The passing of Linda Lee Johnson on September 5, 2018, leaves a large hole in the hearts of all those who knew and adored the designer’s unique, coveted pieces. “Linda Lee Johnson’s legacy will live on within the Barneys New York family,” says Sarah Blair, SVP, DMM of Women’s Accessories. “She was an exceptional artist. Her oeuvre, inspired by earth’s natural elements and symbolism, was steeped in historical references. I will always cherish the memory of her gentle soul and fiery spirit.”
Johnson’s partnership with Barneys began in 1989, when she introduced the store’s first-ever jewelry collection. In the three decades since, Johnson’s rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces—frequently done with a hammered finish—have become highly sought after for their sculptural aesthetic. That’s no surprise, given that Johnson was also an accomplished sculptor, exhibiting her work at the Museum of Modern Art’s design store.
“For people who know jewelry, Linda Lee was a designer you’d be very likely to invest in,” says Kathleen Seward, fine-jewelry sales associate at Barneys. “You could see the quality and integrity.”
Before the baubles and arm accessories, though, Johnson’s first love was theater. The daughter of a naval aviator, she had an interest in stagecraft that began in high school, where as an American field service exchange student in Greece she was introduced to performing arts. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with degrees in English literature and dramatic arts, she forged a successful acting career, spending two decades performing in New York City and regional theaters across the country. “Linda Lee had an incredibly diverse background,” says Blair. “She was also a founding member of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.”
After turning to jewelry design, Johnson’s reputation as an artist grew. Frequently carved from 22K gold and etched with a small bumblebee motif, her pieces feel both ancient and timeless. Customers from around the world make pilgrimages to the Madison Avenue store to purchase her styles, available only at Barneys. “She was a self-taught artist and an intellectual,” says Blair. “She will be deeply missed.” Linda Lee Johnson’s statement styles live on at Barneys’ stores and barneys.com.