Shoes bearing the Betsey Johnson name, like many other designer labels, are produced in Italy and this month the BJ team is off to Milan to attend Micam, the renowned biannual international footwear trade show based there, to scout for new manufacturing partners and designs. The sojourn will also take the team on tours and to meetings in mills throughout the country that help to produce particular pieces for different Betsey Johnson collections and designs. One indispensable member of this travelling troupe will be Daisy Bradshaw, the fearless 'right hand' of Betsey Johnson, and the company's accounts payables manager, who has seen the iconic cart-wheeler through everything from breast cancer and Chapter 11 to runaway zippers and graveyard shifts. But first, Bradshaw decided to make a quick stop on The Rock -- her hometown -- before continuing to the Italian commercial centre. In between much-needed rest, relaxation and catch up with family, SO sat down with Bradshaw to chat about, among other things, Betsey Johnson's comeback and their involvement in the just-concluded the Jamaica Observer Takes Style Out.
The 19-year-old St Mary girl who migrated to the soft-focus glamour of 1970s New York City, as a student who originally entertained dreams of becoming an attorney, wasted little time, shifting gears to study accounting, with which she felt a strong connection. But, as it turned out, she wasn't quite done with the legal profession. Bradshaw snagged a job at a law firm that represented sports greats such as Joe Namath and Walt Frazier. Of that time, Bradshaw recalls herself as a wild fashion plate who rocked the decade-obligatory, lush cotton candy Afro, second-skin tops and floor-grazing bell-bottoms. Her concerted pursuit of tertiary education left the young Bradshaw to become a deft juggler of her two New Yorks: the buttoned-up corporate culture and the disco ball-dominated nightlife. With the era's seductive hedonism and heavy recreational drug use, Bradshaw, who was forced to watch friends become cautionary tales or collateral damage of a decade that many claim to recollect but really cannot, credits a wholesome background and family life with keeping her centred. "I never did drugs. I had friends who got caught up in it; some could barely carry their own weight, they could not physically stand for long periods. I knew where I was coming from, I knew the table I came from. I came from a table where we said grace every day. One of the things my parents said to me was, 'We can't watch you; we have to trust you and you have to trust yourself.' It's a responsibility she has never shirked, even to this day, and it is this commitment to her value system and its accompanying responsibilities that has kept her such a pillar of strength for Betsey Johnson -- the woman and the house.
Despite the fallout from a period dominated by the Watergate scandal, there was no way SO could feign indifference to the subject of the fabled nightlife of the day. Bradshaw happily obliged. "Oh yeah, I used to get free tickets, on tap, as I worked for a law firm that represented celebrities and sports stars. Oh yes. There was also this club called the Régine's (Régine 'Queen of the Night' Zylberberg's famous nightspot located in the historic Delmonico Hotel) that was really exclusive and I always got in. There was also Barney Googles and the Paradise Garage. Guys like Ray Williams, from the Knicks used to spin at Paradise Garage and Spencer Haywood spun at Barney Googles. Then there was Nell's, where we had a standing table - there were about nine of us in our crew and every Sunday night, without fail, we could be found at 'our' table holding court." Bradshaw's favourite memory from the scene: the members of the door staff, such as the hosts and the bouncers, would liberally let in couples and single women first, at intervals. So in order for eligible bachelors -- who in this system were at the bottom of the totem pole -- to stand a chance at entry, they would have to pair themselves with the fabulous single girls who ruled the roost. The spunky Daisy Bradshaw could be counted among this demographic. "They would have to agree to buy us cocktails, only then would we agree to take them in with us. That was my big thing at Studio 54. The guys had to wait till the end of the assembly line of couples and cliques of girls, to be even considered." She quickly became one of the period's go-to It girls.
Bradshaw shared with us her secret for surviving this fast-lane double life. "We would party every Tuesday night and head straight to work and consume ice-cold water all day long to keep alert. We used to paint the town red. When I see young girls these days struggling with that balance, I say, 'Stop it. I've been there.' I tell them go home, get a shower and come back to work refreshed. They are falling off their feet and I'm saying, in my day, I'd go dancing and drinking, too, and be at work performing at the best of standards."
Even in the gritty metropolis, little Jamaica still found avenues to invade Daisy's adopted home. "I saw the first concert Bob Marley ever had in New York. During those turbulent times, Marley gave us the strength to go on. Not just Jamaicans, but the entire international community. He was the big icon of our day. That first concert at Madison Square Garden was intoxicating -- not just with the insidious smog of marijuana -- but with the music and the healing message of that original reggae."
After leaving the legal sector, Bradshaw's next career stop was working at the United Nations where she became involved in the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa. She stayed on to the very end, seeing the institutional racial segregation in that African nation breathe its last breath during abolitionist negotiations between 1990 to 1993. One day, a colleague in Personnel remarked, when Bradshaw was reluctantly contemplating a move to Washington, DC to work at the US State Department, "You are so into fashion, you're such a trendsetter, why not go into that field?"
That's exactly what the mother of three did in 1992. Remaining in New York, her first stint was at a manufacturing company that produced sports team gear and uniforms for professional athletes. Bradshaw, yearning for a position at a fashion house, then moved to other companies and finally the logistics company, The Malcolm Group, before Betsey Johnson came a-knockin'. At her time at the Malcolm Group, Bradshaw dealt a lot with Republic National Bank of New York (now HSBC) and a vice-president at the bank who had a great rapport with her recommended Bradshaw to the Betsey Johnson label, when the house's CFO was on the hunt for a new accounts payables manager.
And the rest, as they say, is truly history.
That first day on the job, in 1997, she met Johnson and immediately felt she was in the presence of a kindred spirit. "I fell in love with Betsey," she says. "That first runway show was something else, and then that was it and we were off."
Betsey had simple but profound advice that would be key to her Fashion Week survival: "She said to me, 'Daisy, whatever I need, just make sure I get it'. And that was it. I've always made sure she was never left wanting." That first year, one of Bradshaw's duties was to manage the runway show budgets, and it had to be a tight one. She was then saddled with the task of familiarising herself with every aspect of the business, as it all came down to the bottom line. Every connecting expense mattered and as a result, Bradshaw learned everything about the fashion world.
After a year, everything then became Bradshaw's responsibility. She became the authority on all things Betsey, even anticipating the designer's next thought, move or business idea. At that very first fashion show, she recalls that the fashion emergency at the time was the hunt for a special disppearing zipper that was made by a specific factory. Now this wouldn't usually have translated into a major crisis, except it was the middle of the night and mere hours before the show. A show, whose programme could not be printed until every look was completed and ready to be sent down the runway. This zipper was for a dress that already housed a zipper that simply wasn't right. They needed this special zipper or the dress would have to be cut from show. It was do or die time. The ever-resourceful Bradshaw got on a telephone, post-haste, to track down her pal, April, who worked at designer Vivienne Tam, to see if she could help. "Meet me downstairs, in the middle of the block" were April's instructions and, come showtime, there was the dress, in all its glory, betraying none of the nail-biting hysteria connected to its backstory. Bradshaw also recalls a night when she had to be on the outskirts of the West Side Highway with "her girls" (referring to her team), to get a particular shipment of boots, at 3:00 in the morning for a same-day show. FedEx was closed by the time said boots got into the city. Luckily, Bradshaw had the personal telephone number of her FedEx representative, who as a favour, was able to get her the shipment outside of operating/delivery hours, which involved getting his boss out of bed to help him get the boots to Bradshaw.
"Everybody started coming to me for everything. I had to learn about the fabrics in order to pay the bills. I had to know about every step at our label that involved or appreciated a cost. I would sit with production members and the designers to find out about these textiles. Being hands-on is the best way to find out about the industry and to succeed at such a job."
The student certainly became the master, as Bradshaw found herself becoming so knowledgeable that she began catching mistakes of her very "teachers", much to their amusement. "I had to learn the different yields for fabric. The differences between metres and yards became crucial to this, and before I knew it I became Betsey's 'pocketbook'."
In 2010, Johnson's long-time partner and CEO, Chantal Bacon -- Bradshaw's then-boss -- decided it was time to retire. This forced the house to find new partners, who were courted and eventually brought on. According to Bradshaw, these new partners -- from finance backgrounds -- knew very little about the industry they were positioned to make important decisions in. "Betsey is very trusting; she trusts everybody", Bradshaw adds. And it's that indiscriminate trust that ultimately led the house into a tailspin. By April 2012, bankruptcy loomed. It was Bradshaw who kept the company afloat during this difficult period of 16-hour work days, seven days per week. Now that the company is on the road to recovery, caution is its watchword.
For Bradshaw, finding the right team members ("people who love their work, believe and take pride in it and aren't solely about the money") is crucial to the survival of the house, a lesson that had to be learned the hard way.
That same caution has since trickled down to the runway show presented two weeks ago in New York, where the house had a smaller production and returned to the roots that had made the label famous, namely the Betsey Johnson prom dress, which was featured on the runway in several different variations. Instead of sending out the original 64 looks, that number was pared down to 21. Betsey Johnson revisited the Nineties, "when life was good, when things were rocking for her". This comeback show was produced to be more intimate. Bradshaw could be found in her usual spot backstage ensuring all was running to time, overseeing the caterers, seeing to it that the interviews were lined up and the models looked perfect.
"I have never seen a show, all these years; always seen it on tapes. I recently told this to Betsey or Queen Bee as she in known within the Betsey Johnson family.
"When Betsey does her cartwheel that's when we know the show is over and for that moment the craziness is over." After this much-deserved sigh of relief, they partake in post-show rituals of going to dinner and watching the tapes, then heading off to the label's Fashion Week after-party. "And then we're back prepping for the next collection. Betsey doesn't stop, so we don't stop."
Bradshaw has always been an avid shopper: "I used to go shopping, every Thursday night, as stores remained open late. People were convinced I had an addiction to fashion. Every Thursday night I was in the stores. On the four occasions of the now-hiatused Fashion's Night Out, the US edition, Bradshaw had been unable to attend as the event happens concurrently to the whirlwind that is New York Fashion Week, when Betsey Johnson, as well as every other New York-based label, is prepping for the shows.
The one member of the Betsey Johnson team who experienced FNO was Johnson herself, who -- as the face of the label -- in her signature pink, made appearances at Betsey Johnson locations to interact with customers and celebrity clients.
On this trip to the island, Bradshaw got the opportunity to experience a comparable event in the form of the Jamaica Observer Takes Style Out, "I was so excited to be here for TSO! I wanted to see everything! I wanted to visit the stores to see what goes on there. I wanted see how the people were; if they enjoyed being out and if they shopped. I was so curious. I'm really glad I came."
The Betsey Johnson label was carried, in curated selection, by two TSO-participating shops, Kurvity and Entice Intimate Boutique.
As regards Johnson's famous cartwheeling, when asked if we'll ever see a return to form, Bradshaw responds: "Absolutely! She did a little one only because her grandchildren were present, so she toned down the wildness. But yes, definitely, it will be back in full effect!"
— Curt Cawley