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Betsey Johnson Gives Aspiring Fashionistas Job Advice at Fashion Week Panel

By Mathew Katz | February 1, 2012 9:47pm
Designer Betsey Johnson attends the Betsey Johnson presentation at The Plaza Hotel on Sept. 15, 2009.
Designer Betsey Johnson attends the Betsey Johnson presentation at The Plaza Hotel on Sept. 15, 2009.
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Larry Busacca/Getty Images

CHELSEA — It’ll take a lot of luck to become the next Betsey Johnson — and that’s according to the designer herself.

The fashion luminary — clad in a bright red-and-black striped outfit with a Mickey Mouse print sweater — took the time to tell adoring high school students how to land a career in fashion, at a panel at the High School of Fashion Industries on West 24th St. Wednesday afternoon.

“Basically, just go out and buy yourself a big old horseshoe and carry it in your back pocket,” said the 69-year-old designer. “Most of my life is a lot of luck, crazy luck.”

High school students from across the city came to the event, the third annual "Life in Fashion" panel presented as part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, largely to hear Johnson speak.

“She’s so cool, she’s so ridiculous,” said one enraptured student, recording the panel on her cell phone. "I want to be the next her."

The panel was introduced by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who said the fashion industry contributes roughly $9 billion to the city's economy each year.

“The world is yours. We look forward to you being the next generation of our fashion leaders," he said. "There are just jobs available to all of you to make sure that you’re able to showcase your talent.”

The panel also included fashion marketers, bloggers, and stylists, but Johnson stole the show by telling tales of her early fashion career, peppering in advice and even a few dirty words along the way.

"I didn’t know anyone. I was short and fat and white, WASPy," she said. "It’s a lot of love, and a lot of luck — and a lot of f---ing work.”

Panelist and stylist Derek Warburton also spoke about how much he struggled through his early career in the fashion world.

“I’m you, just a few years later,” he said. “I fought, I dug, I did everything I had to do to get here. It’s just so much work.”

But not everyone at the panel had a long, storied legacy in the fashion world. One panelist, Leandra Medine, only graduated from the New School in May. Her blog, The Man Repeller, catalogues fashion that women love but men hate.

“I’m sitting on 2 million views a month," she said. "The only thing I can tell you is that if you have an idea, buy that 10 dollar URL and run with it.”

On the other end of the table, Johnson encouraged the audience to move online with their ideas for style and fashion.

“I know the importance of the blogging and the twittering — to me it’s the most important part of the company” Johnson said.

“That’s the future — and I don’t know how to do it.”