At 72, following a recent bankruptcy and a rapid resurrection (courtesy of Steve Madden), Betsey Johnson still has it. Giving interviews in connection to her new collaboration with Kleenex (“It was very fun,” she says), the designer is a pro at stirring the conversation toward the most salaciously interesting parts of her career, therefore skillfully avoiding topics she’d rather not discuss (although not much falls into that category).
Here, Johnson talks about her latest endeavor, how the fashion industry has changed throughout the years, and that time she went to P.J. Clarke’s with Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.
Tell us about the collaboration with Kleenex. How did it come about?
BETSEY JOHNSON: They called and said, 'Do you want to do some Kleenex artwork?' [It was] very pure, very fun.
Are you happy with the results?
BJ: Yeah! I’m a mess at work but [very picky] at home. That’s why I just love the idea of using Kleenex and I could relate [to the concept] of a box. It makes a big difference when it’s on your counter, in your face, and you don’t really like looking at it [tissues without boxes]. So when they called, I said I’d love to do that. I like the new ventures that are kind of happening in this 2015 zone.
The fashion industry is completely different from when you started out in the ‘60s.
BJ: Light years.
What was your favorite decade in terms of fashion?
BJ: '60s! It was so pure and naive and I would go to work every day and just design and make things in the factories. I made what I wanted to wear and then I had the completely honesty of [it]: if it sold, I had a job the next day. If it didn't, I didn't have a job. I learned what kids don't learn after they go to fashion school for four years. They don't really get that you have to sell. They want to be creative but, bottom line, you gotta sell.
You had a lot of celebrity clientele throughout the years.
BJ: They just went to my stores! I remember Johnny Depp. My manager called me from SoHo and she said, ‘Johnny Depp was here and he spent 13 thousand [dollars] on Vanessa [Paradis, his ex-girlfriend].' Then, I wanted to talk to his publicist who was his sister at the time. The next day, he’s in the showroom and, [the day after that], he comes with Vanessa and their two kids and the bodyguards and we went to dinner! He took us to P.J. Clarke’s, me and Lulu [Johnson, her daughter] and whatever boyfriend I was with. It was like, that’s how it happens! That’s how it all happened. I never called anyone to do their clothes. So, it’s been good.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES FOR MERCEDES-BENZ (RUNWAY)