LINCOLN CENTER — The word "icon" may be overused, but it’s appropriate when applied to fashion designer Betsey Johnson.
The longtime New Yorker has, since the 1970s, been churning out couture with a distinct, girly-punk style that has attracted high-profile devotees such as the Velvet Underground and Cyndi Lauper, as well as mainstream attention.
Born in Wethersfield, Conn., the 71-year-old has been a fixture of New York City's fashion scene since she opened her first boutique, Betsey Bunky Nini, on the Upper East Side in 1969. She designed the clothing that Andy Warhol Factory muse Edie Sedgewick wore for her final film role in "Ciao! Manhattan."
Johnson began her own fashion line in 1978 and opened her now-closed SoHo store in the same year. The 5-foot-4 spitfire is famous for doing a cartwheel, and sometimes a split, at the end of her runway shows.
Although Johnson voluntarily filed for bankruptcy in 2012, her productivity has remained steady. The Upper East Sider partnered with Marist College to produce her Fall 2014 New York Fashion Week show — a move that is meant to reflect Johnson’s interest in helping a new generation of designers. Sh recently launched The Fold, a new online education resource for fashion at Marist College.
DNAinfo New York snuck backstage before Johnson’s show to ask her about the partnership and her favorite neighborhood haunts.
Where in the city do you like to go when you need to clear your head?
Do you have a favorite museum or art gallery in the city? If so, which one?
The Met, because they always have the best fashion exhibits.
Which neighborhood, in your opinion, has retained as much of the spirit of the city as you understood it when you were first establishing yourself?
Every neighborhood has changed and is a watered-down version of what it once was. If I had to pick one, I'd say the East Village.
What’s the best thing that’s come out of this partnership with Marist?
I’m gonna do it now. They are the sponsor of my show and now is the big time. I don’t do anything ahead of that. I was just really happy for them to jump in and want me to do this. It’s wonderful.
What advice do you have for young designers?
Just love it. There’s no "one to five steps." If it’s meant to be, it will happen. If you build it, it will come, you know what I mean? I like that there’s no way I can say you should do this or you should do that. You should just jump in and try to be happy. It’s business, the real world. It’s after school, after the fun is over. That’s the secret.