Ex-Balenciaga designer on working with Ghesquière, being abnormally ballsy and cutting ties
Betsy’s straightforwardness cuts through crap like a knife through butter. We would not just say this about any artist, and similarly we would never name somebody ‘the queen of making shit happen’ in the first issue of our magazine if it wasn’t rooted in truth. She will outwork you. She might outdrink you. She will most definitely outsing you. Betsy recently signed record deals with both Warner Bros in the UK and Columbia in America, collaborated with Hot Chip frontman Joe Goddard on a number of songs, and debuted her first solo single and its accompanying video this month, Fair — a track inspired by the end throes of her relationship, which through writing the song she realised needed to come to closure. But, let’s travel back to the ends of other relationships — those before music became a full-time gig.
Midway through Central Saint Martins’ BA Fashion Design, Betsy landed an internship at Balenciaga which turned into her permanent job, designing for Nicolas Ghesquière’s main line. A very highly pressured job, she reflects, as there is so much work to be done when there are four collections per year, and all the processes need to be executed at an incredibly high standard. “I feel like it’s the high level of quality that you’re aiming for that makes it high pressure. It could obviously be more relaxed if you weren’t trying hard to be the best, but that’s the same in any job. But, particularly at that time, everybody in the team was striving to create something that had never been done before. Everybody worked as much as they could to create something really special.”
“I DIDN’T WANT TO WAKE UP AT 80 AND REGRET NOT GIVING MUSIC A GO.”
It’s not only the striving for ‘perfection’ — however contradictory that specific expression may be — that she picked up while working at the company. “The skills I learnt at Balenciaga have been transferred to writing my music or designing my art work,” she says. With this, she does not, however, refer to fashion design terminology per se. “A major thing is how to take the smallest bit of inspiration and turn it into something that is completely different. Once you understand that, you can use it across a multitude of things.” The essence of it is, essentially: to look at things in not just one way, but seeing lots of different angles. While Balenciaga was, in her words, the ultimate company to work for, the love story had to end. “Music was always playing on my mind. I just felt like I had to give it a try even if I failed at it. It was a really difficult decision to make. But I didn’t want to wake up at 80 and regret not giving music a go.”
As a child, Betsy was surrounded by music, and her father and uncle actually played together in a band. “They used to play at home a lot, around camp fires. Music is like an addiction that I’ve always had. It wasn’t something I discovered, but something that was in my blood.” However, she was born on a farm in Wales and explains that being a pop musician at the time seemed like a “far-away dream”. Fashion was something she enjoyed, but music remained her passion throughout. Why not study music straightaway? “I always knew I needed something that will help me pay my way through and live. Fashion was kind of a natural thing,” she reasons. Her musical father didn’t necessarily push her to pursue it from the start, and the reason lies in her parents’ matter of fact attitude towards life. “My parents are hardworking, they’ve come from nothing, worked hard for what they’ve got. It’s something my mother particularly, instilled in me and my brothers. It was just that she was quite keen for me to do something that would mean if music didn’t work out, I would have a back-up plan.”
“FAILURE DOESN’T SCARE ME. I AM A BIT ABNORMALLY BALLSY THAT WAY.”
Betsy, who has never been professionally trained in music, compares the two separate industries, explaining there are more similarities than peculiarities. Both high pressure, both dominated by celebrities, glamour and both are trying to push the boundaries. Having greatly identified with the Ghesquière aesthetic of her former job, on the music side she looks up to icons who have written music that will stand the test of time. “Those who strive to do something unusual and new, but always create something that connects with people. For me, that’s something that I live by.” She cites larger-than-life characters David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Madonna and Nina Simone as having influenced her deeply — mainly because of their diversities and the almost chameleon-like ability they have to change their persona through time, while keeping an integral artistic core. Look at Madonna’s progression from the 80s up until now — enough said. What about Betsy’s personal show-womanship? “I am a big character but what you see is what you get; I don’t pretend to be anything else. The way I dress on stage is sometimes an exaggeration of what I would normally wear. So it’s a truthful extension of me. But who knows, maybe one day I’ll chop off my hair and speak only three words in interviews.”
As she sets out to release her next single, one wonders if the financial aspect of her new-found job is ever a worrying topic? “Weirdly, money isn’t something that worries me. What worries me is not being able to do something that makes me happiest. I am not scared about having no money. Failure doesn’t scare me. I am a bit abnormally ballsy that way,” she says matter-of-factly. “If all else fails, I’ll go back to farming. My parents had a goose farm, so I worked on that a lot. A lot of disgusting jobs. I’m pretty hands-on!