After strutting down the red carpet flanked by scantily clad models – enrobed in this season’s most fashionable accessory, the trench coat – guests are welcomed into an art deco-inspired ballroom. Inside, the Bombay Sapphire gin flows and the sweet tunes of Canadian jazz crooner Matt Dusk ruffle the wall of peacock feathers. Among the hundreds of people in the crowd is Canadian fashion maven Jeanne Beker. She is the star of the show, dressed in a chic black outfit, sparkling with jewelry and vividly punctuated with red lipstick.
Beker and her team at Kontent Publishing are throwing a deluxe party at the upscale Hotel le Germain on Mercer Street in downtown Toronto to launch Fashion Quarterly, Canada’s first international fashion magazine. The fete is designed to offer the guests a glimpse into the style, attitude and content of FQ.
The first two issues have come and gone, but since the September 4, 2003 launch of FQ Canada’s resident style guru has stuck to her message that Canada has no need for another service-oriented fashion magazine full of the latest mascaras, pantyhose and haircuts. What people need, she claims, is a glimpse into the celebrity world of fashion. In short, what people need is a glimpse into the world of Beker herself, the editor-in-chief of FQ.
Beker began her career in show business as a teenager, landing a recurring role on the CBC sitcom Toby in 1968. Years later she moved on to become one of CHUM Television’s best-known personalities as the star and segment producer of Fashion Television and the Fashion Television Channel.
Kontent Publishing, a privately held publisher of consumer magazines such as Inside Entertainment, approached CHUM Television to request that Beker take the helm of their new magazine. “We have a mutually supportive and respectful relationship,” says publisher Shelagh Tarleton. “FQ helps Fashion Television, and Fashion Television helps us.”
Marcia Martin, vice president of production at CHUM Television, sees FQ as a great opportunity. “Kontent talked to us about, really, lending her out from CHUM,” she says, “because she is a brand to us and knowledgeable in the business.”
Published four times a year, FQ has a controlled circulation of 200,000 and is distributed to home subscribers of The Globe and Mail.. It also can be found on newsstands in upscale neighbourhoods across Canada. Martha Gillan, advertising sales manager at the Globe, is “pleased as punch” to include FQ in the paper’s distribution. “It made sense strategically for us,” she says. “It’s a high-end national magazine and we are a national paper reaching a high-end audience.”
FQ’s large, 11X17 format gives it a glossy, coffee-table-book appeal. While the larger format is new to the Canadian fashion magazine industry, American fashion magazines such as W have used the larger size. “The format really lends itself to the artistry of fashion reportage,” says Beker. “It’s something that photographers can really sink their teeth into.” Initially, FQ is allowing only full-page ads in an attempt to exert control over aesthetic flow – no messy fractional ads undermining the eye candy.
FQ features contributions from a list that includes London-based Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel Black, French fashion photographer Andre Rau and Swedish-born illustrator Liselotte Watkins. This way, FQ hopes to feature Canadians alongside their international counterparts. Beker’s mandate is simple: “We are just out there looking for the best.”
The content reflects who and what Beker has come to represent in the fashion world. “We wanted to share our world with readers,” says Beker, “and certainly my world. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who has this particular type of access.”
Beker’s Rolodex contains some of the biggest names in fashion, such as Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford and Donatella Versace. This access allows FQ exclusive Canadian rights to some of the world’s most prestigious events. Beker cultivated her credibility through serving 18 years as host of Fashion Television, a show that is broadcast in one hundred countries.
FQ’s allure is that the reader becomes a fly on the wall. Beker and her contributors write in a very personal, diary-like style. Readers want to know, according to Beker, how the other half lives. In the front-of-book section called “INBOX”, FQ prints her own email messages. Moving away from service journalism allows Beker more editorial freedom. “We wanted to give Canada a healthy dose of much-needed glamour and sophistication,” she says, “that went beyond consumer-oriented publications.”
Like any fashion reporter, Beker has had to face the criticism that her work isn’t really journalism. Far too often the editorial content is seen as fluff between the flashy ads. “Who cares?” She responses brazenly. “What is journalism? Journalism, to me, is keeping a journal and telling people what goes on in my life and that’s what FQ does.”
Leanne Delap, former editor of Fashion magazine, can attest to withstanding the mud-slinging from critics. “I’ve played that game my entire life,” she says. “I applaud what FQ is doing, bringing the excitement of modern fashion and making it more understandable. It’s a brilliant idea.”
Delap credits the controlled circulation of the magazine as the creative vehicle that allows FQ to feature less service and more personal, fun and insightful aspects of the fashion world, such as the people. “Fashion should be about pleasure,” she says, “and getting close to the celebrities and designers is the goal.
“It’s a game about access and Jeanne’s a scrappy Canadian who has made her way to the top of the heap.”
Do Beker and her success sound too good to be true? Peers in the industry are reluctant to say so. Beker has certainly garnered a great deal of power and is considered Canada’s top fashion reporter. Perhaps this is enough to keep lips sealed.
About the author
Michelle Gaulin was the Visual Editor for the Summer 2004 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.