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Wearing her Heart on her Couture Sleeve

December 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Fashion


Toronto’s own Jeanne Beker walks effortlessly towards me through FashionTelevision studios; carried by sky-high patent leather pumps and a black cap-sleeved designer dress fitted to her knees. Supermodels Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell smile seductively from life-size posters, having quietly eavesdropped on sit-down chats in the studio with Oscar De La Renta, Issac Mizrahi and Shalom Harlow, to name a few.

Beker sits alongside me with a smile and fresh cup of coffee; her rouged lips moving quickly. While she’s ubiquitously known for her experience-fuelled fashion reports as much as her shoulder rubs with the Karl Lagerfelds of the world, FashionTelevision’s host and segment producer is eager to demystify medical myths. The hullabaloo of Queen Street West lies just behind her, as we begin a conversation that explores her zany experiences in the fashion industry and her decision to speak up about women’s heart health.

Her jewel-studded Chanel bangle sparkles as she runs her hands through her smooth hair. “My dad passed away from cardiovascular disease 20 years ago and last year, my mom – who is 87 now – started feeling pains in her arm,” exhales Beker. “They discovered that she had two major blockages, and she had to have open-heart surgery.” While her mother recovered, Beker caught a glimpse of how many more women are afflicted with heart attacks and strokes.

“I’ve always thought it was a man’s disease … But not only can it happen to women, 45 per cent of heart attack victims who die are more likely to be women,” says Beker, 56. Joining forces with Making the Connection, a national program that spotlights awareness on cardiovascular disease, Beker’s message to Canadian women is simple: if you can find time to go to the spa and get your legs waxed, you can find the time to monitor your well-being.

“We would never skip that stuff, at least I wouldn’t because for me it’s important to look good on the outside. But if you’re falling apart on the inside, you’re never going to look good on the outside. Truly great style has to do with feeling good on the inside first,” says Beker, born to Holocaust survivors.

No stranger to tenacity, Beker is a celebrated author, editor-in-chief of FQ and SIR magazines, judge on Canada’s Next Top Model, and honourary board member of Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto. When she’s not lifting weights at Yorkville Club, she’s dancing along to exercise tapes in hotel rooms around the world. “I’ve really tried to cut down drinking almost completely and I find I have more energy,” she says. “I used to be a big martini girl … there is a lot of champagne backstage,” she laughs. Weekends spent with her daughters at the family’s farm home or jetting to Newfoundland with her steady boyfriend are what keep her revitalized. Her best defense to fending off heart disease is a customized heart health regime created for her by Making the Connection, which reminds her that a strong heart has given way to her success. “Everything has got to be about your health. It certainly is about this fabulous scene I am in, and of course it’s near-and-dear to my heart, and I have a lot of fun and it’s inspiring … but you know, it’s all about friends and family and those things that you really, really love deep down inside. If we don’t have our health, we really don’t have too much.”

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