By Savas Abadsidis
Originally published on Advocate.com December 22 2013 7:00 AM ET
Bravo’s new show Fashion Queens has become a breakaway hit thanks in part to its host, New York fashion fixture Bevy Smith.
With co-hosts Derek J and Miss Lawrence, the trio dish about celebrity style with sauce, sass, and shade. Smith was added to the Bravo show Hairdressers Tell All for a jolt of excitement, but it led to Smith’s new must-see talk show. Before her small screen gig, Smith has been a doyenne of New York’s fashion world, particularly directing fashion editorial and advertising for magazines like Vibe and Rolling Stone.
She also has her own thriving business Dinner with Bevy, for which Smith brings together uptown music artists with downtown fashonistas. But watching the new show, one can see that hosting Fashion Queens seems to be the role this long-time LGBT ally was made for.
The Advocate: What do you think makes the show work so well? It’s really unique. There’s something magical there.
Bevy Smith: I think you’ve never seen people like us before on TV. That’s it, plain and simple.
There’s definitely been some criticism from the gay community that the boys play a certain pejorative stereotype. What do you have to say about that?
Here’s the thing about the gay stereotype conversation; I understand what people are saying and they have a right to the way they feel, but my thing is that if the boys all of a sudden “butched up” or changed direction in who they are comfortable being than that would be much more horrible than people being uncomfortable because the boys are fashion flexible and have a bit of androgyny about themselves.
They have a right to dress the way they want to, speak the way they want to, as long as they’re not hurting anyone and if I felt in any way that they were doing anything detrimental to gays on TV vis-à-vis a stereotype of gay men being crafty, or less than honorable, I would say so. But those boys on that show — and I make a point of calling them boys on the show — because no matter what they’re wearing, they are men, and I’m a woman and they treat me as such and I love the way they honor and respect me and I do the same with them. Stereotypes be damned.
You grew up in Harlem, but you’ve always had strong ties to the gay community, where you were an ambassador of sorts between the fashion and hip-hop or urban style. There is often talk that there is tension in the black community because its more homophobic — how do you react to that?
First of all, Harlem was where the balls were created, the great balls, [where voguing originated] in the 1920s. I grew up in a Harlem that was very inclusive. I’ve always had gay friends since I was in grade school. And these were boys that were flamboyantly gay; of course we didn’t have a word for it, because we were 6 or 7. But we knew they were different. I knew my mother’s hairdresser Ms. Peaches was different, I knew the bald headed gentleman, who was well dressed and muscular, and had a flair about himself, Mr. James, who was fabulous! I knew there was something different about Mr. James. I just didn’t have a word for it.
I grew up in an era where Gene Anthony Ray [who played LeRoy] on FAME, grew up in my community. He was a really tough guy, but he was very flamboyant. He didn’t try to hide that he was gay, and he would challenge any man that thought you could bully him because he was gay, that he wasn’t tough — he’d challenge you to a fight. So I grew up in a place where, as long as you could stand your ground, and that didn’t always mean fight, and not in a Florida sense [laughs], but be who you are. Where people would embrace folks, as long as you could handle your business, as long as you were proud of who you were.
And that’s always been the case.
I remember back in the days, this was in the '80s, when they used to do Harlem Week up on 125th Street, and my friend came out, and he wore a kilt and some Timberlands, and he was gay and guys on the corner were like, “Yo, that’s fly, dude.” They appreciated it. So I don’t see that in Harlem and I understand what they mean when they say there’s homophobia in the urban community and all that, but there’s homophobia in all communities. There’s idiots in every community.
What does “ratchet” mean?
Ratchet is a southern term. And to me it just means tacky. You know one of the things that I always tell people is that I think that there are way too many women on television co-opting gay terms, and I’m not one of them, I have a very extensive vocabulary, and there are enough words that I can use to be witty and funny on that show, than to use words that don’t fit me. I don’t do all that.
You’re a big connoisseur of fashion. Have you changed the way the industry perceives women, being a face of their brand, but not the same one they might feature in an ad?
I think there’s always been room in fashion for women that like their bodies, that are comfortable with their bodies, and have good style. Fashion is a business, yet the designers still have an aesthetic that they want to work within, and once you go above a certain size you can’t fit a lot of designer fashion.
I like nice clothes and I like certain designers, and I wear them, and I wear them in my own very specific way and I don’t make any apologies for it. Now over the years, when I would be in Milan and Paris and I would run into designers and be wearing their clothes, it made me feel good that they would be shocked at the way I was wearing them, and say, “oh wow I never even thought of it in that way.”
You would inspire them?
I’m not gonna say I inspired them, but they would get the memo, that there is more than one way to be a beautiful sexy woman. That is doesn’t always have to be a size 2, it can be a size 10.
Who’s your favorite designer?
I love McQueen, I actually own a beautiful McQueen dress, that was featured in the Costume Institute Ball, that now of course I will never wear again, because I want to protect it. I used to love Galliano, before the debacle [Galliano was fired from Christian Dior after being arrested for a drunken anti-Semitic tirade in Paris in 2011] and I love Peter Pilloto, Pucci, Cavalli, and Versace. I feel very Roman in the way that I dress, in that when you’re in Rome you see a lot of dark women in bright colors and they have hips. I feel at home in Rome. Rome is an extension of Harlem to me.
When do we get a BSN (Bevy Smith Network)?
[Laughs] Never. I don’t want to work that hard. Bevy is not long for this life. I’m not built that way. The reason that I changed my life in the first place, is that I realized no one was gonna come along and give me the life that I wanted, I realized that, “Oh, I’m gonna have to make my life what I want it to be…” and what I wanted was to have a lot of leisure time and not a lot of work, and I’ve nailed it.
Fashion Queens airs at 11:30 p.m. on Bravo. Follow Smith on Twitter @bevysmith