Betsey Johnson has been breast cancer free now for "Eleven years," she proudly announced at a party at her SoHo boutique this weekend. "I tell you, it's kind of no big deal anymore, it's such a huge club."
We were standing by a rack of hot-pink bras, surrounded by her daughter Lulu and a crowd of handlers loosely tasked with keeping Johnson on track and on message; when a PR rep said I could have two questions, the designer just scoffed slightly devilishly. The party was to celebrate the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I asked her what steps she recommended women take to protect their health, expecting her to say "Get a mammogram," or something.
Wrong! "Get rid of the rotten boyfriends, keep the stress out of their lives, be happy, take care of themselves. Luxuriate. Even if it's a movie, a pedicure or a manicure, it's like — slow down and have a glass of champagne," she said, lifting her own, which was very full. "Maybe with Chambord in it. Eat your Yoplait yoghurt!" she laughed. (Yoplait and Chambord were sponsors of the event.) "Although that would probably make you very sick in combination. But I do think it's stress-driven," she continued, shaking her head. "I know I got my breast cancer from my last husband. I think it, I know it. My daughter Lulu was the only person I told." Johnson grabbed Lulu's hand. "In a funny way, years ago, it was like AIDS. I mean not like AIDS, but just in the way that people didn't talk about it. It was scary. And now because so many more women and people get cancer, and talk about it — full speed ahead. It's not scary anymore. Oh my God, my makeup artist? Eight months ago, she got mega-breast cancer. She had a total mastectomy, got completely rebuilt, beautifully. Fabulous wig made, fabulous eyelashes, and I worked with her again on my last fashion show, Sarah [Lucero] from Stila makeup, and I've never seen a woman get so on top of it so fast. She was more beautiful than I'd ever seen her before. I mean, going through that shit makes you smell the roses a little more."
Since Johnson had brought up ex-husbands, I thought I'd ask her about legendary Welsh musician, producer, and Velvet Underground member John Cale, whom she married and divorced in 1968. (Johnson was tight with the whole Factory scene at the time the Velvets were still managed by Andy Warhol; Edie Sedgwick was the house model at her first boutique, and she costumed the Warhol Superstar's last film.) Does she keep in touch with Cale? "You know, we zig-zag in and out of each other's lives," she said, "but no matter how many years go by, when we connect it's 1968 and it's same old, same old. And he's as crazy and energetic, always, as I am. Sometimes I think out of all my boyfriends and husbands, he was the best one. But we were too crazy! And still are. I wish him very well. And he'll always land in New York and say—" here she raised her voice "—'Hey Bets!'" She smiled. "He was a goodie. I picked good. Lasting is another question."
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