Fashion Television gets the boot

After 27 years, the trendsetting show finally fell out of fashion.

Jeanne Beker interviews fashion designer Betsey Johnson backstage during the Betsey Johnson Fall 2006 Collection. (Photo: AP/Jennifer Graylock)

Fashion Television, or FT as it was affectionately called, was first broadcast in 1985. The show began life as a series of 15-minute clips on Citytv, a local Toronto station, eventually moving to CTV. Its concept was to provide viewers with a more personal and less pretentious way into the world of style by offering an up-close look at the industry—from haute couture to the streets. It was fashion made accessible, and that accessibility was embodied by the show’s host, Jeanne Beker. (The show’s use of the song “Obsession” by Animotion as its impossibly catchy opening theme didn’t hurt.) Equal parts thoughtful and irreverent, Beker was the face of FT from its first episode.

FT expanded to a half-hour weekly format in 1986 (the same year Beker first met an unknown designer named Marc Jacobs), and its camera was, at the time, one of very few allowed behind the scenes at fashion events. Beker delivered quick clips from the lips of the busy designers (notably Donna Karan in FT’s first year, Calvin Klein in its second) and show attendees. The host developed industry favourites, such as supermodel Naomi Campbell, and was there when the late Alexander McQueen received an honorary degree in San Francisco. Even the iconic Karl Lagerfeld, head of Chanel, once gave her a dress from his collection while she was pregnant.

The audience loved it all, and in 1993 FT expanded into the U.S., and was later syndicated around the world. This interest inspired the launch of the 24-hour FashionTelevisionChannel in 2001. It was the first specialty fashion channel in Canada, also focusing on art, architecture and design.

FT’s coverage could have become as filmy as the blouses on the young models, but Beker’s coverage remained curious and thoughtful. But where TV competition failed to pull Fashion Television’s seam, the Internet eventually began to pill the show’s fabric. High fashion, though still an elite world, had become easier to understand thanks to the new front line of fashion: bloggers (such as teen Tavi Gevinson, who once guest-reported for FT) and guerrilla fashion photographers. They could deliver the drama to fans faster via apps and videos, like the ones on hosted by Tim Blanks, the former host of CBC’s Fashion File, which competed with FT from 1989 to 2009.

Supermodels such as Canada’s Coco Rocha (who is four years younger than the show) now post photos and juicy details from behind the scenes at shows and shoots, erasing some of the industry’s mystery and making it less necessary for Beker to travel 80,000 kilometres a year to bring viewers a front-row seat. Even Beker seemed to need FT a little less recently. In 2010, she debuted a clothing line called Edit for the Bay, and has judged Canada’s Next Top Model. Fashion Television’s final curtain fell on April 12. Its demise was announced with a tweet from Beker: “So surreal. This dream is over: After 27 glorious years, FT production ceased today.”

FT is survived by Beker (who will continue to cover fashion for Bell Media), and the recently rechristened Fashion Television station.