Take 10 With Betsey Johnson

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 31, 2020

betsey johnson

Betsey Johnson

Fashion designer, 77, Malibu, CA

  1. Last year, after having three seizures, you had open-heart surgery. How did it change you?

I feel great. I take heart medications -- a pill for this and that. But it made me smell the flowers a little more, appreciate the sunrise, the sunset. It sounds cornball, but what else is there but to realize that it could be over?

  1. In your new book, Betsey: A Memoir, you talk about discovering breast cancer in 1999 after your breast implants were removed. How did that happen?

I had these silly B-cup implants. I never liked them. Out of the blue one day, one of them deflates. I chose to take them out and went back to just having my regular breast tissue. I thought that was the end of it. Then after 2 months, I noticed a little, hard, smaller-than-a-green-pea bump next to the incision. I go to the doctor, then the next doctor, then the next doctor, and I’m on the operating table within 4 days. I had a lumpectomy.

  1. What helps you stay healthy?

Moderation. I don’t eat too much. I don’t drink too much. I don’t do anything too much. I don’t try to learn waterskiing now at my age. I’m not very Malibu in that I don’t run the beach, I don’t walk 5 miles every morning. I do yoga in bed, in my head, if I can’t sleep. I know when I feel good. It’s about finding some kind of balance where you just know your body’s happy.

  1. What are your guilty pleasures?

I know it isn’t the best thing in the world for me, but I want to continue enjoying wine. I’m also enjoying those health food bars that are covered with chocolate. I used to feel so guilty having chocolate.

  1. You live in Malibu with views of the Pacific Ocean. Do you enjoy California living?

I do much better out here, happy-wise, body-wise, because there’s more green around than in New York. I can feel it. I’m very affected by nature. That’s why I love flowers. I always have flowers around.

  1. How do you feel about aging?

I do think that as you get older, it’s all in your head. You really do feel how your spirit tells you to feel. I want to look as good as I can and feel as good as I can. Tina Turner was my idol. I thought, ‘Oh my god, if I can only look and feel as good as Tina Turner when I get older!’

  1. You launched your own clothing label in 1978 and eventually had 65 retail stores. What motivated you to create and build your own brand?

I knew it was time for me, after 12 years of working for other companies and freelancing. It was like, ‘I gotta go on my own.’ It was scary! Our second season we were practically penniless and out of business. Basically, you can’t let go. You have to keep holding onto that rope.

  1. How do clothes impact your life?

Clothing, I feel, 100% moves your state of mind around -- up and down. I believe and so wish that people discover the different sides of themselves by taking a chance once in a while and trying something new.

  1. What’s your best advice for pursuing your dreams?

The key in anything is: You gotta love it, you gotta really work hard at it, and you gotta pray you’ve got some talent to help it along. I’ve always believed it should be as happy a climb as possible. Your body, your mind, your heart, and soul get done in by taking mistakes and failures too seriously. It’s just a longer way up if you let yourself fall down that far.

  1. How do your daughter, Lulu, and your granddaughters, Layla and Ella, affect your life?

They make my days, they make my nights, they make my everything.

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