I look better now than I have in my entire life,” declares the superstar of our Ageless Closet, Betsey Johnson. With her staple Lanvin sneaks, her 20-year-old Mickey-Minnie baseball tee, her only winter coat (an orange “Oompa Loompa” jacket), and flips flops in tow for last-minute getaways, the devoted grandma cartwheels through fashion seasons with the freedom of her greatest thrill: “airline tickets.” Serving as her own muse, Betsey told us, “It’s either my way or the highway. What good am I if I’m not me?” The former dancer continues to exert her phenomenal creative genius at 71; and, since Steven Madden bought her company in ’10, the quintessential Mudd Club girl is “battling away within the big corporate structure” for the first time. Indeed, Betsey keeps bringing her sparkly-tulle-tutu-Marilyn-Monroe-Mitzi-Gaynor palette to her beloved “girlfriends,” — i.e., her fans whom she never refuses “a hug, a kiss, a smile, or a selfie.” Fueled by the youth and sleepovers with her grandkids, Betsey, in “the best footwear going, hotel-room slippers,” declares, “I never want to retire.” Read More
Though she got her worst grade in fabric design at Syracuse University, Betsey graduated magna cum laude and, like Ralph Lauren’s Mary Randolph Carter, was accepted into the Mademoiselle Magazine’s Guest Editor program. They sent her to London’s Swinging 60s, where, rotating between motorcycle threads and feminine petticoats, Betsey got acquainted with the Beatles, the Stones, and everything in between. “I decided I wanted to be Mary Quant or Biba,” Betsey says, but she would become a legend all her own. After attending a dinner party thrown by Betsy Blackwell, Betsey sent the Mademoiselle Editor-in-Chief a thank-you note covered in shoes that she’d drawn with a black Sharpie. A “shoe freak,” Blackwell gave Betsey an illustrating job in the art department. Soon, Paul Young was selling her designs in his mythological Youth-Quake boutique, Paraphernalia. Ahhh, for those days of making it because you are just purely talented. Edie Sedgwick, who Betsey loved for her black tights and baggy tee uniform, was her well-paid fit model; and everyone — from the Easy Rider hookers to Geraldine Chaplin — was wearing her dresses and mini skirts.
“To me, the last time fashion and art changed was the 60s,” explains Betsey. “I know there was punk, but the 60s had the true miracle people.” Andy Warhol was “The Artist,” and, just as Warhol used his wigs for personal expression, Betsey uses her hair extensions: “In terms of communicating who I am, my most creative zone is from the neck up.” When Betsey went with the pop practitioner, the Velvet Underground, and the Factory gang to the Hamptons in the 60s, they were snubbed. But Betsey doesn’t give a shit about what the top of the caste system thinks — getting kicked out of her own wedding for wearing a velvet Victorian pantsuit, only to return in, as Betsey puts it, “a mini skirt up to my crotch.” Her Maverick MO has her cherishing her only belt, a vintage studded “New York” one, stockpiling custom-made capris, buying from the Lanvin children’s department, and staying away as much as she can from the social media stampede: “Expressing yourself is going fast. People connect to life through screens, but if we can’t express our selves with how we cook, how we decorate, and what we wear, then there’s no place left.” Having survived three divorces and breast cancer, Betsey has built a place for herself unlike any other on the wise words: “You have to have at least 50 percent struggle; it makes the celebration that much more. You’ve got to have down to know up.
Most mornings I wake up and I think I’m twenty-five and have achieved nothing in life, even college seemed less than a spectacular achievement. I think the rest is just pieces in some scrap book, projects I did along the way that never amounted into a lasting career that I have something to show for. Then I come to this website, this blog, this ‘scrap book’ and I see comments from you. I sign on to twitter and see even just a couple of you have favorited something, have written back to me. I go on to instagram and I see a few hundred of you have found something I put up there worth liking, left a sweet little note if I was feeling down and not afraid to say it sometimes. I get an email that someone new has subscribed to my newsletter waiting to see what I might send. I sign into google to see that a few hundred or a few thousand of you have stopped in today to see what was going on, and all that changes things for the rest of the day. It makes feel like slowly, I might be moving in the right direction even if I don’t know the way. I think maybe if I keep trying I can make it out on my own taking and selling pictures, creating little films, selling little vintage dresses, and writing stories. If I can keep doing those things and have it be enough to keep a roof over my head, food in my belly, and maybe even some new shoes in the closet now and then, then my dreams have come true. I’m not always sure what I do for a living, I just know the life that I want to live. Thank you to all of those who read me, follow me, write to me, support me, believe in me. You are all stars in my sky…most of all when I am waiting for the sun to come up.
I set high standards for myself, coming here and laying out little pieces of my heart in each post, among other things. Sometimes for a while I just don’t have it in me to open up and write something meaningful, partly because I feel you deserve more. But life has a funny way of throwing things at us from left field. Things that are the catalysts, that push honesty to the surface to say something real, to confront what we’re afraid of. There are certain kinds of success most people find easier to quantify. They usually involve better than average salaries, stock options, and benefits. I have none of those, sometimes I allow myself to feel like a loser because of it. Some creative people I know get by this way because they have no other choice. It’s even harder to stay my course knowing I have a corporate resumé to default to if I give up my real dreams again. Trust me, the only thing harder than working over time at a day job for a measly ten vacations days a year is to wake up every morning and realize you are the only captain of your ship. You can stay in bed all day wondering if you’re really as brave as you thought. I would be lying if I did not admit I struggle almost every to get out of bed for that very reason. There is no timesheet, no punch card to clock in or out, and confidence or sense of certainty a “think positive” infographic on Pinterest can instill in you. Even so, you have to get out of bed and do the best you know how and just have faith. 2014 has been infinitely more challenging on an emotional level than I thought, doubt seems to be a strong theme. But the only thing I’m more afraid of than being lost or having “failed” by the end of this year is not living the life I really want to live. That is the state of me. All that to say, I’m doing away with this bullshit one year rule and replacing it with a lifetime.