Weddng day, 1968
The Velvet Underground’s John Cale met fashion designer Betsey Johnson in May 1967, when she was designing costumes for the Edie Sedgwick movie Ciao! Manhattan. She had been using Edie as her fitting model for years and had even designed her “Edie dress,” a jersey knit creation with a criss-cross back. Johnson was dating Sterling Morrison at the time and working on her own clothing designs.
Cale wrote of Johnson in his memoir What’s Welsh for Zen? in 1999:
“Betsey took amphetamine every day—diet pills, black bombers. She was a little overweight and very sensitive about it, and she would sit up all night making clothes. Betsey was a strong individual character. When she started showing up at all the VU gigs because she could afford to, I really admired her…It seemed to me that Betsey knew everybody I knew, and she was living at the Chelsea Hotel. It was a match made in heaven.”
Johnson began making elegant dark stage clothes for the band and hanging out at New York clubs with Andy Warhol and Cale. In 2008, Johnson told Woman’s Wear Daily: “I always made John his black canvas suits with big hunks of ruffles and bows coming out, which were gorgeous. And Lou [Reed] wanted his crotch to be big, so I would always cut him a crotch.”
On her wedding day in 1968, Betsey was turned away from New York City’s City Hall for wearing pants as part of her self-designed red velvet pantsuit. She returned wearing the shortest miniskirt she could find. Cale wrote, “I made her cry on the day of her wedding because I forgot to buy her a corsage.”
During their short marriage the couple lived together in a beautiful loft on La Guardia Place but were seldom home at the same time. Cale did not take well to being married to such an ambitious working woman:
“Betsey worked hard all the time, like Andy. She would be in her showroom, and she often spent weeks in San Francisco or Los Angeles, where her factories were…I realised our career paths were so divergent that we actually lived in completely different worlds. Betsey seemed able to pass in and out of my world with ease, but I could not negotiate hers. I felt stymied by it. At that point I would get lonely and find somebody else. Betsey and I were both interested in our careers to the exclusion of personal relationships.”
Cale divorced Johnson in 1971 after relocating to Los Angeles to work as a solo artist and producer and upon meeting Cindy Wells, a.k.a. Miss Cindy, one of The GTO’s, the girl group formed by Frank Zappa.
In 2011, Betsey Johnson revealed to a reporter from Jezebel that John Cale was her favorite of her husbands.
Betsey Johnson and John Cale on the back cover of his 1970 solo album Vintage Violence