Designing woman

In October, Beker was honoured by Adsum House at its Successful Canadian Women’s Dinner. Photo: Photos: Kirsten Mann

For more than two decades Jeanne Beker reported from the frontlines of the style world on Fashion Television. After the show ended in 2012, she took on new challenges, including a minority ownership in Oceanstone Seaside Resort in Indian Harbour. Halifax Magazine recently talked with her about personal style, her new career adventures and what fashion really is.

When Fashion Television ended last year, did you go through a grieving process?

No, you know, I was in total denial of how much I would miss it. I did honestly believe, as I still do, that it was time to move on. Without a question, 27 years covering a scene—yes, the only constant is change in that scene but the media has changed so much, the industry has changed so much. That information that used to be so precious and so elitist, it was such a rarified world, is now so ubiquitous, it’s so commonplace, the democratization of fashion was in full swing. To me, I thought it’s time to go on to see where else I can take this and where else my passions might take me. But I really miss, so very much, the sense of family that show gave me.

I watched FT as a teen growing up in a relatively rural area and it was an escape for me. I loved seeing scenes and fashion out of New York and Paris.

Even Christopher Kane, who is one of the hottest designers on the planet right now, originally from Scotland. I just read an interview with him on where he was saying he grew up in a small, rural town in Scotland watching that show on Sky TV in the U.K. and it just opened up a whole world to him. I hear that from so many people who are now actively involved in the fashion business. Someone like Brad Goreski, you know, who is a great stylist, he’s living in the States now, of course, but he grew up in rural Ontario and that was his first window onto that world for him. So many of the designers, the stylists, the makeup artists, the models, the photographers, the fashion journalists, this show, in a way, really taught people there was more to life, that dreams could be realized, that you could escape from your tiny little rural existence and embrace a big glamour picture, if that’s what you really wanted.

What have you learned about fashion beyond the clothes and the trends?

Fashion is a microcosm for the world at large. At the end of the day, fashion is a world that revolves around people. It’s all about people, communication. It’s all about the way we see each other and the way we see ourselves. It’s all about the kind of messages we want to convey. It’s filled with such an array of characters, so much larger than life. It’s an arena that’s based in theatre, which was my first passion. I just learned so much about human nature. I learned a lot about drive and determination and interpersonal communication. And about relationships and what it takes to dream and believe, and be fearless and be tenacious. There are just so many life lessons I learned from fashion. Fashion is ultimately about feeling comfortable in your own skin, first and foremost. Not so much about the clothes, but it’s much more about the attitude.

How has your style evolved over the years?

Well, I started Fashion Television in the mid ‘80s, so ouch! I would hope that we’ve all evolved since the mid ‘80s. I was much more experimental back then. Not that being experimental is a bad thing; sometimes I encourage people to be experimental and not get locked into images of themselves and step outside of their comfort zone once in awhile. But I really didn’t know what my style was. But as we get older I like to think the more of ourselves we become. I’d like to think I maybe pared down a bit. There is still a sense of whimsy in the way I dress. That’s part of my personality and who I am and I hope I never lose that. I like to think there is a kind of modernity, you know, a realness to it. A comfort level that isn’t solely dictated by the height of my heels because I certainly won’t abandon my stilettos anytime soon.

Do you have any favourite pieces in your wardrobe?

Oh, so many! I have favourite accessories. I have this Elsa Peretti cuff from Tiffanys that a former boyfriend gave me that I just love. It makes me feel like Wonder Woman…it came into my life as a kind of iconic piece for me, a talisman of the shape of things to come. I have assorted pairs of shoes I want to keep season after season. It’s not like I want to throw stuff out after one or two seasons anymore…I find that handbags are just wonderful objects in a wardrobe. Some of them are like works of art. I have a couple of dresses I absolutely adore. I have an Alexander McQueen dress I love. I have one gorgeous dress that Karl Lagerfeld gave to me, a Chanel dress that I wore when I was pregnant with one of my daughters that I wore as a maternity dress. And certainly some of my Wayne Clark gowns that I’ve worn year in, year out and they are still breathtakingly glamourous.

There’s a lot of nostalgia in fashion and the clothes we wear. When you were listing off those items, they are all connected with memories.

Very much so. That’s what I absolutely adore about fashion, that it connects us in some way. Some would think, “How can fashion ground you? It’s such a superficial thing.” But it’s not about the clothes, it’s how we remember wearing them, how we remember ourselves in them, the times we had in them. I did a show a couple of years ago written by the Ephron sisters called Love, Loss and What I Wore… based on reminiscences from a slew of women about certain items in their wardrobe and what these particular pieces meant to them. They remind of who we are, who we were or how far we’ve come or just how deeply we felt about someone we wanted to impress. There is a great emotional connection to clothing for many of us.

So what do you think you will do next?

I am very thrilled to still be gainfully employed with Bell Media and I am involved in a lot of their shows. I am hoping I can find a new platform there that would really be my own. I am teaching a course at Ryerson on the future of fashion journalism. I’m going to launch into another book next year, for sure, which will be not so fashion-centric, but more lifestyle-centric. And I am going to be very much involved with my clothing lines. We’ve got the optical line that is out there now. I am going to be doing a shoe collection next year. I am a performer first and foremost, and I have to figure out where that is going to take me now in this new media landscape, because television is not what it was when I got into the business or even what it was five years ago. Things are changing so dramatically and I think it would be very old-fashioned of me at this point to say, “I want to be on another TV show.”

Now you will be spending more time in Nova Scotia. What kind of style would you like to bring to us?

I think it’s a question of what kind of style would I like the province to bring to me! What a wholesome, gorgeous, romantic province. It’s so steeped in heritage. There is such freshness and vibrancy to it. If any of those things rub off on me and my personal style I’d be thrilled. That being said, Halifax is one of the hippest little cities I’ve been to; I absolutely adore it. And it’s at such a wonderful stage of its urban life, trying to make a name for itself and really define its own kind of style. Maybe we will all just grow up together.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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