MOVES LIKE JAGGER: After hearing that Mick Jagger had gone public about his upcoming heart surgery, Betsey Johnson decided to do the same.
Johnson will undergo a four- to six-hour open heart surgery in Los Angeles Thursday, followed by what is expected to be a five-day hospital stay. As a breast cancer survivor, who shared that challenge publicly, the designer said she wanted to take a similar tack with heart disease. Having modeled in several Red Dress Collection runway shows, Johnson said she can contribute more by speaking about her health and dedicating a chapter of her upcoming book to it. “To me, open heart surgery means they have to get the saw out. They can’t go through veins and arteries. For this, they have to cut me open just like my mom and dad had to have done them,” she said. “They said my aorta is the size of a 300-pound guy, but the walls are very thin. This little one-inch accordion gizmo is being thrown in and they will remove my aorta. They say it really works and my doctor has done a million of these procedures.”
Calling from her little pink trailer in Paradise Cove, an oceanfront resort in Malibu that is “literally a trailer park,” Johnson said of her home for the past three years, “You can imagine the range is very interesting.” Having suffered three “baby seizures — you know, the fall down, go to the hospital, go home, everything’s fine,” in the past year, Johnson said Chantal Bacon tracked down one of the leading heart surgeons for her at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “His wife is an ex-Betsey punk rock ‘n’ roll dresser of mine. I never stop running into girlfriends, fans and supporters,” she said.
Very much the creative director — at her Steve Madden-owned label — and finally allowed to kick in whatever she wants to make her work live up to her name, Johnson said she is happier than ever at work. With 15 licenses, plus-size is the newest one. Urban Outfitters is reviving one of her 1997 collections inspired by her daughter Lulu, and the designer plans to relaunch it in New York in June. Her pre-op plans included “a fun day” at the Beverly Hills Hotel — “My favorite place that I first got to know in 1965, when we opened the Paraphernalia here next to the Brown Derby. That’s how far back I go with that hotel.”
One point of caution is her mother died from a slightly different operation about 45 years ago, Johnson said, “That was so long ago and there was a glitch in the testing. They have done so much testing on me….You have to be one of the lucky ones to get one of these insanely precise robots to assist your doctor.”
In New York every month or so for a new hair color, Johnson said she likes the non-fashion vibe of California. “If anything goes whoops, I am very, very happy to have lived a wonderful life — full of love and support. Lulu really doesn’t want to hear this, but any way. You’ve got to know that. Everybody thinks about that. I’m happy to think and to know that, ‘Boy, I’ve had a great lucky life just filled with the best — family, friends, work, everything.”