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What Betsey Johnson Can’t Live Without

Photo: Courtesy Viking/Penguin

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair but the hairspray and the electric toothbrush. We asked Betsey Johnson — whose memoir Betsey comes out today — about the lipstick, essential oil, and writing utensil she can’t live without.

Let me tell you about this oil. It’s a very weird product, but I think it’s the best body oil. It comes in a tube, like toothpaste, and it’s a multiuse. It’s just the best stuff I’ve ever, ever found for hydration and moisture, and all that junk. My skin looks more even; my sun spots, or whatever spots I had, go away. I glop it on at night, and I wear it very lightly during the day. I’m so sunburned, I’m like a lobster, and I don’t use sunscreen. I’m really bad with that, but this oil is a magic oil.

I have dry mouth — an old lady’s disease, I think. Nobody can solve it. It’s when you don’t have enough saliva. It started about 12 years ago, and I went to the best doctor in the world, but nobody cares about dry mouth. What happens is not so much that your mouth gets dry, but when it gets dry, your mouth gets very chemical. It’s just a feeling — it’s like a toothache, how it takes over your whole body. So I, for 12 years, have existed with Halls sugar-free cough drops. I found them to be the best for creating saliva, and they don’t allow the chemical thing to happen.

I’ve always used a Sharpie. I did a little bit of illustration work for Mademoiselle magazine in the 1960s, and I did my drawings with a Sharpie. That was my thing: No other illustrator was using a Sharpie then. They gave me little pages, then I got full pages, then I got really into the drawing thing, and I still love the drawing thing. It was just major for my stores; I drew my fabric and all that. A Sharpie is really the only writing tool I use.

The best red on the planet. I need it to feel alive. As soon as I get up in the morning, I put my red lipstick on. I have three or four tubes around the house, so wherever I am, I can reapply it and reapply it. It’s crazy, but for me, it’s just a balance for my paleness. I am pale and have green eyes and platinum hair, mixed with yellow at the moment. I just need that shot of color, and I also need it to balance the rest of the serious color I usually wear. I’ve been wearing this basic, strong blue-red shade for 40 years. That’s my No. 1.

I wear Betsey Johnson Pretty N Punk because I really do like that fragrance very much. But I add patchouli on top of that. I love that oil. I got asked to leave the Macy’s beauty department in the ’60s because I went there reeking of patchouli oil, and it was hard for other shoppers to smell anything else but my patchouli. So that was funny. I get it wherever, from Whole Foods to a crazy little hippie oil store in Malibu. I’m surprised how many people will still wear a touch of patchouli oil. They’re usually older people. You know, people that know patchouli.

There’s this brand called Magnolia Pearl, it’s out of a funky, farmlike little barn house in Dallas. It’s very funky and easy to wear and one size fits all. I think ABC Carpet is going to start to carry it because I told them they must. If they want to keep that great little clothing area downstairs, then they’ve got to carry Magnolia. Some of my favorite pieces are their huge pants. The pants are huge, they’re like clown pants. It’s something you have to know how to wear.

New York is my magazine. I either buy a whole lot of magazines at the airport, or I’ll buy one, and I always start with New York. It has been so great to me in terms of keeping in touch, covering me, informing me. It has been the best magazine the city has for people who want to look a lot and read a little, but it has good articles, too. It’s not the New Yorker, but it’s not Hello! or the Enquirer. Huge fan. Huge, huge, huge.

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What Betsey Johnson Can’t Live Without