BMD Interviews Bernie Dexter
One can not click through any reproduction line’s website or wander aimlessly through the pin-up world without stumbling upon Bernie Dexter. She has modeled for Stop Staring, Bettie Page Clothing, and What Katie Did to name a few (and I MEAN “a few”). Yes, she does resemble Bettie Page but she is much more than a pretty face and a well known name in the pinup industry. She’s been designing her own line of reproduction clothing and this past year she debuted her first extensive collection. A few pieces have been picked up by Modcloth.com as well as numerous shops around the country. Drum roll please….
BMD: Is the latest collection your first big undertaking for Bernie Dexter Clothing?
Bernie Dexter: Yes! I started a couple years ago but my latest collection was my biggest production. I even showed at Magic trade show.
What was Magic like?
It was amazing to show my collection there! Apart from a few catty remarks by other designers. So many people were excited by the collection. It was GREAT to FINALLY share my point of view.
When and why did you start designing?
Well I started way before I realized… I never went to design school. But I found I was always taking things to a tailor and having him change things, take off pockets, add this or that, change the shape of a dress completely by removing or adding details… I guess I was designing for myself years!! Plus I saw so many new designers I model for become so successful after I modeled their clothes. I thought it was time I shared my point of view. I celebrate the female form. It is all about fit and enhancing the hourglass shape of women. I like to make clothes you can wear that make women feel pretty.
What’s been the reaction to your collection from other repro designers?
Some designers have been supportive and happy for me. But a few have been bit snide or do not talk to me at all now. I do notice a few clothing lines dropping me as a model… it is sad because I feel there is room for everyone and I try to use different fabrics and styles not to confuse the public.
What do you see yourself bringing to the table that’s different or unique?
To start my collection is made in the USA. Also approximately 80% of my collection is 100% cotton, using bold prints and vibrant colors reminiscence of vintage prints. Most companies use a poly rayon blend and I know a lot of people like it, I prefer cottons. I do a collection of stretch knits. They are 90% cotton and 10% spandex. Very comfy and flattering on. I also use some other cotton stretch fabrics. I really wanted to make a line I want to wear and I really do!!
The Belle Capri Jumpsuit is probably my favorite in your new collection because it’s a design that you don’t see in many other repro lines. What made you want to produce one?
I base all my designs on vintage pieces I have owned or wanted but could not get my hands on. That jumpsuit was made after the 1950′s Ceebee jumpsuits I used to see.
And do you think you’ll ever make other dress/swing coats that could be worn with it?
Oh I do have a swing coat that doubles as a dress called the Rikki. It is in production as we type!
What other designers inspire you and/or do you find yourself wearing a lot?
Oh I LOVE Whirlingturban, Rumble 59, Pony Maedchen, Jessica Louise, Able Grable, sooo many. But honestly I find I am wearing my own line A LOT.
Are music or film a big influence for you while designing?
Yes a HUGE inspiration is music! I like to produce items I can picture myself wearing on the dance floor!!
And are you inspired by other lines?
The only lines i have been inspired by are vintage ones like 1950′s Frederick’s of Hollywood, lilli Diamond and 1980s Katy Kay and Vivienne Westwood. But it is all visual. I have not studied these people. I have had pieces by each one and loved the style, fit and quality.
What’s your most essential piece of clothing that you own?
My Siren Capri Pants. I love them.
You do a lot of your shoots at home with your husband and photographer, Levi. Can you explain the process of your shoots?
Yes and I LOVE it. He is so much fun to work with and has such great composition!
Nothing is ever planned we just go with the flow and it works..
What was your first modeling job and the experience like?
I ordered a corset online and Katie (from whatkatiedid.com) asked me if I would trade her pictures for the corset! I was so happy and surprised! I looked online for a photographer (Levi was not shooting me yet) I looked for someone with clear crisp photos. I did not care who they had shot with or if they even did “pin up photography” in fact I tend to steer away from people who have “pin up” portfolios.
You recently became the face of Stumptown Tart for Bridgeport Brew.
Actually I have been doing bridgeport Brew’s Stumptown Tart 3 years in a row now. It is such an honor working with Bridgeport! And I love the beer!
What has been one of your favorite shoots or promotions that you’ve done?
It is so hard to pick one!!! Bridgeport took me to Chicago a few months ago it was a 1 week pub crawl. So sooo FUN! I LOVE working with Ars-vinendi. I LOVE going to Germany. Ars-vivendi always make the bookings so special!! And England… aaaaaah I just did a shoot in London with WhatKatieDid.com. Tony Nylons of Glimpse Magazine did the shoot it was AMAZING! Katie’s new Lingerie is GORGEOUS!
It seems that now so many women are into the pinup thing.. so first, how do you feel about that?
I think it is so amazing to see a resurgence!!
And second, where do you see yourself in all of it?
Honestly, I feel a bit lost in it all. I have had a lot of success considering I am just a freelance model. However since day one I have been treated different. I even had in the past, asked not to participate in pin up contests. I was so upset. I know it is a compliment but I felt like an ordinary girl who wanted to try out too. Girls who are successful or feel me as a threat tend to ignore me. I always enjoyed surrounding myself in beautiful stylish and unique people… so this was heart breaking for me. I do not get as many opportunities as I would like. I tried out for Playboy and they turned me down. A lot of people won’t use me as a model because CMG has told them not to use me. CMG owns the rights to Bettie Page image and estate and CMG just do not like me. They are tied in with Playboy and a lot of Hollywood… this is the price I pay for resembling an american icon. People always say I am so lucky, but there is always 2 sides to each coin. Honestly, Dita Von teese is on the top of it all. She is the only one who will rise to what the possibilities are. I am happy for her. She has worked so hard. I know and she knows it is not just being a pretty face, although I would say she is one of the most physically beautiful people in the world (I do not know her personally) You have to work very hard in this business to make it.
I’m sure there has been a lot that you’ve learned while modeling all this time. Any piece of advice you can pass down to girls looking to get into pin-up modeling?
Yes… I have learned so much…. if you work hard and do not get caught up in the networking web… you will enjoy it so much more. There is no secret to my personal success other then hard work. Post your pix on the internet and see what happens. The public chooses who they want to see.