Fashion designer, hair stylist, celebrity mom
Tina Knowles, mother of megastar vocalist Beyoncé Knowles, has been much more than a stereotypical stage mom cheering from the sidelines. Tina and her husband, Mathew Knowles, were the primary shapers of Beyoncé's early career in the group Destiny's Child, and for several years Tina supported the family during the early stages of the Destiny's Child phenomenon with the proceeds from her Houston, Texas hair salon, Headliners. Tina and her daughter remained business partners, as well as a close mother-and-daughter pair, as Beyoncé moved into young adulthood and a solo career. In 2005 they jointly launched the fashion line House of Deréon, named after Tina Knowles's mother, Agnéz Deréon. "All of my life I've been transferring people, always fixing them up—their makeup, their hair, their clothes," Tina Knowles told Joy Sewing of the Houston Chronicle. "Now, this a dream come true, and we want to do it right."
Knowles was born Celestine Ann Beyincé on January 4, 1954, and grew up in Galveston, Texas. Some of her family members still live in that coastal Texas city. Knowles's parents were of Creole background, from Louisiana, and her mother, Agnéz Deréon, was noted
as a seamstress. The family was poor, Knowles recalled to Lynn Norment of Ebony, and she couldn't understand how her mother could afford the tuition charge at the Catholic schools she attended until "I later learned that my mother paid part of the tuition by making robes for altar boys, cloaks for the priests and altar cloths for the church. She was really talented. People would come to her for prom dresses and fancy gowns." Her mother and sisters taught her to sew.
In the mid-1970s she met Gadsden, Alabama, native and Fisk University graduate Mathew Knowles at a party, and when the two met again a year later, they started dating. They found that both enjoyed music and had sung in high school talent shows. In 1979 they married. At first, combining Mathew's income as a high-powered Xerox Corporation medical equipment salesman with that of her own prosperous beauty salon, the couple enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and started a family. Beyoncé Knowles was born in 1981, and four years later she acquired a younger sister, Solange. "[W]hat people don't realize about us is that we had a big, beautiful house…cars, and money before Destiny's Child," Knowles told Linda Gillan Griffin of the Houston Chronicle. "It's not like we planned this so that we could get rich off our kids," she added to Norment.
Soon, however, the Knowles family had to make some serious investment decisions. Beyoncé's dance teacher told her parents that Beyoncé was far out of the ordinary as a performer. In the late 1980s, the teacher began to enter Beyoncé in local singing competitions, and the preteen Beyoncé won perhaps 30 of them, often against much older girls. She gained a statewide reputation, and promoters of other young performers approached Tina and Mathew Knowles about setting up a girl group that could enter television's Star Search competition. Several dozen girls were auditioned and briefly rotated through the group as Tina Knowles planned and executed their costumes and hairstyles. Various names were tried: Girls Tyme, Something Fresh, Cliche, the Dolls, and finally Destiny, tweaked to Destiny's Child. The name Destiny was Tina Knowles's idea; it came to her after she found a forgotten picture of one of the early versions of the group between the pages of a Bible.
After signing with the Columbia label, the youthful trio was groomed slowly before releasing their first album, Destiny's Child, in 1998. The group's visual image was largely Tina Knowles's responsibility, while husband Mathew handled management and artistic direction chores. Both Knowleses professed admiration for the vertically integrated musical production model of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Tina Knowles carefully cultivated a classy image for the new group and kept close tabs on its evolution. "The other thing we didn't want them to do was look like kids. When the girls were younger, we didn't let them tell their ages," Knowles told Griffin.
At the start Tina designed the girls' costumes as a cost-saving measure, and her resourcefulness proved useful even after Destiny's Child achieved national and international fame. On one occasion, after Beyoncé was suddenly given an unexpected solo performing slot at an event in South Africa attended by President Nelson Mandela, Knowles ran to a local fabric market and then cut a dress "free-hand," she told Norment. "It turned out beautifully. We kept the dress as a souvenir; we have a picture of Beyoncé wearing it with Mr. Mandela. That time I surprised myself."
Tina Knowles's fashion sense was transmitted to Beyoncé, who became a quick-thinking and graceful solo performer. But moral lessons as well flowed from mother to daughter. In a highly sexualized musical environment, Tina Knowles ensured that Destiny's Child maintained a wholesome image, avoiding any hint of profanity in the group's song lyrics and performances. Structure, Knowles realized, was important for teen performers, and the rules for Beyoncé and her bandmates were often strict ones as the Knowles household became home to Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland as well as to Beyoncé.
Knowles took sharp issue with occasional charges that she and her husband made the youthful group members work too hard. "Any company or sports team or any individual who is successful will have the same kind of work ethic," she explained to Norment. "We know what our goals are.We show up and we suit up, and we do whatever it takes to get the job done.We understand the word ‘practice,’ because practice prepares you. I manage the No. 1 girl group in the world. Now, if they weren't successful, then maybe people could knock the fact that we work hard."
By the mid-2000s, with Beyoncé flourishing as a solo artist and younger sister Solange having launched a singing and acting career, Tina Knowles's management philosophy was a demonstrated success. Tina and Beyoncé Knowles remained close, and the launch of the House of Deréon fashion line in 2005 was a family affair—not only for the two of them, but reaching back in spirit to Agnéz Deréon. "House of Deréon is named after my grandmother, so it is a celebration of three generations," Beyoncé explained to Norment. "I love the clothes from the '70s, my mother's clothes. I love clothes from the '40s, my grandmother's style, so elegant. We wanted to take elements from my grandmother's legacy-the beaded lace, lush colors, fine fabrics-and mix them with clothes from my mother's generation and my generation."
At a Glance …
Born Celestine Ann Beyincé, January 4, 1954; raised in Galveston, TX; mother Agnéz Deréon a seamstress; married Mathew Knowles (a salesman), 1979; children: Beyoncé, Solange (both singers). Religion: Roman Catholic.
Headliners Hair Salon, Houston, TX, owner, 1980s-; various vocal groups involving daughter Beyoncé Knowles, founder, beginning late 1980s; Destiny's Child and Beyoncé Knowles as solo artist, managed career, designed costumes, selected hair styles, and supervised visual image, 1997-; House of Deréon fashion line, founder (with Beyoncé Knowles), 2005; New Jersey Nets basketball team, designer of cheerleader uniforms, 2007.
Salon—Headliners Hair Salon, 2442 Bissonnet, Houston, TX 77005. Web—www.houseofdereon.com.
In 2007 the new firm scored a coup when it landed a contract to design the outfits for the cheerleading squad of professional basketball's New Jersey Nets. Tina Knowles by that time was one of Houston's best-known residents, having opened her home to the cream of the city's high society for a party in late 2006 marking the beginning of work on the new Houston Museum of African American Culture. Although her success as one of American pop music's hitmakers was earned offstage, Tina Knowles was that and more—an important shaper of feminine images in the early twenty-first century.
Destiny's Style, HarperCollins, 2002.
Ebony, September 2001, p. 90; May 2003, p. 156; December 2005, p. 148.
Houston Chronicle, June 24, 2001, p. 1; June 30, 2005, p. 1; November 2, 2006, p. 26.
Jet, February 26, 2007, p. 30.
House of Deréon,www.houseofdereon.com/intro/ (May 29, 2007).
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