Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Queen of Canadian Fashion

Canadian show FashionTelevision is celebrating it's 30th anniversary this year. FT was the first show of it's kind in Canada. Along with the anniversary, the queen of fashion in Canada, Jeanne Beker, is celebrating her 25th year as host of FashionTelevision.

Melissa Hank of TVGuide wrote a great article on Beker's rise to fashion supremecy. It covers her beginnings at The NewMusic, sexism within the industry, her life as mother and the futute of FashionTelevision:

With coffee-coloured hair, a heavy fringe, a wide smile and a steely gaze, Jeanne Beker looks like a modern-day Cleopatra. Certainly, she reigns supreme in the realm of Canadian fashion reporting.

After 30 years on TV and 40 years in the industry, Beker is marking her 25th year hosting FashionTelevision, the nation’s longest-running show of its kind.

She’s an author, mother, editor, segment producer, designer and all-around fashion force to be reckoned with. But Beker first rose to prominence in August 1979 as host of The NewMusic, a renegade show about musicians and their craft.

In the three decades that followed, her life’s been chockablock with stilettos-clad models, high-profile designers, fierce runway shows and enough fashion weeks to equal the age of your average sullen teenager.

Just back from a shopping trip on Canada’s West Coast, the Toronto native reminisced about her life in high heels. Here are the highlights, in her own words.

We didn’t really know what we were doing. John Martin, who was the brilliant creative mind behind The NewMusic and the launch of MuchMusic, had this idea for a TV show that would be like a rock ‘n’ roll magazine, going behind the scenes with stars, going on the road and going into the studio and really exposing the artists as human beings.

That was a very novel concept at the time – of course, it’s totally ubiquitous now. I didn’t know anything about TV, but that was OK because we were making it up as we went along.

And stylistically, the way we shot the show and rolled with the punches and let real life unfold without paying much attention to technical expertise gave it that gritty edge and style that set the precedent for what came next in television. This was 1979, pre-MTV. So that style of shooting, we really invented it back then.

For me, it was always about theatre. I had studied theatre in university and acting in New York and really did want to be a stage performer. I had studied mime in Paris, and in 1975 I moved out to St. John's, N.F., and there was not much going on for mime artists or actors, although I did a little bit of acting out there.

I thought I’d better make a living. And I thought I’d report about the arts on the radio because I knew so much about the arts and nobody in Newfoundland, or really Canada, was really taking arts reporting seriously, especially on the radio.
So I got a gig in 1975 with the CBC working in radio reporting on the arts and entertainment scene. My greatest passion was entertainment and theatre and people. And when the idea for FashionTelevision came along, it seemed like an arena I’d like to get into – it’s so much about these characters who are larger than life.

There are a lot of visionaries in the fashion world, a lot of enigmatic people, a lot of very dramatic, colourful, interesting people. And in my mind, that’s what makes great television.

Growing up, I was the first girl on my block to wear go-go boots. My mom used to make all my clothes, so we had really interesting artsy things to wear – we didn’t have to go to the boring retail stores.

It’s not just about what goes down the runway; it’s the spirit of the whole scene. It’s the theatrics of the whole scene. The personalities of the designers, and just the nature of fashion that has to keep reinventing itself every six months. You’re only as good as you’re last collection – I’ve never seen a pace like that for any creative artist.

Well, I don’t know how much of it goes on now because I’m not 25 years old – I don’t know if guys are hitting on girls and sweet young things the way they used to. Now, there’s much more of a concern about getting sued. There are laws against sexual misconduct, and it’s a very delicate subject in the workplace. But in those days, it wasn’t like that. It was a lot of guys in powerful positions hitting on a lot of the young women who were trying to get into the business.
I, luckily, always had a very strong sense of myself and a sense of myself as an artist, as someone who had worked hard for everything I ever got. I didn’t know anybody and had always gotten in through my sheer determination and hard work and talent and skills I had honed.

I had great pride in that and no matter what kind of deal – you can put quotations around that – I was being offered by some power player in the television business, I wasn’t going to buy it. But I certainly knew a lot of women who did and advanced accordingly.

But I never really thought those women got far in the business in the end, because what determines that kind of longevity and stamina is that you only have yourself to rely on.

I had some great role models like Barbara Frum, for example, although I never really wanted to get into heavy, hard-nosed journalism or investigative reporting. She was emblematic of the possibilities. But most women were relegated to the weather girl jobs.

It was a very out-of-the-box thing for Moses [Znaimer, the co-founder and former head of Citytv] to put women on TV as entertainment reporters. And I was the first bona fide entertainment reporter on CityPulse News in those days. Now, it’s so commonplace to see women on entertainment shows and doing entertainment reporting.

I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I really put that off for a long time. I only had my first baby when I was 35. I was on a roll – we started FashionTelevision in 1985 and I had my first child in 1987. I thought, ‘If I take off now for any length of time, Moses is just going to put another chick in my spot.’ And believe me, he threatened.

It wasn’t like nowadays, where you go on mat leave for a year and they have to keep your job. Then, I think you could go maybe for three months, but that was it and I don’t think there was any promise they’d keep that exact job for you. So I went back to work after about three weeks.

I still absolutely love what I do; there are still 10-year-olds coming up to me on the street asking for my autograph because they watch me on Canada’s Next Top Model. It’s that I’ve been able to hang in there and not be a slave to my job at all, but to garner such joy from it and the fact that I even had kids.

I certainly haven’t had the perfect life – my marriage broke up and that was quite devastating for me. But it was very much about always ploughing ahead. My dad brought me up with the motto ‘Don’t be afraid and never give up.’ I would never take no for an answer. I sit back now and think I was pretty fearless, because I was going where few had really ventured before.

But I also take pride in the fact that this job didn’t exist before I came along. And now I get so many young people coming up to me saying, ‘I want your job.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Get your own job.’ People now, especially this generation, you’ve got to take things to the next level.

I worry about television sometimes, because sometimes I think it’s stuck in a rut. I don’t really see that much inventiveness going on in the medium anymore the way it was when we got into it.

I know that now things are progressing a different way and different media are taking over – certainly the Internet – but still there’s a lot about the Internet that’s about television too and seeing it and producing it in new ways. I’m just worried that people aren’t thinking outside the box enough, literally outside the box.

But it’s been incredibly satisfying and it’s an incredible medium. It’s been an incredible way to lead a life, in front of the camera like that. It’s just been a wonderful experience to share my world that way with viewers.

I just did a fantastic interview with Karl Lagerfeld in Paris last week, and we’re presenting that in September as a special on CTV. And I got that exclusive Valentino interview that I did when he retired – that was like a little gift, I felt. He knew that we’d followed his career for so long.

These people are like geniuses and the fact that I’ve even for a moment get a chance to pick their brains really is exhilarating. Very often I’m the first one in line to get the interview, and that’s incredible when you think it’s a show that came out of Canada and it’s seen in so many countries around the world. It’s inspired so many people to take up careers in fashion journalism – for better or worse.

FQ and SIR magazines are actually on hold right now; I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’ve written three books and now I’m launching into another kids book and another book that will be coming out probably 2011. I’m thinking strongly about launching my own website – I have so much material sitting there.

I would like to push in new directions in television. The kind of show I do is great, and it’s become a staple and I like that format, but I would like to try other formats. And I’m going to be covering the Olympics! I’ll be talking about the team uniforms, skating costumes or maybe the personal style of these athletes. It should be great fun.

There’s so much that excites me. I think fashion keeps me young, because the only constant is change.

FashionTelevision airs Sundays at 5:30 p.m. ET on CTV.
Photo provided by Google Images.
Article from TV Guide.
Written by Kate Murphy

No comments: