After decades of interviewing fashion’s biggest egos and rising stars, Jeanne Beker has become an industry icon in her own right. Here the long-time Fashion Television host and freshly-minted Order of Canada recipient shares some of the secrets to her success. (Hint: high heels hurt – deal with it).
A signature is always in fashion
I never leave home without my black cake eyeliner. I’ve been outlining my eyes in black eyeliner since the sixties and I continue to do so for better or worse. I’ve lived through eras when black eyeliner was looked down upon, but one of my main philosophies is that trends come and go. It’s good to push your personal envelope a little bit, but for the most part if you like the way something looks and feels, then stick with it. Nothing is more fashionable than being honest and truthful and committed. Look at Anna Wintour’s haircut or Iris Apfel’s big black framed glasses. At the end of the day, those things become a signature and I think that’s really cool.
A catastrophe is an opportunity
My relationship with Karl Lagerfeld started at the VH1 Fashion and Music Awards, either in the late eighties or early nineties. We were backstage with Claudia Schiffer and about to go live when Karl realized he didn’t have his fan on him. This is back in the old days when he use to carry the fan everywhere he went, likely to hide his double chin which he doesn’t have any more. He was sort of freaking out and I saw this production assistant who was carrying a bunch of cue cards, so I grabbed one and started folding it up and made it into this makeshift fan and I said “voila!” He was so buoyed by my enthusiasm and impressed with how I was able to think on my feet. That really cinched it for me and him. He always remembered what I had done for him and gave me a lot of great interviews in the years that followed.
If you can’t hack it, head home
High heels have always elevated me in so many ways. I have had painful moments in my heels, but often it’s a question of mind over matter. There are times when you just have to commit. You just decide that the image and the look you’re after is more important than the physical pain, and then you just do it. You strut it! Some people probably think I’m nuts for wearing super high heels from nine to five. I try to do it with aplomb and on those days that I just can’t bear it, I pack it in and go home early.
Never ask the obvious
I think a lot of designers appreciate that I didn’t ask the typical questions. I can remember standing in so many press lines and I would hear everyone ask the same questions: “What is you inspiration for the season?” My strategy was always to ask the kinds of questions you would if you met the designer at a cocktail party – away from the academic and esoteric. It was a way to get up close and cozy with people, so that they started to see you as a kind of friend. And most designers would rather talk about themselves as human beings, than what made them cut a certain sleeve or a hemline. I helped humanize fashion and I’m pretty proud of that.
Sometimes you say yes to b.s.
In the early years of my career I had to dodge a log of slings and arrows and I think I might have given up if I hadn’t learned to lighten up and not take myself too seriously. It would have been too demoralizing, the way I had to elbow my way in sometimes. And I definitely wouldn’t have been able to put up with that much b.s. I have to say that I put up with a lot of b.s. from people who probably had no business dishing it out, but for me it was anything to get my foot in the door, anything to get the story.
This interview has been condensed and edited.