Designer Betsey Johnson met with the press during the Oct. 18 opening fete of Tucson Fashion Week.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

We chatted with big-time fashion designer Betsey Johnson at Tucson Fashion Week last weekend. Known for designs that are, in her own words, “pretty, punky and pink,” Johnson met the press in a simple black dress, leopard print wedges and ample jewelry. She shared some of the jewels that stud her 40-plus years in the fashion industry.

Q: So you’ve been doing this quite a while. What keeps you going?

A: “It’s been about 45 years, and I just love it. I wanted to stand for something and getting my start in the ‘60s was great because I was right there with Twiggy.”

Q: What would you say you stand for?

A: “I kinda stand for do your own thing. Buy, wear, eat what you love; what you feel comfortable in; what makes you feel good. I think with everything in your home, everything in your closet, just love it, and don’t think about trends. Is it in? Is it out? If you love it, go for it.”

Q: Do you have a go-to outfit?

A: “I’m very lazy. I know my formula — I wear capri cut-off pants of some sort and a T-shirt. Rock n’ roll kind of T-shirts or a simple, comfortable, dumb-dumb T-shirt dress. And that’s about it. But otherwise, after a while, when you get older, you know what works. I spend more time on my makeup, getting that right, than clothes. I think I have 10 pieces of clothing that need hangers. The rest, everything is folded, and it’s all stacked in my closet.”

Q: What inspires you to design? What gets your mental wheels going?

A: “You just hope for inspiration. … Sometimes inspiration comes out from classic movies, old movies. I love black and white movies. … I’m a vintage freak. I love vintage clothing. I find it really inspiring just to see the cuts and the makes. You can learn so much.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.