“A Chicago-based stylist and fashion journalist.”
This title alone is not enough to describe Bebe Jones. After spending a bit of time interviewing and watching her work, I was conflicted about how to tell her story. I played back the time we spent together and tried to choose the best direction. I could say that, outside of being a stylist, Jones is an incredibly multi-talented journalist with a future in television. With no rehearsal and no planning, I watched her film a tour of Standout Style Boutique. The end product could have been a segment on E! TV.
“A Chicago-based stylist and fashion journalist.”
Maybe I should say that Jones is primed to move from behind the scenes to center stage. When her client stepped away to change during a photoshoot, Jones stepped in front of the camera and began unabashedly striking poses. Finally, I considered talking about her as a community organizer and master networker. I saw her in action at her recent Media Day event at the Silver Room, where she invited local writers and bloggers to connect and meet each other. Then I realized that leaving out any of these stories would be less than the truth about Jones. It is her ability to blend, maneuver and be whatever she needs to be in the moment that makes her shine brightest. So for now, instead of “stylist” and “journalist,” I’ll just call her Chicago’s fashion visionary. She’s a visionary who is using her platform to promote Chicago fashion brands and designers, allowing them to have their own big time moments.
Meet Bebe Jones.
Q&A – CUSP Magazine & BeBe Jones
Bebe Jones: I would says it’s been over 10 years now. Actually, I got my start styling back in college at Jackson State [University]. I was the first fashion writer for the newspaper, The Blue and White Flash. I just came with an idea to the editor and chief, Mr. Anderson. I would tell him, “Dude, we need to pump it up. I have an idea. We have all of these stylish students at the school. How about we do a layout of who is wearing what? Or what you wear to class, what you wear to the club, what you wear presenting during finals?” I would just take students who I knew on campus who had dope style, and I would just take pictures of them. This was my first introduction to that. We would do layouts in the middle of the paper, and it was produced every week. It was awesome, because everybody on campus got to see their outfits. More people started to read the paper, which was a good thing. That was my first start into styling, but I’m journalism all day long, that is my first love. I married the two. I don’t have to cheat on either one of them.
CM: You also run a blog as well. How did you first get involved in blogging?
BJ: “Row A Seat 1.” I’ve been writing professionally for 10 years. I started writing when I was seven. My mom used to put me in tons of programs so I could enhance my writing skills. I enrolled into a program with Chicago Housing Authority called the Urban Youth International Journalism Program. It was founded by Ethan Michaeli. We were actually taught by different writers here in Chicago. I was in high school at the time, and with this program we actually got to travel. During Spring Break we went to D.C. In the summer, when I was 17, we went to Africa and Israel. We had an opportunity to connect with different writers over there and experience their culture and their way of living. It was really dope. But when I got to Jackson State, they really did not have a huge field for print [journalism]. There was print [journalism] there, but it wasn’t as big as broadcast journalism. I ended up going into broadcast journalism, and I really did not like that field that much. I really don’t like when people tell me that I need to dress like this or do my hair like that. It was like I kept carving my own path while I was at Jackson State. Once I graduated, I received an internship with Ebony Magazine. That is how I started out. “Row A Seat 1” started out because of something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to start my own publication. It started out as a magazine. Once I had my hands into what the print industry was about, I decided that it was insane. I thought, “There is no way that I have this kind of money.” Mind you, this was before the whole social media boom. I would see how crazy the publisher for N’Digo was — that was my second internship, N’Digo Magapaper. The publisher would always talk about how expensive postage was alone. And I was like, “Oh my God, I’m in over my head.” It was going to be called Be Magazine. Later I said, “Just forget it.” It’s crazy how I ended up getting experience in [blogging] way before it became popular. And as the years went on, I said “Enough is enough. Let me start my own thing.”
CM: Where did the blog’s name come from?
BJ: The name “Row A Seat 1” came from my experience as a worker for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. This was 2009, the last year that they had it at Bryant Park. I came up with the name from being one of the workers. We would all bet each other. It was like, I bet you my lunch or some cash if we figure out who is sitting in the front row or the front seat. Because we were the [workers] who would come and clean up, organize, [work] backstage and do everything during the fashion shows, I got a chance to meet some designers. I got a chance to meet some models. I got a chance to meet some celebrities. I would say, “This is crazy. Who is sitting in the front row?” So on my way back home from New York that year I said, “I know what I’m going to name my blog.” It ended up becoming not just my blog, but my company itself. This is year three, so this is a celebration. It’s exclusivity. It’s celebrity. It’s who’s sitting at the front row? It’s mystery. It’s top notch. You’re that person. You’re sitting in the front row. You’re sitting in the front seat. Let me give every person that I interview a chance to be in that seat. A chance to tell their story. A chance to showcase their talents. I came up with a slogan this year: Don’t wait for Vogue to tell your story.
CM: I love that. You talked about being at Jackson State and documenting the style on campus. How do you think attending a historically black college/university influenced the work that you do now? Do you think it did at all?
BJ: Oh absolutely. Jackson State University was everything to me. You know, you’re in college and you meet your best friends in college. You get a sense of your individuality in college. I knew I was going to go to college when I was seven. When I got there it was like: this is it. Even though Jackson State [University] is in the South, Jackson, Mississippi, some of the best dressers came out of Jackson State [University]. You had people from all walks of life. You had people from Atlanta with their own style. You knew how the people from New York looked. You knew how the people from L.A. dressed, how the people from Texas dressed and St. Louis and Detroit. All of these people wrapped up in one, and no one really dressed like each other. And that was amazing to me. I know that all of my people from Detroit would wear Cartier glasses, Guess, Mauri gator boots and Gucci loafers. Even when it wasn’t that cold, they would still bring out some of their furs and their leathers. L.A. was just all labels. My homies from L.A. are so fly all the time. Chanel sneakers, Lacoste this, Louis Vuitton that. And of course Chicago was a mix. You could tell the West siders from the South siders. And guys from Atlanta would wear polo from head to toe, and this was also a major style in Memphis as well. Their wardrobe would be all color coordinated, but it would not look clownish. It would be so dope. You could tell who was fly, and who brought their style. That experience was dope. A lot of people from Mississippi, they just fell in. You had some dressers from Mississippi though. They would get fly. A lot of the girls that I know and that are like family to me, they dressed up a lot. They would wear the heels on campus and make sure they had their rollers wraps and makeup on point.
BeBe – “You’re that person. You’re sitting in the front row. You’re sitting in the front seat. Let me give every person that I interview a chance to be in that seat. A chance to tell their story. A chance to showcase their talents. I came up with a slogan this year: Don’t wait for Vogue to tell your story.”
CM: What do you think Chicago looks like? How would you describe Chicago’s contribution to fashion overall?
BJ: We’re overlooked always. Chicago is never mentioned really when it comes to fashion. You will hear more advertisement about Miami Swim Week. You’ll hear about LA Fashion Week. You’ll even hear sometimes about Dallas Fashion Week, even though these things aren’t major compared to New York Fashion Week. I think we are overlooked in fashion.
CM: Who are some of your favorite local designers?
BJ: I could shout them all out, because I love everything that they’re doing. Suzette Opara who designs 828 Collection. Veronica Ariel who designs Socialite. You have Q. Hudson with High End Junkie. Sheila Rashid who does amazing denim. Her stuff is crazy. And then you have another guy, his name is Brandon, and he has a brand called BLR. This guy is a little genius. His stuff is amazing. Brandon is killing it on the denim. You have Robotic Minds, they do great things. Alonzo and Alan Jackson of Fashion Geek and Dave Jeff of Phli are like family to me, and they are always doing epic things and keeping the city on the map so far as being style influencers of Chicago. There is so much talent here and so many people who I could mention, because so many are doing amazing things.
CM: I love that you have such a long list of designers right now, because I think that there’s a misconception that there is nothing going on in the Chicago fashion scene.
BJ: That’s crazy. That’s where people are wrong. I say this all the time, and I don’t mean to be cocky, but the people who are killing it in fashion right now are from Chicago. You have Kanye West, and that’s number one. Then you have Jerry Lorenzo and his brand, Fear of God. You have Virgil, and he’s designing Off White. You have Don C and his entire line of things. They are all part of the same crew, but the thing is, they are all killing it. No matter where you go, someone is rocking Yeezy Boost sneakers. I was watching Ellen, and the other day she had on a pair of Yeezy Boost sneakers. Kanye is a visionary, and he speaks his mind. I love him and lot of people look at him like, “Oh my god, he needs to shut up.” But if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will. A lot of this guy’s success started out from him speaking it into existence. Kanye and Jay Z are the kings of that. But my ultimate person who I love dearly and who I am always shouting out is June Ambrose.
CM: She’s amazing.
BJ: She’s top to me. She’s boss. Nobody beats June Ambrose. Her attitude is A1. Her style is impeccable. How she moves. How she takes care of her kids. How she shouts out her husband. I hear nothing but amazing stuff about this lady all across the board.
CM: And you met her, how did that happen?
BJ: [We met at] Fashion Week two years ago. I ran into her, Raekwon from Wu Tang, Jim Jones and Teyana Taylor. That was just on one block, because we were all headed to see Teyana fashion show, but it ended up getting cancelled. They were just on the other side of the block chilling across the street. Raekwon remembered me from a previous interview I did with him a few years ago. He remembered who I was, and he asked me to come across the street. I was just chilling with them, and the next thing I know I hear someone say, “Darling, there’s no show?” And I thought, “This cannot be who I think this is.” My heart literally made its way down to my shoe. And I said, “Oh my god, it’s June Ambrose.” She was in the car, and she had the window down with the hair flowing and the big glasses. Rae Holiday from “Stuff Fly People Like” runs up to her truck. Her assistant was in the back and everything. I got his attention and asked if I could meet her. We talked for like 10 minutes and took a picture and everything. She was just cool, she was so cool. She was telling me how her allergies were acting up, and I was like, “Mine are too!” We just had a really great conversation about how she was enjoying fashion week and how she loves Chicago. She needs to come up, but not in the winter.
CM: What’s the next step in the journey for you?
BJ: I actually want to do a program, like a weekend program for children. Not just for African American children, but I would like to start with African American children. Those who want to learn how to sew, I want to show them that. Those who want to learn how to sketch or do fashion illustration, I want to show them that. Photography, writing, makeup and styling of course. I want it to be maybe a Saturday/Sunday class. I want to have these children come out and take classes, and they learn these different trades. If it’s something they want to go further in, they don’t have to wait until they go to college, because a lot of our children don’t know what program to go into. Everybody is not going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. You have children out here who want to be painters, children out here who want to be stylists and fashion designers but don’t know how to get there. I want to be that liaison for them, and that’s just one thing I want to do. I want to travel. I want to go to every fashion week around the world. I’ve already been to New York, so next is London, Paris, Milan and Africa.
“Just jump” — that is Jones’ advice to other creatives. This advice is only more evidence of her fearlessness, confidence and belief in herself. In Chicago, she will be a key stylist to watch as she pushes creative boundaries and barriers of entry for the youth, her colleagues and herself. It will be those attributes that continue to take her further as she jumps to new levels. With plans to stay in Chicago and continue working both on the fashion scene and in her community, look out for Jones carrying the torch that ignites Chicago as a fashion city.
For more information on Bebe Jones and her work, visit Row A Seat 1’s website.