Jeanne Beker recalls highlights of ‘Fashion Television’


The first name alone, for so long, summoned just one thing in these parts: “Fashion Television.” As host of a show that ran for three decades and was seen in 130 countries, she was for years easily one of Canada’s top exports – complete with those signature bangs and a voice to match: that decisive yet warm boom.

As Jeanne Beker turns 70 this weekend, we needed to track her down. “I’m a great sentimentalist by nature, so nostalgic thoughts are running rampant,” she says, admitting to having mixed emotions about her milestone. “On one hand, I feel like time may be running out. On the other, I feel emboldened to charge ahead, because I’ve never felt as confident, as wise and as experienced. Karl Lagerfeld always told me never to look back too much.”

Beker joins Linda Evangelista and Estee Lauder's John Demsey on the red carpet for the 25th Fashion Cares gala at the Sony Centre in 2012.

One thing is for sure: the Torontonian is fully aware of “how wonderfully lucky I’ve been to have lived through these past seven decades, and really been in the eye of the pop culture storm.”

Some nostalgia was in order, especially when I mention how “Fashion Television” was essentially Instagram before Instagram (in the way it brought people inside the cocoons of fabulousness) and TikTok before TikTok (like so many Citytv productions back then, it had a DIY quality, and I can remember so many segments where Jeanne literally chased down an interviewee). Now, 2022 marks ten years since the show took its final turn on the catwalk.

“Citytv was so amazingly ahead of its time,” the one-time mime (she trained in France!) says, praising late producer John Martin, of “The NewMusic,” who gave her her start, and Moses Znaimer, Citytv’s co-founder.

Beker (far right) and former Toronto Maple Leaf Darryl Sittler (from left), Sara Waxman (widow of late actor/director Al Waxman), actor/director Jason Priestley, filmmaker Deepa Mehta and singer Corey Hart attend the unveiling of their stars on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2017.

Always in fashion

Turning to the era of the so-called supermodels, I ask if she was aware at the time that she was in the midst of a phenomenon? “Oh, I was definitely aware,” she says. “Suddenly, the girls on the runway were just as intriguing – some more so – than the designers themselves or any of the front-row guests. But besides providing stupendous eye candy and being performance artists, the supermodels became the leading ladies. After a while – and because in fashion, as in life, the only constant is change – the designers began to feel that these girls were upstaging the clothes. So, then we entered the era of the blank-slate, cookie-cutter girls.”

Other remembrances that float up easily include interviewing Keith Richards, in Antigua, back when Beker was host of “The NewMusic.” “What can I say?” she says, “I grew up adoring the Rolling Stones, so being able to interview one of them – especially Keith, the coolest – on a beach, was a dream come true. Keith was a doll.”

Eartha Kitt and Beker serve hot dogs at a charity event for the Variety Club in 1985.

Oh, and that time she hosted the Olsen twins – still tweens – at her cottage. “Mary-Kate and Ashley were shooting a movie near Huntsville,” Beker recalls. “I was friendly with the publicist on the film, who knew I had a cottage nearby, and she asked if maybe we could come by the Deerhurst Inn, where the twins were staying. We had a beautiful vintage wooden boat at the time – a 1939 Shepherd – and my family and I drove across the lake. Sadly, the boat conked out when we got to the Deerhurst’s dock. But we somehow arranged to get back to our cottage and get our other speedboat to pick up the twins.”

Is there a fashion show – be it in Paris, New York or Milan – that, if she closes her eyes, she is right there again? “Alexander McQueen’s spring 1999 show, which explored the theme of man and technology, was a tour de force,” she responds. “It actually made me cry – just about the only show that ever brought me to tears. McQueen himself admitted that he wept too, as he stood watching from the sidelines.”

Happy returns

Having spent so much time on the road in her prime, and having had her share of romantic misadventures, all while raising two girls as a single mom – Beker now finds herself on steadier ground in her personal life. “Everything seems to have fallen into place with Iain,” she says about the guy she’s been with for some time. “(Meeting someone) with the same energy level, who shares my passion and appreciates why I feel compelled to keep dancing as fast as I can, that really has been a major blessing. I’m sure my mother (a Holocaust survivor) sent him to me. I met him magically, two weeks after she passed.”

Today, Beker spends a good chunk of her time on her podcast, “Beyond Style Maters,” on which she still delves into the world of fashion, albeit from a more reflective stance, interviewing icons such as Daphne Guinness and Sandra Bernhard. She gets wistful talking about some of the greats we’ve lost recently: Andre Leon Talley (a frequent commentator on “FT”), erstwhile Vogue editor Grace Mirabella and designer/provocateur Thierry Mugler. She knew them all.

Beker, seen here in 1989, began hosting "FT" in 1985.

Talley, she says, was “such a force – a real champion for the underdog. He taught me so much about fashion and the irresistible glory of its theatricality.” Mirabella was “a woman’s woman, who really cared about making life more effortless and more beautiful for all of us. The furthest thing from a snob!” Mugler, she says, “revolutionized fashion with the way he power-dressed his women and saw them as superheroes.”

She leaves me with one final teaser. Those famous bangs of hers? She’s actually growing them out. “So there,” she says. “I’m one person who never says never.”


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