Fashion Designer Icon Betsey Johnson Dishes Her Best Advice for a Long-Lasting Career
Betsey Johnson turned 75 last year, and her feminine hippie style is famous in fashion. The designer has dished on how to nail your own personal style, rents out her stylish Mexican home via Airbnb, and knows how to rock a red carpet with her signature split. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with the fashion maven herself, Betsey Johnson, who blazed a path for herself, starting in the 1960s, to create a whimsical style that is uniquely hers. Here, Johnson shares some hard-earned wisdom for future fashionistas and creatives with all the sparkle and wit you’d expect from the pretty in pink powerhouse.
MEET THE FASHION ICON: BETSEY JOHNSON
In 1964, Betsey Johnson won a Mademoiselle magazine contest to become a guest editor and charmed editors at Mademoiselle with her home-sewn t-shirt dresses. A year later, she became the top designer for Paraphernalia, a clothing boutique in New York City, that catered to a younger clientele that offered silver mini skirts and neon bikinis, and had go-go girls dancing in the store windows. It was London-style by way of NYC, and Johnson was one of the first employees. After her experience at Paraphernalia, Johnson wanted to branch out on her own. Now, with 50+ years working in the fashion industry, the style icon gives an inside look at how she built her empire and what she hopes other creative women implement in their own career journeys.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Betsey Johnson: Lately I have been crawling out of bed at 8:30am, which is quite late for me because I am usually a 7am girl. I really enjoy spending time in my backyard, so once I’m up, I drift into the kitchen and have my one cup of black coffee. I often take my coffee to my birds-of-paradise garden in the backyard and sit among my flowers. I’m all about fruit for breakfast, and I’ve been on a grape kick recently. Once I’ve eaten, l call my assistant and we will go over what I am up to for the rest of the day. My schedule usually changes from day to day, so I never know what the day will bring!
B+C: What inspired you to start your brand?
BJ: I worked for 10 years in the industry before starting my namestake brand, and between the ’60s and ’70s, I realized that I wanted to be my own boss, have my own company, do my own thing. I simply just didn’t want to work for anyone anymore.
B+C: You are a pioneer in the fashion industry and celebrated diversity like casting transgender models in your runway shows. How were you able to trust your inner voice in your business life and beyond?
BJ: Sometimes you have to keep your blinders on and move full speed ahead without distraction from what others are doing/saying. I cast my shows to represent the world I see around me, and that is the most important thing to me.
B+C: You’ve got a book in the works about your life, a boutique hotel in Mexico, and continue to be involved in your company. What keeps your creative spark alive?
BJ: Nothing can keep you creative, you either live it and you have it, you either do it or you don’t. There is no time zone, season, or reason for you to be creative. You just have to motivate yourself and be your own biggest source of energy! No one or anything should be able to make you do something if you don’t have passion for it.
B+C: What have you’ve learned from a failure or mistake you made?
BJ: Your past, the mistakes you’ve made, and the failures that follow you are only going to help you direct how you want to live your future. I am always looking back to my past to inform the way I want to do things now. We should never be ashamed of our mistakes. They make us who we are!
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
BJ: “Love it or it will leave you.” I feel you have to love what you do, and be connected to the whole business, then the best results will happen.
B+C: Your clothes, design style, and personality are iconic while remaining true to who you are as a person. What would you tell future female fashion designers about how to blaze their own trail?
BJ: Always be true to yourself. It’s the most important thing you have. Be kind, respect others, and fight hard for the things you want.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
BJ: First, I want to give a shout out to [my daughter] Lulu and my grandkids. I’ve been with them more than anyone else in my life, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. Also, women like Tina Turner, Madonna, and Janis Joplin have always been huge inspirations for my clothing and in my life. I can’t just pick two!
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
BJ: You have to work really really really hard, but you should want to work hard. I think you make your own luck. I’ve been lucky in my life, but that is because I’ve worked hard. I believe the same thing can happen for any other young women out there.
(Photos via Betsey Johnson)