Geoffrey Beene was the kind of designer who never stuck with the tried or true. He was a true modernist who experimented with soft fabrics for evening gowns because he thought clothing should be comfortable, and created minimal designs that prioritized mobility.
He incorporated seams that hugged the body in all the right places and used bright colors and geometric shapes.
The Phoenix Art Museum will unveil an extensive exhibition next year about the legendary New York designer. There will be items from Beene’s personal work material, interviews with people who knew him and a wide collection of jumpsuits, boleros, jackets and evening dresses from the museum’s archives. Called “Move: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene,” it will run from Feb. 1 to July 23, 2023.
“We have a full collection of Geoffrey Beene [clothing], which was a gift from Patsy Tarr with 350 objects that date from the late ’80s to the early 2000s,” said Helen Jean, the museum’s Jacquie Dorrance curator of fashion design.
Tarr, a New York resident who was a longtime patron of the designer and is the founder and publisher of 2wice magazines and books about contemporary dance and visual and performing arts, donated her collection to the museum in 2019 after being introduced to the institution by her friend and board member Ellen Katz.
The museum, which started collecting fashion pieces in 1996, already had 40 Geoffrey Beene items in its archives. Since Tarr’s gift, the museum has acquired another 20 Beene pieces.
It took 18 months to organize the exhibition, done with the assistance of Authentic Brands Group, which bought the Geoffrey Beene trademark last year from PVH Corp. ABG was instrumental in loaning materials from Beene’s personal archives, which will be part of the exhibition.
The show will look at the sense of movement that was infused into the designer’s creations. “We are looking at visual movement through the placement of colors and textiles on the garments,” Jean said. “More specifically, we are looking at the movement he built in the placement of seam lines and grain lines and diving into the way he curved his seams around the body to find its natural flex points.”
Beene knew a lot about the human body, coming from a family of doctors. For three years he studied medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans before dropping out and moving to Los Angeles, where he studied fashion design for a while at the University of Southern California.
The upcoming exhibition will be divided into three galleries encompassing 6,400 square feet. The first gallery will feature items that belonged to the designer. These include photographs, contact sheets, press kits and correspondence, which give insight into Beene’s design process and editorial style.
The second gallery will feature clothing from the Phoenix museum’s archives. Many of these designs were created for Tarr and show Beene’s vision for a fully interchangeable wardrobe of jumpsuits, boleros, jackets and evening gowns.
The third gallery will show how Beene merged design with ballet as he reimagined his fashion shows and presented his clothing on ballet dancers to focus on movement and form. Featured throughout the gallery will be video interviews with models, dancers, muses and collaborators who worked with the designer, who died in 2004.
The Geoffrey Beene brand was created in 1963 and immediately saw its first collection on the cover of Vogue. Beene became a design pioneer, breaking traditions by using soft fabrics in evening wear. Some of his evening wear even had pockets.
“Geoffrey Beene was, at his core, a fashion rebel,” Jean said. “This has been a moment to tell his story.”