Why Betsey Johnson Thinks Skipping NYFW is a Sign of Success
The designer talks about her 50 years in the industry, her new collaboration with Kleenex and what inspires her signature style.
"First thing's first—do you like bubbly?" This is how Betsey Johnson said hello. We met her at a spacious studio for the launch of her new collaboration with Kleenex Brand Facial Tissue. Everywhere, models at different stations showcased the "Ready to Care" collection tissue boxes ($4 each) marked with iconic Betsey prints: lips, roses, stripes, leopard. The unlikely pairing didn't sound so unusual once Johnson explained it. "I'm into stationery, I really love artwork, drawing, color, and so [Kleenex] wanting to connect to me means they want to connect with my art." We lounged on a couch and munched on cupcakes while reveling in Johnson's whimsy and quotable quips. She opened up about her style inspiration, why she skipped New York Fashion Week for Fall 2015 and the perfect remedy for when she's feeling under the weather—you know, aside from a box of Kleenex.
What is your favorite way to use Kleenex?
"My favorite thing is the Slim Pack. When you run out, it holds a couple of bills and your credit card—what you need for the grocery store. I also roll the tissue into a tube and use it as a cork in my champagne bottle. My grandkids also love the tissue boxes, they put their art supplies in them. I even made Valentine's cards out of these! Honestly, when you're done with them, you want to keep them around. I can't use anything that's not fun for me to look at."
When you're under the weather, what do you do to feel better?
"I take myself to the movies. I'll take care of myself. That's probably when I'll get a mssage, finally. I won't get my credit card and go shopping because I don't have very good luck shopping. I do, however, like going online and finding my old vintage pieces and getting that over the new clothes."
Your runway show is one we always look forward to—why didn't you show at New York Fashion Week Fall 2015?
"Isn't that interesting? I am really constantly thinking about what the big bang is going to be, because we're celebrating 50 years and there has to be a party, a show, a movie. What I realized from doing other things like Dancing With the Stars was that I don't need to be owned or trapped by this. Do it only if it seems right, like the last show which I loved doing because I love bridal. I've been doing two shows a year for 49 years, and I thought you know, I'd rather do one big thing to point out the 50 years and get off that treadmill of show, show, show. [She picks up a newspaper] "It was a great feeling to get the New York Times front page, a two-page story, instead of doing a show! It wasn't either or, actually. I had no idea about this. It came out the Sunday of Fashion Week, which was fabulous."
How do you feel about missing a season?
"You know, it's funny. Just go with your instincts and go with what seems right and luckily, I do have the power to say I'm not doing a show, which is really nice. That's success. When you can say, 'No, I'm not feeling it.' That's true success. In a way, it opened up opportunities for this [Kleenex]."
When will the big anniversary celebration be?
"It will be in September, next Fashion Week, because that's literally when Paraphernalia [a Manhattan boutique where she started as in-house designer] opened in the mid-60s. That's when my name and the label was in the clothes."
Do you have any favorite fashion trend of all time?
"'Till we're on another planet we're just going to keep going around and 'round with trends. To be honest, I like my dancing costumes. I think my growing up dancing was my most fun dress-up time."
The '70s are having a moment right now.
"Yes, the '70s are big now, oh my god! I see these little fringe and ruffled floral dresses here and there, and I think 'Huh, what goes around comes around.'"
What were you wearing in the '70s?
"My ruffled floral dresses. Luckily, I saved a couple of those. I think the modern designs with plastics and neoprene are interesting and futuristic but are they comfortable? I'm still into stretchy, comfortable, things that are lively."
What has been most influential in defining your personal style?
"I think after I worked at Paraphernalia for four years...actually, no. You have to wing it alone, you can't base a career on someone else. There's no way I could've kept going for 50 years if I didn't just have something instinctive, crazy in me."
If you could pinpoint one thing that does inspire you what would that be?
"I'll say I love movies, old movies. I just feel there's so much stuff there. I can see any Joan Crawford movie or Betty Davis movie and have so many ideas pouring out all over the place. You don't look for [inspiration]. If you're in the business I am, you just have to feel it, to do it. You're always in panic mode, looking for what is next, what is new. I feel when everyone comes out with a trend that they're in cahoots, but I'm not locked into that system; that, I think, exists where they all get together and decide. I think I made my way because I didn't get on the treadmill and stood for something a little crazy."