Location: Memphis, TN
Marital Status: Single
Education: “I’m very hard to teach!”
Babbie’s personal closet—which has recently been moved to a warehouse–boasts a collection of over 3,000 garments representing styles from the very beginning of the 20th century to the present day. She uses them to produce historical fashion shows for charity.
“On Saturday mornings I listened to a radio show called ‘Let’s Pretend’ and that’s sort of my mantra in my life,” says Babbie. “When things are going like I want them to, it’s wonderful and great, and when they’re not I can pretend they are.”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up with big ideas in a small town. McCrory, Arkansas, a really wonderful little town. Population about 1800–when everybody’s home.
Where do you live now?
Memphis is my city home and I have a presence in Little Rock. Actually, I’d planned to be living in New York at this point in my life but I have the privilege of a 97-year-old mother who’s still in McCrory living alone and totally the diva of the family. She really doesn’t want my help but I have to be around in case she needs something, so I stay in the bushes.
You have an interesting professional background. Fashion and farming? Please explain!
I’m from a farm family, basically. We raise rice, soybeans and corn. When I married my husband Paul, my father put him to work on the farm. At that time we lifted sacks of fertilizer by hand and Paul said, this has got to change. So we became pioneers in the liquid fertilizer business. But I left because my career path was to be in theatre, fashion and modeling.
Tell me about your career in fashion.
I started modeling in the 60s and I still model some. Now I mostly produce fashion shows and do the commentary for them. I love to combine music and theatre with fashion. That’s how I met Shirley [Wexner,] the owner of Joseph’s. In the 1960s, I was the in-house model for Levy’s, where Shirley’s family had their shoe department. I still produce shows for Joseph’s.
And you shop at Joseph’s?
I do indeed. They do such a great job of editing for the Memphis market. There are so few shops left with personal service. That’s why Joseph’s is wonderful. They’re like family. They have a great staff and they take time with their customers. Their jewelry buyer, Cheryl, is one of the best I’ve seen.
What do you like about Memphis?
The diversity. It’s a very creative city. I love that women are still southern in their attitude. Memphis still dresses up. We have a lot of charities–really pretty, great parties. We have fun in Memphis. It’s a warm, open city. Newcomers are welcomed.
What is your look?
I learned early on with fashion that if it’s not becoming it doesn’t matter what it is. I’ve sort of stripped down to black basics and then I just add accessories.
Who are your favorite designers?
I am all over the charts. I love the new designers, but I’ve worked with or worn some of the finest designer clothes. Donna Karan’s things always made sense to me because they fit and she understands a woman’s body. And Dries Van Noten: fantastic. I love that his clothes relate to lots of different body shapes. They are like costumes but you can also wear them in real life.
What’s your jewelry style?
It depends on the character you are that day–remember, let’s pretend. Sometimes I wear enormous earrings and sometimes I don’t wear any at all.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
I love Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock–there’s nothing better than their hot tamales. It was my Daddy’s favorite place in all the world.
Who influenced your style?
My mother. And she was a wonderful mother–a very powerfully controlling woman who kept us on a path. She had a very difficult time with me because I was like a wild child. My daddy and mother wanted me to be a Persian kitten on a pillow and I wanted to be an alley cat.
You told me your husband died 20 years ago. Did you ever want to remarry?
I’m still married to Paul. He was my one and only. Yes, there were ups and downs and there were times when I could’ve bailed out or he could have. Paul and I were very different but we had a really lovely marriage.
Do you ever get lonely?
To be quite honest, I’ve never really been lonely in my entire life, and I think it’s because I really have been blessed with an imagination. I just love people and if I get lonely I go out for dinner and watch people. I’m thoroughly enjoying being free.
Who or what inspires you in your life?
I’m inspired by everybody I meet.
What book do you love?
Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Lady’s Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. It’s about the different denominations in the South—Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians—and how they address the family. It’s a cute book with some great recipes. And When The Emperor Was Divine, about Japanese families in California that were uprooted in the beginning of World War II. A beautifully written book.
Do you have a signature perfume?
I love essential oils, and Tom Ford has the best–a whole collection that you can mix yourself. White patchouli is one of the nicest–absolutely divine.
Do you have a passion project?
The Ken Theatre. The mayor of our town bought and renovated the old movie house. I told him, you can’t have a movie house in a town our size, it just won’t pay. Let’s put in a stage and I’ll get the lights and the sound and we’ll have a production place where we can introduce theater to children. We started three years old and it’s doing great. Kids and adults are writing their own shows and having the best time. Our new show is “In the Ring”; we’re bringing in professional boxers and a boxing ring.
Favorite cleanser or moisturizer?
I use the Darphin Collection. It’s just is a good line–it works. And occasionally I’ll just rinse my face with hot water and apply pure virgin olive oil, then leave it on a little while and splash it off.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Do not accept limitations. And really, with all due respect, everyday of life is so special. Don’t waste your time.
Do you exercise at all?
I love to dance. I’m trained in ballet, tap and jazz. But I just love free movement. I guess I’m an Isadora Duncan dancer. I love the scarves and the motion and the drama.
You’ve got so much life. When I speak to you I feel like I’m literally sitting still.
Oh dear heaven. Well I’m excited to be speaking to you.
You are one of a kind, Babbie.