Betsey Johnson, Mother of Punk

Written by Justin Howard @jthnomad for Black Chalk Magazine

Widely recognized as one of the most iconic and original fashion
designers in the world, designer Betsey Johnson is credited with giving
the 1960’s “Youthquake” movement it’s unique look with her avant
garde designs. With her signature wild hair and positively gleeful grin,
fashion designer Betsey Johnson still ends her runway show every
season at New York Fashion Week with her trademark ‘cartwheel’.

Betsey Johnson,­ Mother of Punk

“A good use for me is to let me go away with my sewing machine and
come back with some really new stuff.” Betsey Johnson

Justin Howard ­- Your hair is gorgeous!

Betsey Johnson -­ Oh, thanks! This is my high contrast hair.

Justin Howard ­- I like it.

Betsey Johnson ­- All fake! I mean I have hair. I just don’t like my hair.
So I tie on extensions and put on eye lashes. If I don’t look like Lucille
Ball, then I am not ready to go on camera.

Justin Howard ­- Last time I saw your runway show you did a cartwheel,
which was hilarious!

Betsey Johnson -­ I have to do it all the time!

Justin Howard ­- I was watching and simply thinking ‘Oh My God! I love

Betsey Johnson – ­ I am turning 70 something this summer, can you get
me off the hook from that damn cartwheel?! *Laughter* Tho I love it. I
like to prove I am still alive and I can still do it. I don’t exercise. It is part
luck, when I give it a try.

Designs by Fashion Icon Betsey Johnson

Designs by Fashion Icon Betsey Johnson

Justin Howard -­ Let’s talk about the business of running a fashion
house. How do you balance the creative and business end of things?

Betsey Johnson -­ I had my partner, Chantal Bacon, who is my best
girlfriend for years, still is. That makes a huge difference. That you find
the right person to work with. If not, then you have to start from scratch
again, you’ve lost money. All heartache.

Justin Howard -­ So Chantal handles the business end of things and
you, the creative?

Betsey Johnson ­- We were a great balance. Great friends, with a core
of what do you think is good and what do you think is bad? We agreed
on that. *Laughter*

Justin Howard ­- That is the whole thing, if you find someone who keeps
you apprised of the business, who can handle it, then that allow you the
freedom to be more creative, to be more inspired.

Betsey Johnson -­ We were just two people for the first three years. I
made all the patterns, all the sewed the samples. She ran the
showroom. We couldn’t afford the time to both go to a fabric
appointment. To both do again. Yes, it was great. That is the perfect
partnership when you know what each of you do and you love doing it,
your separate thing. Like I love the cameras and she hates the
spotlight. It is great, it is great.

Justin Howard -­ Let’s talk about you recently… You have been through
the windmill.

Betsey Johnson ­- You know during that bankruptcy thing, Chantal and I,
oh retail just got so hard. The overhead! It got really hard. And I love
doing licensing, but when… We decided to sale. Which was a great
idea. I made it along with everyone else. It was a great idea. But I
wanted to continue, Chantal slowly retired, and new people were
brought in and it was the same old, but without Chantal.

There had to be a new CEO, there had to be a new CFO, and we just
had the bad luck of bad people. *Sad Laughter* And I can’t work with
bad people. I tried to fix it and I tried to fix it. Then I said ‘The overhead looks…’
I would put my two sense in, try to get business people in to talk the real
deal and there was nothing I could do to fix it. So I was kinda happy it
went to bankruptcy.

Justin Howard ­- That is the inspiring thing about you, that you don’t stop

Betsey Johnson -­ I had to out of being a single mother of one, you
know? I like to do more good then bad. Especially after 45 years. I
really don’t love anything else like I do fashion. I love that I just did
stationary, I just did bedding. It is crazy. I got a big launch coming out in
a new category. I am supposed to be, initially, be the queen, the
creative little wonder and I like that job. And then because I am working,
companies need to make money, and I can say “Ok, you can do this &
that. You can do those 30 shoes, but you have to do 2 shoes that are
out there.” And they get it. They get the balance.

Justin Howard -­ What advice do you have for new designers?

Betsey Johnson -­ Love it, or Leave it. It is that simple. It really is. You
go through whatever you go through to. So it is important love it. It is
not shallow, it is a very deep world to go into. And you are only as good
as your last sale.


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