La Vie En Ruffian: The Ruffian Gents Talk To Fashion Pioneer Jeanne Beker
Who are Ruffian’s Brian Wolk and Claude Morais chatting with this week? None other than Jeanne Beker (please Google if you’re unfamilar!) who inspired eons of boys and girls to get into the biz and reported on some of the most legendary shows of our time. What’s her opinion on the state of things these days? Read on…
Jeanne Beker is a ground breaker, a woman of firsts, and a fashion legend. Her interest in fashion is devout, human, and unwavering. Beginning in 1985, and for nearly 20 years thereafter, she helmed Fashion Television as the program’s commander, chief, and hostess extraordinaire. She was the first journalist to take television crews backstage into the silk minefields, where neither man nor woman had ever been brave enough to venture before. She created the first-ever style website, @fashion, in 1995, served as editor in chief of FQ Magazine, penned 5 best selling books and currently curates “Edit by Jeanne”, a collection of clothing available at The Bay. We were honored to have a tête-à-tête with her imperial highness in our suite at The Shangri-La hotel on our recent trip to Toronto.
When did you first discover Fashion? Was its something that was valued in your family?
My parents are Eastern European Holocaust survivors, so it wasn’t like they had a lot of fashion in their stadtteil growing up. But my dad always brought us up with the idea that clothing was very important because it was the first impression that people had of you. I fell in love with fashion early on. My mom would buy me paper doll books, my favorite of which was Donna Reed. I also had a knock-off Barbie called “Mitzie” because we couldn’t afford the real Barbie. With that said, my mom was an amazing seamstress and made an incredible wardrobe for my Mitzi Doll that would’ve put Barbie to shame! My dad worked in the Schmata district in Toronto, and brought home scraps of beautiful fabrics and fur, so my mitzi doll had a real Persian lamb coat! My mother would knock off all of the stuff we loved from magazines that my sister and I picked out. Sometimes we would go to NY and Miami and we were able to shop, I remember I was the first kid on my block to have Go-Go boots!
What was your first high fashion designer purchase?
There was a Canadian designer named Marilyn Brooks who had a store in Yorkville called The Unicorn. It was such a cool store, and we would go there to shop, and than wear what I bought to go see Joni Mitchell at The River Boat. I got an aqua satin dotted mini shirt dress. I also had some jeans that were so tight, I’d have to lie on my bed to put them on.
We understand you studied mime!
Yes darling, I was the only mime artist in Newfoundland circa 1975! You know I was an actress. I started acting when I was 16.
Did that prepare you for the fashion industry?
What more theatrical arena could you have? And that’s why I love it! It’s communication via costume and illusion and artifice. Its about characters, and that’s what drives the scene for me, and that’s what I loved about Fashion Television for all those years; it wasn’t about the clothes, although we did see some beautiful clothes. At the end of the day it’s about the characters, egos, and eccentrics and that’s what I love about it. It’s a business about people, the best, most sensitive, kindest people in the world and the bitchiest, cattiest, most horrible people. It a microcosm for the world at large, and that’s how I have always seen the trenches of fashion. The agony and the ecstasy of life.
How do you think the economic drama over the last five years has affected the face of fashion?
Should I start my thesis now? It’s great and horrible. You can only hope the cream rises to the top. It really forces designers to sharpen their points of view. That’s what a brand is about, after all. Its also enabled a lot of people to indulge in style for less money. There are also problems inherent with all the stuff out there, the sea of sameness. Yet at the end there is no sense lamenting. All I can say is that I’m so blessed that I got to ride that wave, the tsunami of the century, the best time in fashion, growing up with it in the Sixties, becoming a young woman in Seventies, a career woman in the Eighties, and being a fashion journalist in1985 when there was no TV journalists backstage. I wasn’t interested in asking a designer “why beige”; I wanted to know what kept him up all night before their show.
What do you think is the future of fashion week?
Could the world live without fashion week? Absolutely. Will this happen? Most likely not. Designers are show people, but the days of great shows are no more; Galliano, McQueen, it’s not what it used to be. It’s not like it should be, either. We’ve moved into a different era. The age of the spectacle almost seems passé sadly. Equally as sadly is that now it’s only about selling. Everyone will do their business the way they can do their business; what best suits them, the game has changed, people buy fashion differently. Some people just shop online, some people still need bricks and mortar, some people shop on HSN and some online shopping destinations are opening bricks and mortar. The business will change and it’s inevitable. Change is the only constant in fashion.