing new ever came from following the rules but, on the other, irony is cheap; Johnson’s clothing experiments are as sincere as they are rousing.

Johnson’s impetus is an organic interest in the stuff that “normal” fashionistas would likely shun. She’s got good intent — Johnson is fixated on a desire to cut down on waste and distance herself from typical fashion calendars — but people fear what they don’t understand.

Uncharitable detractors could offhandedly deride Johnson’s work as anti-fashion. Thing is, there isn’t anything “anti” about it: PRODUCTS is just fashion.

Sure, it’s not fashion as you know it but who wants to do that kind of fashion, anyways?

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