There is a certain excitement in the air when an iconic fashion designer is in town. Days leading up to her appearance, fans and fashion enthusiasts alike were planning their wardrobes, clearing their schedules and trying to gather all the details for the appearance of Betsey Johnson at Belk in SouthPark Mall.
As bloggers and journalists entered the private area reserved for the Brunch with Betsey event, many proudly carried the golden ticket, the official event invitation placed inside a Betsey Johnson iPhone case. Jitters were floating. Food went untouched. The epitome of personal style was about to enter the room and we were all going to be in her presence.
When Betsey Johnson finally walked through the curtain, a bit of silence filled the air. Comfortable and completely unbothered, she breaks the ice with the question everyone wanted to hear.
“Do we all want pictures in front of that thing,” she asks excitedly, referencing the step and repeat backdrop. “Lets go!”
Leave it to the bold, energetic, and carefree designer to know just what to say to get the party started.
One of Johnson’s favorite shows is NBC’s The Voice because she loves Pharrell. The other is ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, in which she appears on the nineteenth season. She was voted off during the fourth week. Still, she has nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“It was the most fun, unusual, surprising thing happen in my life. When they called and asked me could I do Dancing I said I can’t dance I am so out of shape. I called my daughter and said well, Lulu, what do you think? She was screaming and yelling [with excitement].”
In preparing for her final appearance on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, the cartwheel queen admits “I can’t remember one bit of that dance,” she chuckles. “Except at the end. I go through Tony’s legs.”
A Connecticut native, Betsey Johnson grew up both an artist and a dancer taking tap, ballet and jazz classes. She credits her time as a dancer for introducing her to costuming and designing as she had to create her own wardrobe for dance recitals.
“My mother had to make [my costumes] and she hated to sew,” Johnson remarked. “That’s how I learned to sew.”
A regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory scene in the 1960s, she became one of Manhattan’s “It” girls after she won a contest to be a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine and soon after became the in house designer for the Manhattan boutique Paraphernalia. Edie Sedgwick was her fit model and The Velvet Underground’s John Cale whom she married from 1986-1971 wore her designs on and off the stage.
“I started in the 60s where [designs] were synthetic pretty much, a lot of plastic, stretch and shine, because of my dancing background. That’s where I get the stretch and the high arm hole. It’s very hard for me to wear big clothes. I’m so used to the dancer tight gig. I don’t really care what I look like but I need that feel.”
Johnson’s runway shows at Fashion Week in New York is an event not to be missed. In fact, her shows have always been that way.
“My second fashion show I had 65 models on roller skates. Five of them had skated before. I used spandex for gowns, evening and cocktail.”
You can count on her to present something fun, energetic and unusual for what some consider a high brow affair.
If pink is any indication of her personality you’ll know that Betsey is known for being a bold, energetic, and carefree designer who doesn’t subscribe to fashion trends. She has built her longstanding career in the fashion industry by following her own set of rules.
“I always like personal dressing,” she says. “The worst thing to me is tearing a page out of a magazine and go to the store and say I want to look like this and I would like that outfit. I mean, what’s the fun in it?”
When asked to describe First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress if she had the opportunity to design it, she says “It would be an explosion. Red or neon pink but very classic. A beautiful cap, off the shoulder, fitted into some kind of yoke with a beautiful big skirt. Very gorgeous couture but fun.”
What are some tips for wearing a fabulous outfit to an event?
[Dress] just so you feel good. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s personal.
What’s in your closet?
My closet it basically folded things. I love wrinkles. I have one small closet of hanging things – things I love but never wear, two closets of folded tee shirts, folded bottoms and now that I’m going to the gym I have aerobic things. I treasure and hardly wear anything I really love. One thing I love is this black, soft Alexander McQueen cut a way tail jacket. I would hate to loose that. It’s so beautiful.
What is one item in your closet you would never toss?
I really don’t want to lose my good luck belts. I’m superstitious about them. I have a vintage Ralph Lauren belt from a zillion years ago and I keep patching it. I loose so much stuff that I try not to get too attached. I would also hate to loose my necklace that I got from [my daughter] Lulu.
How much time should a person spend getting ready?
Me with the outfit takes like 30 seconds because I’m really programmed into what I like to wear. If I’m not happy I may have to change again. What I put the time into now and really enjoy is the make up part. I mean you can’t just throw it on quickly, not the beautiful way I do it (she chuckles). I’m either with just red lips or the entire [full face].
The full interview was originally published in STYLE: The Winter Book