Betsey Johnson has been a regular on the fashion scene since 1965, when she began designing clothes for the groovy Paraphernalia boutique, where Edie Sedgwick was her house model and rockers like the Velvet Underground were regular clients (Johnson was married to musician John Cale at the time).
Johnson opened her own boutique, Betsey Bunki Nini, in 1969, and launched her namesake label in 1978 with business partner, Chantal Bacon. Since then, Betsey Johnson has become synonymous with colorful, feminine, girls-just-wanna-have-fun clothing, and the line is as popular in 2008 as it was during the ‘70s and ‘80s, when every punk rock princess worth her bleach blonde faux hawk had at least one striped velvet Betsey Johnson dress in her closet.
Today, the indefatigable 66-year-old breast cancer survivor continues to expand her brand (she currently has 75 freestanding boutiques worldwide and is carried by more than 500 department and specialty stores across the globe), and she still does cartwheels at the end of every runway show.
The Fashion Informer’s Lauren David Peden caught up with the effervescent grandmother of two on the eve of her New York Fashion Week Spring 2009 show to dish on her childhood dreams, favorite movies and vegetable-induced crying jags.
What is your favorite time of day (and why)?
7:30 in the morning when I run downstairs to visit my two granddaughters.
What's in current rotation on your iPod?
I don’t use an iPod. I threw three of them out the window and don’t have one now. It’s a shame. Maybe in my next life I’ll use one.
You consistently play some the best fashion show music I've ever heard; how do you choose which songs to include in a show?
We work with a great DJ, Rene Goulet, and it’s a fun collaboration that revolves around the theme of each show. He leads the way and I throw some favorites and oldies in there.
When you were 9 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What's your favorite movie of all time?
“The Women” for the fashion, “Blade Runner” for the early futurist, “Easy Rider” because the girls wore my clothes in it. Anything with Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot.
What is your idea of a perfect meal?
You celebrated your 40th anniversary in the business last month (August); what one piece of advice would you impart to your younger self if you had the chance?
Always stick to your guns no matter what.
Tell me about your pet(s).
Lucy’s like my little girlfriend. She’s the friendliest, sweetest Maltese you’ll ever meet.
What's the best thing about being a grandma?
Seeing the grandkids every day.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't a designer?
A Rockette, an interior decorator or a florist.
Beverage of choice?
Brunch: pro or con?
I never eat brunch.
If you found $15,000 cash in a brown paper bag, how would you spend it?
I’d give it to my favorite breast cancer charity, the NBCFF.
What never fails to make you cry?
When I cut onions.
When are you happiest?
When I’m with my lover, and when I’m with my family.