Princess Nokia slays as the face of Betsey Johnson

If anyone can bring an early 2000s, pop-punk staple like Betsey Johnson into 2018, it’s Princess Nokia. Earlier this year, Destiny Nicole Frasqueri slipped on fingerless gloves, Tripp NYC pants and a baggy Slipknot tee for her “A Girl Cried Red” mixtape cycle.

So, seeing Princess Nokia rock poofy black tulle worthy of Evanescence’s Amy Lee is delightful, but not surprising.

The brand’s fall collection is a dark and pretty, but not too stuffy — and undeniably sports that wacky, lavish Betsey Johnson touch. Cheetah print, glittery statement accessories and Westwood-esque plaid moments harken back to the old years of the brand. So do splatters of vibrant color and bold pop-art motifs.

Meanwhile, snugly fitting sheath dresses, embellished white sneakers and lingerie-as-outerwear are moves borrowed from today’s rebellious fashion bloggers.  

The mesh-and-spray-paint workout gear aren't the most impressive pieces, but are cohesive: it's punk, it's edgy, it's both 1980 and 2018. Meanwhile, the catchiest pieces are Betsey Johnson’s shaped bags. Just in time for Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos, you can carry kissy-faced ghosts, sugar skulls and plush glitter lips with fangs.

The explosion of prints and mélange of give-no-fucks street style with fairytale softness is right up Princess Nokia’s alley.

In fact, Princess Nokia’s whole mood for the year has been 2000s rock festival dream girl. She’s been jamming Third Eye Blind on her stories, showing off her stage-diving skills in the clip for “Your Eyes are Bleeding,” and giving nu-metal and goth rave kids their moment in her video for “Morphine.”

It’s a fashion time capsule for the era she’s paying homage to: steampunk goggles look at home among high pigtails and Jolly Rancher-colored hair. Mesh tops and harnesses look good beneath spiked chokers and industrial chain necklaces.

And while Betsey Johnson’s lookbook isn’t quite as dark as this one, a good few of Betsey Johnson’s dresses, accessories and shoes can have you clinking drinks at the goth club in no time.

Although, what sets Princess Nokia’s moshpit apart (at her shows and in her videos) from the idealized crowd at, say, a Korn or Limp Bizkit show is the sea of kids with 4C afros and real dreads. Part of it is that Princess Nokia got her start with bossy bars in the rap scene. The other part is that Princess Nokia has made it her mission to bring visibility — through her latest mixtape and aesthetic choices — to youth of color in emo and goth circles.

When asked about what it is about that emo music that speaks to people of color, Princess Nokia pointed to black culture, suffering because of your identity and the blues. As for the scene itself, she highlighted that the goth, punk and raver kids she grew up with were from the 'hood. She went further to say that the intersection alone was a glorious sight: “Really beautiful, because you have all these hood-ass kids going to shows, dressing in bondage clothes, dressing in those ways and those aesthetics.”

For years now, the Betsey Johnson brand has been fighting to stay afloat. 2012 brought bankruptcy claims: 350 employees, 63 stores and $4.1 million on the line. Interviews became a blame game of brands biting Betsey’s iconic style for cheaper prices and the skyrocketing cost of rent for stores. While the label was struggling to get back on its zebra-print-clad feet, garments were sold in department stores like Nordstrom, Saks and Macy’s.

In a 2014 interview with fashion site Racked, Betsey Johnson had her come-to-Jesus moment and voiced her recognition of the power of online sales. “I don't know where it needs to go, if it even needs to go anywhere, but I know that it needs to be fresh and it needs to say Betsey.”

Four years, a collab with Urban Outfitters, a collab with Maddie Ziegler and dancewear brand Capezio, and a bridal line later: it looks like Betsey Johnson is getting back to being on the tip of fashion-lovers’ tongues. The brand may be different on the production end, but it still says Betsey as far as its look and its spirit goes.

It’s not so strange that a rapper — especially one who makes authenticity look effortless like Princess Nokia — would be the face of Betsey Johnson. It’s just the cherry on top that it’s one who lives and breathes punk ethos, chaotic vibrancy and embracing the parts of her that are anything but normal. 🍒