After more than 30 years in the tutus and tiaras biz, Betsey Johnson is still cartwheeling down the runway. A new reality show, XOX Betsey, follows her fraught relationship with daughter Lulu (they’re in couple’s therapy), the re-boot of her fashion brand and the general wackiness that is being Betsey. Here, the rock ’n’ roll grandma shares her secrets for success.
It’s better to be timeless
I don’t change my look from season to season. Instead I stick with what works, and for me that’s the classics. It’s not magic. I remember an old quote from Coco Chanel: She said all you need to be a fashion designer is a silhouette. Mine have been either the ballerina tutu or the Marilyn Monroe sexpot, kind of outside of fashion trends and all of that junk. I design clothing that is timeless and if I wasn’t timeless I wouldn’t be here.
Why take a bow when you can cartwheel?
About 15 years ago, I started doing cartwheel at the end of every fashion show. Every designer has got to come out and take their bow at the end of the show. I was never really into that so I started doing a cartwheel because I was so happy. These days I do it because I can. It keeps me in shape and it’s really the only exercise I get.
Be wary of therapy
My daughter Lulu has always been big on therapy, so she dragged me to couple’s therapy. I’m not sure if it’s the answer, but I guess you’re sitting and spending time with the person and showing that you care. The other day the therapist told me that I should only go down to my daughter’s apartment one morning a week with my coffee to say goodbye to my grandkids before they left for school. I listened, but I just couldn’t stick to that. I have to go down every morning, so that’s what I do and then I was at a day for grandparents at my granddaughter Layla’s school and she said that her absolute favourite thing is that I go down and have coffee with them every morning. Screw the therapist.
Let someone else be the bossI’m much more happy now that I have transitioned from owning my company to being the creative director of the Betsey Johnson brand. [Steve Madden took over Betsey Johnson LLC in 2012 after the company declared bankruptcy.] It’s more fun and I am able to make sure that everybody I’m working with is taking a designer’s approach to the collection rather than worrying about money, money, money all the time. When I was worrying about my company, I really couldn’t focus on the parts of the job that I like best and that I do best.
Being nice should be natural
My parents were great believers in the idea that the most important thing is to be nice. The word karma wasn’t even a concept back then, but they were just neighbourly, small-town Connecticut people. I really believe that what you put out you get back. It’s very simple. You should be good to the people who work for you because you really need good people. Why not be a good person rather than a bad person. Life is good when being nice comes naturally.
Escape to Margaritaville
When I want to be inspired, I take a week off and treat myself to a trip just to relax and stop the music. It’s usually the sun and the beach. I love the Caribbean. I make it a point to go with no mission, I just have a margarita and then see where the day takes me. I forget everything that is going on back home and I need that to recharge, more than ever this year – everything is in overdrive!