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Fashion's Betsey Johnson goes to therapy in made-for-TV comeback

Fashion designer Betsey Johnson, co-host of "XOX Betsey Johnson", arrives at the 2013 NBCUniversal Summer Press Day at The Langham Huntingto
Fashion designer Betsey Johnson, co-host of "XOX Betsey Johnson", arrives at the 2013 NBCUniversal Summer Press Day at The Langham Huntingto

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mother-daughter therapy, nightly branzino dinners and pulls from a mimosa-filled water bottle at the gym.

Welcome to just some of the life of Betsey Johnson, the eccentric and frenetic fashion designer whose personality goes on display in a reality television series beginning on Sunday on U.S. cable network Style.

"XOX Betsey Johnson" casts an eye on Johnson, 70, best known for her bright, girly punk dresses, and her daughter Lulu as the inseparable duo look to relaunch their fashion careers after professional and personal setbacks.

The eight-episode series is as much a psychological trip through the pair's emotional high-wire act as it is about the nuts and bolts of the fashion industry.

"I think we were always content in our lives, so the joke is 'Why not do a reality TV show when our lives were completely falling apart?'" Lulu, 38, told Reuters in a joint interview with her mother.

For the mother and daughter, who live a few doors apart in the same apartment building on New York's Upper East Side, their lives were ripping at the inseams.

Johnson, who still ends her fashion shows with a trademark cartwheel and split, was forced to shutter her company's 65 retail stores and file for bankruptcy last year while selling off her brand to footwear giant Steve Madden.

"I felt I had lost what I had built and didn't know if I could continue and get it back," said Johnson, who is now the creative director behind her brand.

Meanwhile, Lulu, a divorced mother, is in the midst of launching her own fashion line.

In the first episode, viewers get a taste of a day in the life of the fun-seeking Johnson, whose exercise routine is more flirting with her personal trainer and sipping from her mimosa-filled water bottle than sit-ups and squats.

The designer also never misses her favorite meal: a daily dinner of branzino and a half bottle of white wine.

But Johnson's twitchy anxiety about her new gig takes center stage ahead of a big launch party for her Steve Madden brand.

'LIKE A REALLY BIG THERAPY SESSION'

"I've never had to answer to anyone else," Johnson admits before the party. "I never was controlled. What I'm most afraid of in terms of having people boss me is my pace; I'm very fast."

Never mind that Johnson is a hit at the party in a billowy, embellished gold lamé gown because the series saves its drama for moments away from the boardroom and catwalk, when Johnson and Lulu butt heads as mother and daughter.

"I felt that I really unzipped my soul and kind of squeezed out every bit of who I am, and it was rather painful," Lulu said of the series. "It was like a really big therapy session."

And therapy sessions are what Johnson dislikes the most.

"It's like taking a shovel to cement to try and get this girl to talk about anything emotionally," Lulu said about her mother, even after a steady schedule of couples therapy.

"I don't like to talk about my feelings," Johnson said after one session on the show. "Sometimes Lulu is short with me and it hurts me ... Lulu really loves therapy, I just like to keep going like a race car. Vroom!"

Despite an appearance as playful and Pollyannaish as her designs, the show offers a peek into the dogged work ethic of a successful fashion designer who does not know how to stop.

"My work has driven my life," Johnson said. "I've gone through husbands and boyfriends and I can go through anything as long as I have my work."

In the end, Johnson said she found her therapy in an unexpected place: shooting the series over several months beginning last August.

"The filming was such a great, wonderful support system for me when I had kind of failed at the business," Johnson said. "I think I would have been really miserable if I didn't have the show because it kept me going and it kept me in the spotlight."

Style is part of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corp.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Vicki Allen)

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