Highsnobiety

You might not know Betsy Johnson's name but if you've been plugged in any buzzy fashion niche, you've certainly seen her work. A few recognizable instances: she walked Balenciaga's Summer 2022 red carpet, oversaw a memorably weird YEEZY GAP campaign, and snapped a mirror selfie 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 Johnson's every move (literally), sharing screengrabs of Instagram Stories and updates on every little goings-on.

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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 clothing brand masterminded by the in-demand British creative director, I reached out to her for context.

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PRODUCTS was initially teased in an obscure manner typical of Johnson's oeuvre: iPhone snapshot teasers lensed so casually as to appear incidental. PRODUCTS', er, products were all presented bluntly, facile-free, and terribly rich in intrigue.

Even the brand name is unassuming. It's barely a brand name, even!

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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 Madison Avenue marketers.

Johnson herself isn't keen to get terribly specific about PRODUCTS' output this early in its lifespan, 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.

"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," she added.

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

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Shot in Johnson's hometown of Grimsby, PRODUCTS' debut campaign imagery presents stone-faced models wearing shrunken T-shirts à la YEEZY SEASON 10, floor-scraping sweatpants, and a very Princess Diana dress and muff set.

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"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."

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Indeed: 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.

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Italian footwear label GIABORGHINI and Berlin-based creative agency and atelier UY STUDIO — that's a lot of all-caps — helped with Johnson's PRODUCTS 01.

That she elected to partner with these otherwise unrelated companies is partially a matter of timing and partially a matter of shared interests.

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"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, personalized design but, even if they were utter opposites, Johnson's seamless approach to collaboration would ensure likeminded results.

That is, she lets the creatives be creative and then filters the ensuing output through her own distinct lens. Hands off, then hands-on. No irony, just sincerity.

This is how Johnson has remained a close consultant for Balenciaga creative director Demna, 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 languages.

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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 YEEZY tag stitched inside.

Thus, in her editorial work, she'll style discarded sportswear with a four-figure bag or scuffed ballet flats with football shorts because there's beauty in juxtaposition, in unusual stylistic bedfellows.

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Nothing new ever came from following the rules but, also, irony is cheap; Johnson's clothing experiments are as purposeful as they are rousing. If there's any shock value there, it's by design.

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Johnson's creative impetus is, in part, an organic interest in the stuff that conventional 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 that doesn't mean an easy ride for PRODUCTS. People fear what they don't understand, after all.

Uncharitable detractors sometimes deride Johnson's work as anti-fashion. Thing is, there isn't anything "anti" about it. Sure, it's not fashion as you know it but who wants to do that kind of fashion, anyways?

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