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Betsey Johnson, iconic designer, to sell huge fashion cache at yard sale at Hamptons home

Betsey Johnson, the darling of the 1970s and a powerhouse in subsequent decades, is selling 4,000 pieces of clothing, accessories and more as she sells her Hamptons home to move to Malibu. (Credit: Johnny Milano)

Fashion icon Betsey Johnson, known for her quirky prom dress-inspired clothes in pinks, leopard prints, florals and polka dots, is hauling thousands of her designs onto the lawn of her East Hampton home for a huge Labor Day weekend yard sale.

Johnson, 73, is emptying her house to sell it now that she has moved to Malibu, California, to be near her grandchildren. She has shown at New York Fashion Week and elsewhere -- always ending with a cartwheel -- and has outfitted performers including Reese Witherspoon, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Cameron Diaz, Katy Perry, Ciara, Miley Cyrus and Rosario Dawson.

The sale follows others the designer held last year and earlier this month as she cleans out her cottage-style home of 15 years. Johnson is keeping her Manhattan apartment.

"I'm a hoarder and a pack rat," Johnson said in a telephone interview Tuesday from her Manhattan office, where she was going over fabric swatches and putting other finishing touches on her collection for next month's New York Fashion Week. "It's torturous thinking of getting rid of some of these things, but it's time to let go -- I've got so much stuff it's ridiculous."

Mark Vitulano, Johnson's friend and the organizer of the yard sale, said during an interview Monday at Johnson's house that about 8,000 pieces originally were selected for sale -- from Johnson's 1920s Parisienne shabby chic and antique furnishings to her creations shown on Fashion Week runways. About half of the items were sold in the earlier sale, which attracted about 1,000 people, Vitulano said.

The sale will include mirrors, photographs, artwork, a croquet set, garden statues and vases in addition to the sought-after vintage clothing.

"Betsey has a very loyal following, and she wants people to realize this is it -- there will be no other Betsey Johnson [owned] clothing" put up for sale, Vitulano said. "This is the last cache of Betsey Johnson stuff."

Liza Minnelli, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elaine Stritch are among the celebrities who have hosted yard sales in the Hamptons, but the opportunity to buy celebs' possessions from their front yard or garage is not common.

"It's pretty unique, I would say," East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. "It's pretty cool."

Vitulano said preparing Johnson's clothes for sale has been a huge undertaking. They've been stored on two floors of the garage. "You opened the door, and there was just a wall of clothes," he said.

Johnson said the sale will have wall-to-wall bargains.

"It's very sad to see things go, but I don't know what to do with it all anymore, and it would be a shame not to share," she said. "It makes me happy that people can get dresses for $10 and $20" that originally sold from $125 to about $700.

Sizes range from extra small to 8, but Johnson said there are sweaters, coats and jackets that will fit larger sizes. Some of the items are vintage products of other designers purchased by Johnson to wear and study.

"You can see the inspiration for a lot of her collections" in what she's gathered, Vitulano said. "These are things she collected over her entire career," which this year reaches its 50th anniversary.

In the 1970s, Johnson's Alley Cat fashion label became popular with rock and roll musicians for what was considered a cutting-edge style. Johnson was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame in 2002 and the next year expanded her designs to handbags, hats and scarves.

Perhaps the closest thing to owning a piece of the designer's drawing board is an as-yet-unpriced black slip still pinned to alter its silhouette.

"This shows she was playing with this and designing something from it," Vitulano said of the slip.

Prices are to range from boxes of miscellaneous $10 items to a $10,000 Chinese rug.

The sale is set for Sept. 6 and 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and only cash will be accepted.

Johnson said she won't be at the sale, citing New York Fashion Week duties as well as other concerns.


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