Betsey & Steve: Fashion Week’s odd couple
Crain’s New York, February 06, 2011

As Betsey Johnson gears up for New York Fashion Week, she’s not losing her trademark spunk and flair for extravagance. Despite the designer’s financial baggage—her company was bailed out by new owner Steven Madden Ltd.—she’s still typical Betsey, sending out costly, hologram-embedded invitations for her Valentine’s Day runway show, while other designers opted for cheap electronic invites.

Late last year, dealing with debt and declining sales, Ms. Johnson turned to Mr. Madden as her white knight. While the core Betsey apparel label should stay intact—Ms. Johnson remains as designer—Mr. Madden is expected to expand the company (which reportedly rakes in $150 million in annual revenue) into accessories. Even before the acquisition, Steven Madden already held the licenses for small handbags under the Betsey Johnson trademarks.

“If they give her the freedom to keep designing, if she’s in good spirits and keeps the wacky personality that drives the brand intact, that’s terrific,” said Susan Scafidi, director of Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute. “It would have been a mistake for Steve Madden to try to take over the entire company and push the designer out as we’ve seen in so many tragic takeovers.”

“Steve Madden has expanded to places where he’s cheek by jowl with higher-end merchandise, so he looks like a bargain,” said Ms. Scafidi. “He’s ridden the [shoe] wave very well, which is part of why he wants to take Betsey [further] into footwear.”