Johnson's grown daughter Lulu popped out of a huge faux birthday cake on stage and watched with her two young kids as grandma performed her signature cartwheel and splits.
Some in the crowd had waited more than an hour to get in Tuesday night. Others, including invited guests, were turned away at the door after the fire marshal showed up at a rented, 42nd Street space.
The party was heavy with industry folk in town for New York Fashion Week. Lil' Kim stopped by to wish Johnson well.
If anybody deserves a night out, it's the flamboyant Johnson, a breast cancer survivor who lost control of her signature boutiques earlier this year.
All 63 of them in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. held going-out-of-business sales in May through July. Johnson founded the fashion house known for funky, puffy party dresses in 1978, but Betsey Johnson LLC became mired in debt when the recession rolled in and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April.
Steve Madden Ltd., which owns the Betsey Johnson intellectual property rights, said the company will continue to sell Betsey Johnson clothing and other products on a wholesale basis and online. The icon still oversees moderately priced clothing sold in department stores, along with accessories and other licenses.
So why not celebrate? Huge video displays along the walls of the party offered glimpses of her rock roots in the swinging '60s, as did the runway. Models held up glitter-lettered signs marking the decades, culminating in new clothes for spring with a princess theme, twirling and shimmying before a bra-clad parade in skimpy sparkle bottoms spelled out "cheers" in letters on their backsides.
Johnson's actual birthday is Aug. 10, 1942, but who's counting.