This coming Sunday, May 12 (Mother’s Day! Don’t forget!), the Style Network will debut fashion’s latest reality show: XOX, Betsey Johnson.
The debut follows a pretty tumultuous year for the energetic designer, from declaring bankruptcy and closing all her stores, to throwing a huge 70th birthday bash, to Steve Madden taking over her company.
Betsey’s new show, also starring her daughter Lulu (who is trying to get her own clothing line off the ground), will shed a light on how her business works under Steve Madden, among other things. We got a sneak peek at the first episode, and Betsey is surprisingly open about her past business problems and, well, everything–from her relationship with her daughter to what’s really inside her water bottle while she’s working out with her trainer (a mimosa). We recommend watching–it’s quite entertaining.
And more than that, Betsey feels that filming the show actually helped her and Lulu get back on track (Betsey in terms of her business and Lulu following a divorce). Read on for our interview with Betsey, in which she dishes on that, why she agreed to do the show in the first place, her new job “without the hard stuff,” and what she thinks of the whole punk-themed Met Gala (which she did not attend).
Fashionista: How did the reality show come about?
Betsey Johnson: It was Lulu’s idea. I was kind of going crazy with my work situation and Lulu was coming out of 24/7 mommyhood and she was going through a divorce. We were both riding rocky roads personally and Lulu was really wanting to connect herself with work, whatever kind of work that may be, from design to TV to whatever, and she got an agent who loved the reality show idea. The two of us together are pretty interesting because we’re very opposite and different from each other, but deep down we’re one of the closest mother-daughter duos that possibly exists.
Had you been approached to do a reality show before? Why do one now?
I had been approached to do reality shows over the years, and I just said, nuh-uh, no, not comin’ in my house 24/7, because I ain’t an interesting character like Ozzy Osbourne. I just thought it was a terrifying idea; it wasn’t presented to me like the kind of show that this is. The filming of the show was a kind of glue that held things together. It’s been a great ride making the show and it really turned the two of us around. [Now] we’re really ready to go forward. I hope we still keep living and being the way we have been.
Was it difficult getting used to having cameras around all the time?
It’s funny, I didn’t think I’d ever forget that they were there, but we did. It’s so real that you can’t go, ‘Oh, let’s repeat that.’ You just are into it and you can’t stop your own momentum. When it’s backstage at the fashion show, I really forget that the cameras are there, because I had my stuff to do. When you’re upset, you’re upset, it’s really wild. I never thought that cameras would disappear like they have; I think because with regular photo shoots, I do my smile, I do my pose and boom it’s over with. It’s very fake compared to a show that goes on and on.
What will viewers learn about you from watching the show that they didn’t already know?
I think that they’ll see how much I love my work, how hard I work, but I hope they get the mommy side, the grandma side, the other side of me, which can be very quiet and very serious. You basically see the high energy and then you see the low energy; you see the full circle of me and especially Lulu. She goes through so much, but then you see the fun side of her with her girlfriends.
Is there anything you’re nervous about people seeing?
I think we’re kind of nervous that people will think that I’m a pushover with Lulu or she’s too tough on me, or that I’m too insecure here, or I’m too blinded. I think in the end people will really get us and get our relationship and enjoy what we’re all about. It is really us, so we can’t say, ‘That wasn’t me!’ Hopefully there’ll be a lot of people who are similar to Lulu and me and they’ll relate to it, connect to it. It’ll hit home somehow. That’s what it’s about.
You’re really open about your bankruptcy and business restructuring on the show–were you nervous about that?
The headline, ‘Bankrupt’ is hard to hide. In the beginning, I did put myself through, ‘Pretend you’re retiring; pretend you want to do something else,’ and then I realized whatever happens, I’m going to somehow keep working with my brand. What my partner and I lost was our retail operation, which was always incredibly, wonderfully fun, but incredibly hard. I had my brand and I had my name that I built–so that was never threatened. It was more, I had a choice: do I want to keep on working? And I work now. I’m creative director through the Steve Madden corporation, who bought the debt…I don’t even know how to explain it all.
What are things like now? What’s next?
We really built a look–a pink puffy prom dress, and a punk rock and roll-y thing and made some funny, sexy shoes–we really did something. When we were in the middle of it, it was more like we were just working so hard that we didn’t ever step back and go, ‘Wow, that was really something.’ But [Steve Madden] saw what we were doing. Even my dresses are back and now I’m coming out with aerobic wear and I want to write a book finally. It’s just going better than ever, without the production problems and the bottom line problems and the loans to the bank, without the hard stuff. I’m really in a kind of total creative phase rather than a bottom line phase–I’m supposed to just inspire!
Speaking of punk, what are your thoughts on the new punk exhibit at the Met and Monday night’s gala?
I think we started in business at the peak of punk, which was 1978 and now collectors of my vintage collection call it ‘punk label’ and it was very punk for about eight years. I wasn’t [at the Met gala last night,] but it was really fun to have punk uptown. The Metropolitan is going to do punk?!
Who did you think looked the best?
I thought the best was Madonna. She knows punk; she is that and she showed that she could blend punk and everything else and still rock it. I relate to that, I’ve been right there and done that and still love ripped fishnets and it shows that punk is timeless. The dress I thought was the most punk to me, the dress that I would have worn if I went, was Miley Cyrus in Marc Jacobs. That to me was the most true blue punk of the night–the rest were fashion interpretations of punk. The other person I like because she is the queen of punk was Vivienne Westwood.
[Even though I live uptown now,] I still look very punky and funky and out of the fashion trend loop and people enjoy me. They like seeing me and I think I can be pretty entertaining as a person walking down the street.
She’s also pretty entertaining on TV. Her show debuts Sunday night at 8/7C on Style. Watch a little teaser below.