Designer Spotlight: Geoffrey Beene

Posted by Cherie
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Photo from Geoffrey Beene: An American Fashion Rebel book by Kim Hastreiter.


Editor's note: One of my goals for 2016 was to continue to help spread and share our love and knowledge of why this little world of vintage loveliness that I have created amongst these web pages even exists. Beyond posting pretty pictures and editorials and sharing stories of days gone by, everything I do with my team really springs from my great love of the vintage that I source and find all around the world. It is at heart, all about vintage, and yet sometimes I feel that with all the other aspects that go into running this blog and the site that I can get caught up in so many things that take away from the simple act of my love of the great designers and their creations. To offset that, I have decided to highlight one of the designers whose work I love each week. This is not intended as a comprehensive biography but rather bits and pieces of what I have learned through my years in this business, along with some examples of the work and pieces I have in my shop. It is my little weekly love tribute to someone from the past and I hope you enjoy this new addition to our blog. xx Cherie


My team and I are slowly working our way through each of our vintage designer's pages and adding a little "bio" at the top to give people unfamiliar with that person's work a glimpse into what made them special and perhaps to inspire further research and appreciation. The topper for Geoffrey Beene has this to say:

“'One of my greatest pleasures has been to take jersey and men’s fabrics into the ballroom' —Geoffrey Beene. This quote of Geoffrey Beene’s, taken from a eulogy written by Hamish Bowles for Vogue, is perhaps the perfect analogy for the designer’s 40 year-long career. Beene, born in a small town in Louisiana, initially trained in medicine but dropped out to pursue a career in fashion. His studies took him to the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne where he trained before returning to the States to found his own firm in 1963. Beene’s career was one which insisted on breaking the mold —he resisted the assumption that American designers were less esteemed than their European counterparts by being the first American to show in Milan. He challenged the notion that ready-to-wear designs were less than their couture counterparts and revolutionized the use of unconventional fabrics and styles (his sequinned football jersey gown being a notable example of this). Beene’s legacy is pervasive in the fashion world today where many designers pull from his archive of silhouettes and styles (some go so far as to blatantly copy them). Beene’s design process was firmly rooted in the capacities of the fabric and the structural anatomy of the female form rather than seasonal trends. For this his designs retain the same daring yet timeless quality now as they did during Beene’s prolific career"

Beene was an extraordinary designer. Both Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs have cited him as being "who they felt was the greatest designer produced by the United States in the 20th century, a figure who could be placed alongside couturiers of the caliber of Chanel and Balenciaga". That taken from a wonderful look back on his work by Colin McDowell for Business of Fashion. You can read it in full here and I highly recommend you do just that. He is the winner of eight Coty Awards, three CFDA Awards, an honorary doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design and has also been designated an “American Original” by the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Born in Louisiana he moved to Paris in 1948. He studied at L’École de la Syndicate d’Haute Couture and said his "his exposure to the work of Elsa Schiaparelli" affected his entire life. So did the sophistication and refined culture of those days in Paris. He was known for his attention to detail in life and in the atelier with manners and dignity always paid high attention to. This dichotomy between wit and high culture spilled over to his clothes. It is from this base that he drew upon when using jerseys for evening or sequinned dresses based on football uniforms. His work is often thought of as conservative and indeed the later work did go down that line as his clientele aged and asked for pieces that fell in line with their lifestyles. But his early work? Feathers and sequins, colors and brocades - all used in a wild abandon within a structured refined box. He was the great American designer with American sensibilities and is often cited more for his sportswear then his gowns, but those gowns are there. Sprinkled in like bits of magic just waiting to be uncovered.

The Museum at FIT, who showcased his work in a 1994 exhibit, says of Mr Beene: "Geoffrey Beene’s inventive geometric cuts and understanding of the human body allowed him to produce some of the most innovative clothes of his generation. Regarded as a “the architect of American clothing,” Geoffrey Beene approached fashion design with the precision of a technician and the eye of an artist, creating clothes that glorified the female form.“The body is a miracle, not to be abused,” he once said. “I’ve never made a vulgar dress.”"

The construction and attention to detail of the work never faltered even as his company grew, but of course, the earlier a piece is that one finds, the more likely it is that Mr. Beene had his hands directly on the fabric and oversaw it piece by piece to final construction. I am very proud to say that I have some really extraordinary pieces of his work in the shop and constantly look for those special pieces that to me showcase that juxtaposition between high and low, whimsy and structure, that became Beene’s design signature. I have sold pieces to several museums around the world and have pieces in the shop whose twins reside in the archives of other museums. Mr. Beene's work is extraordinary and when he passed on in 2004 the world of design lost one of its greats. It is an honour to continue to showcase his work.




Shop our selection of Geoffrey Beene pieces >



(L) Geoffrey Beene Dress, Harper's Bazaar Feb. 1967  /  (R)  Geoffrey Beene - 1967



1970s Graphic Geoffrey Beene Silk Backless Dress available at Shrimpton Couture — click to shop >



Geoffrey Beene, Sequin Football Gowns, Harpers Bazaar, 1967. See the article that we originally featured this image in by clicking here >



(L)  Brigitte Bauer and Sue Murray in dresses by Geoffrey Beene. Photo by Irving Penn for Vogue, 1966  /  (R) Benedetta Barzini in a Geoffrey Beene coat. Photo by Irving Penn, for Vogue, 1967.



Museum Held 1960s Beene Bazaar Patchwork Dress available at Shrimpton Couture — click to shop >





American Vogue, February 1975. See the article that we originally featured this image in by click here >



Raquel Welch in Geoffrey Beene’s ostrich-trimmed pajamas Vogue, March 1, 1967. Photo by David Bailey.



1970s Spectacular Geoffrey Beene Silk Gown available at Shrimpton Couture — click to shop >



(L) Geoffrey Beene, Vogue US - September 1973, Photographed by Richard Avedon  /  (R) Geoffrey Beene Ad with Eva Voorhees. Vogue US, August 1984.



Vogue, September 1977. See the article that we originally featured this image in by click here >



'The All-Out Seductiveness of Evening Dressing at Geoffrey Beene', Vogue US, February 1984. Photos by Eddy Kohli.



'The All-Out Seductiveness of Evening Dressing at Geoffrey Beene', Vogue US, February 1984. Photos by Eddy Kohli.



1960s Geoffrey Beene Boutique Waffle Weave Halter Dress available at Shrimpton Couture — click to shop >



Geoffrey Beene in Town & Country, September 1969, Photo by Francesco Scavullo. See the article that we originally featured this image in by clicking here >



(L) Eddy Kohli for American Vogue, November 1984. Fashion by Geoffrey Beene  /  (R) Patrick Demarchelier for American Vogue, February 1989. Clothing by Geoffrey Beene.

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