With a cartwheel and a split, Betsey Johnson marks 50 years

NEW YORK (AP) — Of course she did her signature cartwheel. Of course she landed in a split, rolled over on her back and lay splayed on the ground, just luxuriating in the applause.

Folks, she’s Betsey Johnson.

The 73-year-old designer with the signature blonde mop on her head was having her usual grand old time on Friday at New York Fashion Week — actually, perhaps even grander than usual — as she celebrated 50 years in fashion with a delightfully zany show heavy on sparkle, color, stripes, flounce and pizazz. Oh, and balloons: the show ended with all her models holding silver “50” balloons as they skipped around in a circle, Johnson among them.

In a backstage interview, Johnson said she was dedicating her show to her now 94-year-old dance teacher from her hometown in Wethersfield, Conn., Ann Pimm, who traveled to New York for the occasion.

“She was my teacher from when I was 4 years old until high school,” Johnson said as she prepared for the show. “Ballet, acrobatics and tap. You know, I wanted to be a Rockette.”

Johnson’s fondness for the Rockettes — and dancers in general — was obvious from Friday’s runway display, a gathering of some of her favorite designs that celebrated, decade by decade, Johnson’s remarkable career. She decided to go backward in time for this show, beginning with the current decade, and then working her way back to outfits evoking the 1960s, when she began in fashion.

Johnson noted that she was celebrating not only a half-century as a designer, but her recent lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a highly prestigious honor that she says she’s still stunned to have received. “I am surprised I got it —I didn’t expect to,” she said. “Because I’ve really been on that edge of the industry for all these years. But it was really nice to get that approval, having done dance costumes all my life!”

“I just wanted to take this moment and celebrate the lifetime achievement, the 50 years,” she added. “And the costumes. I took my little costumes and remade them for big girls. And you can see every aspect of my inspiration when you see these costumes: the puffed sleeves, the tutus … I mean, it’s all there.”

Johnson’s energetic post-show antics, among other things, have earned her a reputation as someone who will never consent to growing old — the Peter Pan of the fashion world. She laughs at the description.

“That’s very complimentary! But I don’t think about it,” Johnson said. “I just like to keep going, be happy. Keep doing my work, and being with my family.”

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