Designer Betsey Johnson Talks Confidence & Cartwheeling at 72

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The I Heart Betsey Kleenex box from the Expressions collection (Photo: Kleenex)

At 72, Betsey Johnson still does it all. She’s not only the namesake of her clothing and accessories brand, but she still cartwheels – better than most we might add – on the runway. Seriously. 

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Designer Betsey Johnson does a cartwheel and the splits after every show (Photo: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)

On top of crafting a brand that is unapologetically fun, punk and pretty, the designer recently collaborated with Kleenex to create a collection featuring four vibrant and bold package designs .

Her resume includes being a mother, grandmother, breast cancer survivor, Style Network reality star, blogger, and Dancing With The Stars contestant. But, she’s probably known best for her spunky style, and commitment to doing things her own way while wearing funky prints and lots of hot pink. 

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The Seeing Spots Kleenex Slim Pack for portable usage in your purse or clutch (Photo: Kleenex)

Although she practices a low maintenance hair routine, and favors inexpensive eyelashes, the contents of her makeup bag are very cool. I had to ask about discovering her signature style, how to deal if you’re like no one else, and what it’s like to be Betsey.

Read on for my  interview with the fearless fashionista.

Hilary Sheinbaum: You’re quite the trailblazer. How does it feel to know you’ve done things no one else has done, in fashion and in life?
Betsey Johnson:
I have always done what I loved and am so glad it has become timeless, and that I was on the right page. I have been around for 50 years.

HS: You developed a signature look really young. How did you discover it?
BS:
I just did what I loved—flowers, and rock n’ roll. Pretty and punk. I was largely inspired by my dancing school classes and costumes.

HS: Where did you find the confidence to do things your own way?
BS:
I have always found it’s just a matter of hanging in there and believing what you want to say or do. After 50 years, you finally can go “Yes, that’s me.”

HS: How did cheerleading contribute to building self-confidence?
BS:
It is a special weird thing being a cheerleader. You need to want to yell and perform, dance, and wear a cute little costume. It’s a thing you’re kind of born with or without.

HS: Have you ever conformed, ever?
BS:
Life is about conforming to an extent that you can stand, so that things will be happy and work out.

HS: What is your advice to girls that don’t fit in?  
BS:
Celebrate the idea that you don’t fit in. Find your own fit. Stay unique.

HS: How do you explain beauty to your daughter and grandkids?
BS:
I’ve never had to explain beauty to Lulu, my 40-year-old daughter. She wrote the book on beauty! And my grandkiddos, I tell always, “Individuality is unique.”

HS: You are very fearless with your hair color, you’ve tried everything.  
BS:
 I’ve been every color imaginable, but I do love my new yellow added to my platinum. Every stripe and every leopard print you could think of I’ve had in my hair, but I am a fake-hair, plastic-extensions gal.

HS: How long does it take to do your hair, and what does that entail?
BS:
It takes me 12 hours, and I refresh and redo my hair extensions every three months. After that, it’s a piece of cake – a breeze! That’s 48 hours a year I spend on my hair with a wash and blow-dry every three weeks. I am very low maintenance.

HS: What eye makeup products do you use?  
BS:
My eyelashes are the $2.99 category from the 8th Ave. wig stores [laughs]. I love NARS, Sisley, MAC, Lancôme and Chanel.

HS: How did you decide to collaborate with Kleenex brand?
BS:
It’s a wonderful experience! I’ve always been very into interior design, and I can’t stand to have anything in my apartment that I don’t aesthetically love. I am in love with the product we’ve done together! It’s so great to see my classic prints on Kleenex boxes and little to-go packets. Roses and leopard, and zippers – all very classic me.

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