Betsey Johnson turned 75 last week, and in celebration, she hosted a party atop the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan — a city she left in 2015 for the sunny shores of Malibu, California. But New York City will always be the place where Johnson cut her teeth in the fashion industry. “I just loved making clothes. I just loved cutting, sewing, and inventing. I just loved it,” she tells Brit + Co. “My first job was with that creative, crazy boutique operation called Paraphernalia in 1965.”

Now, after over 50 years in the industry, a 2015 CFDA Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, and, most recently, a 2017 ACE Fashion Icon Award, she’s come a long way from being the 23-year-old, in-house designer of Paraphernalia who was brimming with ideas (“To get my first job there, I had to come with about a hundred sketches,” Johnson reveals).

Along the way, she’s helmed the rock ‘n’ roll fave label Alley Cat, influenced the youthquake fashion movement, ran her own boutique Betsey Bunky Nini (where Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick was her house model), and founded an eponymous label. What’s never changed despite each addendum of her mile-long achievement tally? Her effusive, idiosyncratic personal style: hot pinks, tulle, bows, and a cheeky, subversive irreverence toward the institution of fashion.

So when we had a moment to speak to her, we had to know what exactly she’s learned along her journey and, given the chance, what she would tell her younger self: “Play around, experiment, and test yourself out!” Johnson says. “You may never find out your perfect style until you’re my age, but you’ll look great along the way as long as you’re creative and true to yourself. There are no real rules in fashion, so don’t be afraid to try out new things all the time!”

Will you be taking her style advice? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Christina Emilie, Scott Rudd Events)