Fifty years ago, Edie Sedgwick met Andy Warhol, who turned the former debutante into the city’s most famous It Girl. Here, Betsey Johnson recalls working with The Factory muse and ’60s style icon.
When I was 21 years old, I lived in this tiny apartment off Park Avenue and 16th Street, around the corner from Max’s Kansas City. Max’s became my hangout, the place to go every night. That’s where I ended up with Andy, Viva, John Chamberlain, and everybody. No one was making any money, nobody was older than 25. We had no idea who we were, what we were doing, or what we were going to do. It was a place where you could go and just know that these people were trying to do something. That kind of energy created the world I knew in New York City.
Edie and I first met because of The Velvet Underground [the influential ’60s rock band closely associated with Warhol’s studio, The Factory]. The Velvets asked if I would do their clothes, and Edie came along with the package. When I needed a fitting model, I said to her, “You have the perfect Mick Jagger boy body. Can you come over to my house a few times a week and hop in my clothes?”
Edie was very quiet, and we never got down and dirty. Then, suddenly, it was Edie here and Edie there, Edie the superstar. I don’t remember ever thinking, Was she in it or was she out of it, was she spaced out, was she regular, did her behavior change? She just enjoyed putting on my clothes.
Edie’s own look—big black and white eyes, three pairs of eyelashes glued together, white lips, Sassoon boyish haircut, huge earrings, leotards, and big tops—defined the style and the excesses of the ’60s. But nobody is an invention out of the blue. When I won the Mademoiselle guest editor contest and got to go to London, I came back a fashion designer wannabe. It was so inspiring in London at that time: Twiggy, Mary Quant, the Beatles, the Stones. Edie in New York was a theatrically bizarre form of all that.
Edie kept me centered in my designs, which were focused on body-conscious clothes done in silver and black, turtlenecks, and big zippers. When her apartment at the Chelsea Hotel caught fire, she was in one of my favorite colorblock body dresses. There are pictures of Edie going to the emergency room with her hands bandaged like Q-Tips in that dress!
When I saw the movie Factory Girl , I almost fell off my chair when Sienna Miller [who played Edie] said, “Let me call Betsey. I’ve got to get something to wear and I want something she’s doing.” Edie and Andy were enormous influencers for fashion and art in the ’60s, but for them it wasn’t about making money; it was about lights, camera, and action.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF JACKSON FINE ART, ATLANTA AND THE ARTIST. IMAGE COPYRIGHT STEVE SCHAPIRO