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I haven’t even asked a question before Betsey Johnson, 79, excitedly tells me she is moving to London. She got to the U.K. a little over a month ago — she immediately went to get her hair done upon arrival — and has been living out of a hotel since. “I’m looking for an apartment,” she said. The one downside of the intercontinental move is that she won’t be able to get to a Walmart to easily check out the new products from her Luv Betsey collection, a range of makeup ranging in price from $9.99-14.99 that first launched in October 2020. Over the course of a 45-minute call, Johnson fills me in on the hair extensions she’s had for 35 years, her teenage granddaughters and the thrill of cheap makeup.
On hair extensions, moving to London and feeling British
“I have been with the same hair extension guy, from London, for 35 years. Andrew [Gregory] flies over, I fly him to New York, or I fly to London. After Covid — after two years of not having my hair extensions three times a year — when it was safe to get to England, I came over and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve always loved London. Why don’t I move here now?’ So anyway, I’m moving to London. I’m so excited. And the whole family’s excited for me. I have teenagers [grandchildren], so they could care less. If they hear from grandma once a month, they’ll be very happy.
[Andrew has] been doing my hair for 35 years. I walked into a salon he was working in. I think it was the late ’60s. So we’ve known each other for years, and he’s been my hair guy for all this time. And I don’t do anything to it. I see Andrew three times a year. And that’s it. I have perfect hair morning to night. It’s all plastic, and I love it. Now he does mostly real hair. I’m the only one that still uses the plastic. It never curls. It never does anything but stays spiky and straight. And it never gets dirty or oily. Instead of seeing each other for, you know, two 13-hour marathon days, I’ll be friends with him and be in London with him and hang out. He’s just the best friend in the world to have with me in this new country.
I’ve always felt English, everyone thought I was English anyway when I started designing in the ’60s.”
On her licensees and collections’ affordability
“I’m enjoying my career with my 15 different licenses through Steve Madden, [who] bought me 12 years ago. And I really enjoy my licensees. I mean, [the people at Steve Madden] are friends, and it’s a business collaboration. We want things to work and, of course, [we want] everything has to sell. I’ve never wanted to make anything more expensive than a roundtrip ticket to Puerto Rico. I just turned 79, but wait until you see me in the pictures for Walmart. I said, ‘You better retouch the hell out of these.’
The best thing about the makeup is the price range. Really, it’s for young kids that want to play around, because I really think makeup is a far-out, amazing thing. Since Twiggy in the ’60s, when I wore white lipstick and black eyes, I’ve never seen makeup change in such exciting, creative ways. I’m glad I’m doing makeup now. I get a lot from my granddaughters. One is like Cruella — she has half black and half white hair. She’s 13, and she is over-the-top, creative and out-there. She wears makeup on her face airbrushed. Ahe’s the best future makeup artist. And my other granddaughter is 16, and she’s a gorgeous little version of Lulu, my daughter.
It’s good stuff. The markup for the designer name has not been put on it. It’s just down and dirty — good stuff meant for a lot of girls. I’m so excited. I cannot wait to walk into a fucking Walmart. My daughter is the La Mer and the Saint Laurent and the Nars shopper. I like one-stop shopping. I don’t like to pay a lot of money. If it works for you, and it offers you the right colors … it doesn’t have to be expensive. So I really wanted that concept. It would be very unlike me to, all of a sudden, have a high price range of makeup. And it certainly wouldn’t be what the brand would want to do. They know that I love a good price.
I grew up on Oil of Olay. My mother used it — I still have wonderful memories. I’m a drugstore person. I’m Maybelline and Oil of Olay and Neutrogena, and I’m [the same] kind of person with makeup. It can all give you pimples, whether it’s cheap or expensive.”
On her beauty routine
“I need to wake up slowly and calmly. One thing I hate to do is rush putting makeup on. It makes me crazy for the whole day. I get up, I crawl to the bathroom, I get a hot towel, and I lie in bed for three minutes with the hot towel on my face. I clean my face the night before with the exfoliator — whatever those things are in the packages, the wipes. So I do an exfoliating wipe for two seconds, then I do a cleansing wipe. And then I do a moisturizer.
In the morning, I like to really smooth my skin with a squirt of a foundation.
It’s more like me to just put this stuff out there and hope that the kids play around with it. I think makeup is one of the very few creative outlets that we have. I ran the colors and ideas by [my granddaughters], and they loved them. They love the brushes and the book [the 56 piece Color Collection] — you don’t have to organize it, it’s all together in one place.”