Inventing herself: New Jersey native Betsee Isenberg came to L.A. in 1979 and landed a job selling clothing lines wholesale in a downtown showroom. “I lied and said I had experience. A friend trained me on the lingo.” Running numbers: Representing American and European designers in the ’80s, she became an influential liaison between creators and retailers. She urged local outlets to try more progressive looks—like Rick Owens’s fiercely tailored jackets—and advised out-of-town designers to put more color and whimsy into clothes to appeal to Angeleno customers. “I talk to retailers about what sells, then bring that information to manufacturers, who consider it when preparing their collections.” Agent of change: Opening 10 Eleven, her own showroom, 18 years ago, she helped Theory and Catherine Malandrino become top sellers. It’s not only about sales. “I do everything from giving designers advice on a button to spending several days working on a collection with them.” Reanimator: The Diane von Furstenberg, Norma Kamali, and Helmut Lang labels counted on Isenberg to help relaunch after fallow periods.
Photograph by Coral Von Zumwalt