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Child’s Play

Eccentric fashion designer Betsey Johnson discovers the fountain of youth.

Betsey Johnson

Betsey Johnson

Seventy-four years young, American fashion designer Betsey Johnson continues to make her mark with retirement nowhere in sight. Known for closing her fashion shows with a cartwheel, this spunky designer continues her legacy with the same contagious energy that made her famous. Getting her start in womenswear, Johnson expanded to children’s in 1975 after having her daughter, Lulu. Today, her kids’ offerings are available online and in major department stores, not to mention the exclusive Babies “R” Us line she launched last year. The collections teem with signature flouncy skirts and glittery tops for girls who just want to have fun—like herself. “When I do appearances, I have kids from 5 years old to 85 years old,” Johnson exclaims. “It’s quite phenomenal how everyone catches my drift.” So, what’s her secret? Earnshaw’s got the scoop from Johnson while she enjoyed lunch at her favorite sushi restaurant in Malibu. 

What inspired you to get into children’s fashion? I feel about 200 years old because what inspired me for childrenswear was my own daughter, Lulu, in 1975. I was in a freelance period then, after Paraphernalia and after Alley Cat, and I had about two years of 10 different freelance jobs. That’s when I launched Betsey Johnson Kids.

Do you have to filter your edgy design style to fit childrenswear? No, I just shrink everything down! It’s really magical. I have a formula that changes as I go along in a category, but initially the only thing I want my collection to say is ‘hello!’ My grandchildren (ages 8 and 10) are the greatest inspiration. I should hire them as consultants.

What’s to come in your Fall ’17 exclusive collection for Babies “R” Us? You just get on a bicycle and keep riding. It uses the same kind of look and feel because it’s still a very fresh and new to the little kids. You just kind of make it more sweet or warm or furry or fun as it goes through the seasons.

What keeps you in fashion? Why not retire? I’m still doing it because it’s truly a part of me. I hate to say it, but it’s a piece of cake. Currently I’m working on a lot of artwork. I’m doing a full set of emojis for an upcoming collection. I like how people use my art in various drawings and motifs—all that junk. Today the thing is I’m not the only one with the lightening bolts and the hearts anymore.

Exclusive Babies “R” Us children’s collection by Betsey Johnson

Exclusive Babies “R” Us children’s collection by Betsey Johnson

What is the most difficult part of designing children’s clothing?  I hate to burst your bubble, but after all my years in the industry, there’s nothing challenging. It really is smooth if I just do what I love. I make what I would wear if I was 3-months-old.

So what trends are kids looking for these days? To be honest, I don’t know that there are fashion trends anymore. You do what you believe in. And if you’re consistent with it, people know right off the bat what they are going to get. It’s worked for me! For inspiration, I people watch. My kids are into rose gold right now and bomber jackets. Anything close to a bomber jacket with stickers and little messages they adore.

What’s the best part about designing for kids? I feel very comfortable in this category. They are in the land of pretend a lot, which I like to join. The younger the girls, the more far out and creative their style. Clothes are like toys to them.

Who is your core customer? Usually a Betsey Johnson mom. If a woman likes my work over the years, they pass that adoration onto their kids. I’m kind of the fancy couture designer of kids’ stuff that still stays affordable.

Fashion aside, anything else fascinating going on in your life? I’m opening a hotel in Mexico! I swear, if I just stick to my consistent look, everything is successful.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the chidlren’s market today? Here’s a good answer—I have no idea. I don’t really care. I think you just need to stay fresh and always offer something  that isn’t already in the closet. I do this in collaboration with over 15 licensees.

So what’s better, West Coast or East Coast? I was always so trapped in New York. I lived there for 55 years. So when my family moved to the West Coast I was flabbergasted. Now I live in a little trailer park development called Paradise Cove in Malibu, and I’m truly in paradise. I’m more focused than ever before. I can’t believe the streets. The only surprises are on the kids because they aren’t living ‘real life’ yet. It’s amazing the version of clothes I wear out here because I just don’t care. It’s more fun to get reactions from people here while in New York I just went to work in my T-shirt and jeans.

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