For reporter Cheryl Bemis, behind the camera is home, because, while Los Angeles has E! Entertainment Television, locals have Fashionably Austin.
The red polish on Bemis’ nails matches her colored jeans and fur from her Papillon Cooper accessorizes a basic t-shirt. She is humbled, relaxing in the make-up chair at Russ and Company Salon. “You look like (model) Cheryl Tiegs,” said Amy Evers, as she styled Bemis’ hair for our photo shoot. Usually behind the scenes, this industry veteran is out of her comfort zone, but what Bemis did find reassurance in early on, is the multitasked art of networking.
“I think I had a knack for PR,” said Bemis, as Lecia Bates Harkins leans in to apply lip gloss. She reflects on childhood bike rides through her small Macomb, Illinois, neighborhood to inform others about concerts with her makeshift band, the Star Spangled Roosters, at age 10. The young guitar player/singer looked forward to shows as a reason for wearing her mother’s creamy blue eye shadow with matching floral bell bottoms, learning to sew in home economics, and waiting for Glamour Magazine’s in the mailbox, mindful of every model’s name.
Graduating from Western Illinois University with a degree in Fashion Merchandising/Marketing, Bemis has utilized her education and open persona to establish a celebrated presence both in and out of city wide boundaries. Launching Fashionably 8 (now Fashionably Yours) in 1999, Bemis ran a segment once every week for five years, noting that she “covered everything from boutiques on South Congress to the University of Texas fashion show when attendance was under 1,000.”
“I was giving people an opportunity to be featured in a way that no one was doing,” said Bemis. This signature tenacity soon caught the attention of fellow trailblazers and continues to do so.
“When I first met Cheryl she was as excited about fashion as she is today — she has been a continuing force in highlighting and featuring the stories of Austin designers,” said Gail Chovan, owner/designer for Blackmail boutique. Citing “interest, enthusiasm, and devotion to highlighting the craft” as Bemis’ individual attributes for staying power, Chovan thus describes her as an “ardent supporter” of this ever growing scene, elaborating that the two have outlasted many upon first meeting in the early 2000’s.
“It takes a lot of tenacity and doggedness to survive in fashion,” Chovan persists. “I have been in this business for a long time, first in Paris, then in DC and here since 1997. It’s nice to have someone like Cheryl that understands that consistency and survival instinct.”
Any person working in the community will agree that someone who understands this “survival instinct” best is Chovan’s longtime friend Stephen Moser, because as the first rows of local runways now fight to be filled, there was a time when the press list solely boasted two names: Moser and Bemis.
Widely known for his “After A Fashion” column in The Austin Chronicle, the writer and designer presented Bemis with an award for “Best Fashion Reporting,” vividly recalling his first impression of her wearing an “oversized 80’s zebra print jacket” Like Chovan, Moser credits Bemis’ constant promotion and approachability as the strength that helps “make ordinary women feel fashionable,” stating that “she is definitely to be admired, and has done a great deal for herself and Austin fashion.” With both careers built on a sharp sense of detail, one that stands defined, he remembers, is Bemis’ coverage of the Paris Fashion Week Chanel 2011 collection, screened during Chovan’s own show last summer.
Bemis sits in her home office with Cooper on her lap; shopping bags of the retail elite hang neatly accompanying her frames depicting accomplishments, travels and notoriety. But amongst a personally autographed picture of Project Runway Season 2 winner Chloe Dao, Bemis’ profile for Austin Woman Magazine, an Eiffel Tower landscape portrait, and a black-and-white capture of her millstone experience at Chanel — what is perhaps her most cherished possession are the photos that decorate the workspace, as that of Bemis’ best friend and mentor Robin Campbell, stares intently with encouragement, illustrating a bond solidified over the love of fashion.
“We didn’t necessarily follow the rules, we made our own,” said Campbell describing her journey with Bemis to the New York and Paris Fashion Weeks. They initially met during a Fashionably 8 report emphasizing Campbell’s former philanthropic boutique Cupidz Clozet, and now the two have shared a lasting decade-long friendship, alike in fearless thought and spirit.
“We all have our doubts about whether or not to take the plunge,” states Campbell, who was the first to hear Bemis’ hopes towards developing Fashionably Austin in 2003; “those are the people who are most successful, those who take the risk,” she said.
“Nobody’s ever seen these,” said Bemis sharing old headshots stored away in the garage. Reminiscing on the dates and places that span her modeling portfolio, she rummages through a desk drawer. “Let’s do the math,” she promptly says. “That’s really bad when you need to figure out how many years you’ve been in the fashion business with a calculator,” she said. The total: 30.
One of her brightest opportunities to date, Bemis says, is first receiving credentials for New York Fashion Week, slated shortly after the 2009 launch of Fashionably Austin.com; where she fine-tuned her reporting skills with former colleague Melissa Shea, producing coverage in photo and video format, helping fellow Austinites, experience the shows through social media.
“I get in reporter mode,” said Bemis of the known principals referencing her years of success. “You have to be quick and ready; when I get focused on who I need, or what I need, I’m going to make it happen.”
As an erase board represents her busy schedule hanging outside the door, Bemis’ husband Robert has seen the struggles paved with her success firsthand. “She’s really come a long way from where she began, he said. The two met online and married in early November 2007, Robert says he was attracted to his wife’s high energy, much like those in her personal and professional life. “It’s not something you learn from a book,” he said. “That desire, that passion, grows from the heart.”
With Fashionably Austin and the advertising group, Bemis Digital Media to her name – the journalist has, in Moser’s words, “taken herself from a small time reporter, to an entity.” Hence, as Bemis prepares to celebrate her 52nd birthday she prevails, surrounded by a circle of countless celebrity interviews; and plans to re-launch both the Fashionably Austin® and Fashionably Connected® brands.
“I have to remember that I can’t forget Austin,” she said. “It’s home and it’s where the vision began.”
Even if they tried, the city can’t forget her. “I like to think of Cheryl as a ‘positive instigator’ — she stirs the pot and gets people in the community thinking and their creative juices flowing,” said Matt Swinney, founder of the annual Austin Fashion Week (Au. 10 -18).
“The industry is a world of collaboration, teamwork and relationships. Having someone on your side like [her] who can help make those connections can oftentimes be invaluable,” he emphasizes. “As you succeed in your own career, it’s important to elevate and help those around you. That’s what Cheryl has always done.”
In her resilient grace, Bemis proves that natural talent only gets better with time. It has been a long road for the girl whose career path began interviewing family members at Thanksgiving dinner with her first tape recorder.
Written by Audrea Diaz
Images by Chris Clark