B. Smith, model turned lifestyle guru and Fayette County native

B. Smith, model turned lifestyle guru and Fayette County native

 Barbara Smith broke a series of color barriers to turn her name into a lifestyle brand. After starting her career as a model, she became a restaurateur with eponymous bistros in New York City, Long Island, N.Y., and Wash ing ton, D.C. Smith spun her success in the food world into a syndicated TV show (B. Smith With Style), a magazine, cookbooks, and a home-product line—the first by a black woman to be sold at a national retailer. Her multifaceted success led many to label Smith the “black Mar tha Stew art,” a comparison she found wellmeaning but shortsighted. “Mar tha Stew art has presented herself doing the things domestics and African- Americans have done for years,” she said in 1997. “We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first.”

Barbara Smith grew up in western Pennsylvania, said The New York Times, where her father was a steelworker and her mother a part-time maid “with a flair for interior decorating that she had once hoped to make her career.” From a young age, “Smith was a whirlwind.” She delivered newspapers, sold lemonade, and went door-todoor selling magazines with her father, a Jehovah’s Witness. Barred from joining the Future Homemakers of America because of her race, “she started her own home economics club and named herself president.” As a teenager, Smith took Saturday classes at a modeling school— having first convinced her father it was a finishing school. Her big modeling break came in 1969, when she joined the Ebony Fashion Fair and went on tour across the U.S. “Along the way she shortened her first name to B.”

In 1976, Smith became only the second black model “to appear on the front of Mademoiselle magazine,” said The Wash ing ton Post. After unsuccessful attempts to branch out into singing and acting, she embraced her “longtime passion for food” and jumped into the restaurant business. The first B. Smith bistro opened in Man hattan in 1986, and quickly became a favorite spot of black professionals. Her empire grew to include “housewares, bed linens, and even an At Home With B. Smith furniture line,” said NPR.org. Smith, who was diagnosed with Alz heimer’s in 2013, saw a clear line running through it all. “Being a model is about fantasy,” she said. “And so is entertaining.”

Comments