Lil’ Kim Approved: Betsey Johnson

Published September 14, 2012

Betsey Johnson threw one of the best parties of Fashion Week. Her career retrospective/SS13 runway show /70th birthday bash was a multimedia explosion of color, fashion, music, dancing, and jaw-dropping archival footage featuring decades of famous It girls who have graced Johnson’s runway since Twiggy was a supermodel.

So how do you know when you’ve thrown the best party?

1. The fire marshal arrives. Always a good sign (better still would be if the doors were actually padlocked). Word on the street/iPad rumbled on Tuesday afternoon that something Big was up, until over a thousand media, celebs, fashionistas, and club kids flooded the blocks around the Hell’s Kitchen venue Espace, many in fabulous ensembles usually reserved for Lucky Cheng’s and Heatherette shows.

2. Guests dancing on chairs. The runway show featured Johnson’s vintage designs, each era shown to blasting rock: ’60s op-art minis and hot pants (The Kinks, Rolling Stones); ’70s flower-power bellbottoms (Stealers Wheel, Electric Light Orchestra); ’80s punk black-and-red-and-skulls-all-over (After the Fire, Beastie Boys); ’90s grunge slipdresses with grandpa cardigans (Nirvana). The wild catwalk climaxed in a vibrant S/S 2103 collection (Beyoncé), the models playfully skipping, hopping, cavorting, strutting, dancing, shimmying, jumping, and jiving down the runway. One model was draped in Playboy bunny pursues, another in dollar-bill wreaths. There were models wearing snorkeling gear and flippers; another carried a live pig. The finale included Johnson’s daughter Lulu jumping out of a huge cake as Cyndi Lauper sang “Happy Birthday.”

The audience, who had sat stoically poker-faced through fashion shows all week, were beaming, laughing, cheering, and dancing, many on their chairs. Having momentarily forgotten to be ironic, they instead had a blast. Guests included Charlotte Ronson, Byrdie Bell, Irena Pantaeva, Jessica White, Kim Kardashian’s bff Jonathan Cheban, Kelly Osbourne and her Fashion Police co-host George Kotsiopoulos, Fern Mallis (former head of CFDA, IMG and founder of 7th on Sixth, aka Fashion Week), Steve Madden, MDNR, Neon Hitch, Angela Simmons, Corey Kennedy, Dani Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, and Bebe Buell (Liv Tyler’s mother, ’70s model and an inspiration for Kate Hudson’ Penny Lane character in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous).

3. Cyndi Lauper is your house band. Dressed in a black crinoline/tutu, panne velvet motorcycle jacket and five-inch stiletto ankle boots, Lauper played a hard-rocking, three-song set, including a ferocious version of “True Colors” and a rollicking, rump-shaking reggae twist on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” In short, Lauper kicked ass and brought the house down.

After the show, Lauper changed into a leopard print coat. She told us that she wore Johnson on her first world tour in 1980 “because she was the coolest rock designer.” We asked her what she felt during her performance. “It was so much fun,” Lauper said. “I loved every minute.” She’s currently working on a new Broadway play. “It’s called Kinky Boots,” Lauper told us. “I wrote the music, Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, and Jerry Mitchell’s producing. It’s previewing in Chicago this month and opens in New York in April.” Retiring has never occurred to her: “I’m not a car, so people don’t need to kick the tires and look under the hood. I do what I want, when I want and how I want.”

Words to live by.

4. Sky Ferreira is your DJ. If Siouxsie Sioux, Exene Cervenka, Miike Snow, and Stevie Nicks had a love child, she would be Sky Ferreira, the throaty alt-songstress with the smoldering looks. A frequent front row guest at Johnson’s shows, Ferreira has been performing bicoastally in advance of her new EMI EP, Ghost, which drops October 2. Her playlist for Johnson’s afterparty included Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools,” the All That theme song, Frank Ocean’s “Forrest Gump,” DIIV’s “Doused,” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

5. Lil’ Kim is your best friend. “I spend hours with Betsey in her showroom and have hung out with her for years,” Lil’ Kim told us backstage. “Betsey gives me down-to-earth and fun and you know what? I don’t give a shit what anybody says, I’m gonna do what pleases my fans. I remember I was doing a photo shoot for Vibe or XXL and I was wearing my little flared, colorful Betsey skirt with ruffles on the bottom. All the stylists were like, ‘Where did you get that!’ They loved it and let me wear it for the shoot. Betsey and I have the same taste, and she makes me feel alive when I wear her vibrant colors. She’ll show me piles of clothes, up to my shoulders, and say, ‘Dive in,’ and the things that I pick are usually her favorite pieces too.”

Kim’s been busy as a Queen Bee with her upcoming VH1 Behind the Music special, laying down new tracks, and taking heat for her comments about the Drake/Chris Brown bottle-hurling tiff—stemming from her beef with Drake’s Cash Money label-mate, Nicki Minaj (who, coincidentally, wore Betsey Johnson for her American Idol performance). But Lil’ Kim simply sees it as loyalty to her friends, Rihanna and Brown: “I love Rihanna and Chris and wish them all the best.” As for Kevin Hart’s comic attempts to reconcile Drake and Brown at the VMAs, Lil’ Kim said, “There was so much tension in that room that night, you could cut it with a knife.”

In person, Lil’ Kim was very friendly and diva-attitude-free. Her Return of the Queen Tour kicked off last May and currently she is working on a new album that is “going to be super-duper sexy and very hardcore Lil’ Kim mixed with the new swag,” she laughed. She and Kelley Osbourne are also collaborating on a hip-hop remake of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back.” As for the key to her creativity, “I do what I feel,” she said. “And always feel what I do.”

Lil’ Kim’s personal style? “Sexy all the time. Sometimes outrageous but always young and fun. Sometimes I do elegant but still keep it fun.”

Johnson, who was barefoot and wearing a rose ankle bracelet, white hip-huggers, and blond dreads, told us that her favorite decade to design during was the ’60s. “Because it was my first collection. It was a decade of real invention. LSD, landing on the moon, pantyhose, taking our bra off, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Warhol. The music and art matched the clothes. In ’64, I had a little boutique called Paraphernalia. Julie Christie wore my clothes. I made all the patterns myself, and none of them had a dart, because they were modeled on Twiggy! The girls and boys all had Mick Jagger bodies.”

Lil’ Kim, who was wearing one Johnson’s spray-painted-on green striped minidresses, has the kind of killer hourglass curves that would make a Barbie doll weep with envy. How does Johnson design for her shape? “Everything stretches,” Johnson said. “It’s Kim’s body that makes the dress.”

Johnson was designing rock and roll fashion before Vivienne Westwood met Malcolm McLaren and when London’s Carnaby Street and Warhol’s The Factory were the centers of the fashion universe. She married The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, and Edie Sedgwick was her house model. Johnson designed Sedgwick’s costumes for her final film, Ciao! Manhattan.

Imagine, 50 years from now, thousands of 20-somethings jamming the streets and begging to be let into your 70th birthday party. “I hope I’m that cool when I’m 70,” I said to the photog standing next to me, as Johnson twirled on the runway. “I wish I was that cool now,” he said, snapping away in the dark.