Later Career

Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

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In 1988 a retrospective at the National Academy of Design opened to coincide with the anniversary of Beene's twenty-five years in business. During this time, an article appeared in the Village Voice by Amy Fine Collins, who took on the role of Beene's muse through the 1990s. In analyzing Beene's work as an artist, she focused on his seemingly contradictory combinations of materials and influences, praising his courage to "regularly descend into the depths of taste in order to reemerge with his vision replenished" (Fine Collins, p. 34). In 1988 the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave Beene a newly created award, the Special Award for Fashion as Art.

Beene continued his innovations with fabric, treating humble textiles regally and using luxurious materials with throwaway ease. For example, a 1989 sheared mink coat for the furrier Goldin-Feldman in a bathrobe-like silhouette was created in fur dyed hot pink, edged with electric blue ribbon in a giant rickrack pattern, and lined with an abstract print in coordinating colors.

The year 1989 saw the opening of Geoffrey Beene on the Plaza, Beene's flagship retail shop on Fifth Av enue. He envisioned the shop as a design laboratory where he could "put in something new and in a few days have enough feedback to know if it's a success or if it has to go back to the drawing board" (Morris, p. B11).

Beene had shown a special interest in lace, for its combination of sheerness and strength along with its ability to stretch. In the late 1980s he began utilizing strategically placed sheer and cutout panels, especially in his evening clothes, culminating in the matte-wool-jersey-and-sequins lace-insertion gowns of 1991, which exemplify the exacting cut and technical intricacy of his work. His spiraling designs, which consider the body in the round rather than using flat pieces and treating the front and back as separate entities, reveal his admiration for and study of the work of the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet.

In 1994 Beene was honored again with an exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology to celebrate thirty years in business and was awarded the first-ever Award of Excellence by the Costume Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1997 and 1998 exhibitions of his work were featured at the Toledo Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

Beene's clothes have consistently been praised for their individuality and wearability. In a 1994 interview with Grace Mirabella he explained his philosophy of design:

The biggest change in fashion and the world has probably come in the past and present decade—the collapse of rules and their rigidity. This had to happen. There were too many illogical rules. I have never wished to impose or dictate with design. Its meaning for me is to affect people's lives with a certain joy, and not to impose questions of right and wrong. (Mirabella, p. 7)

Beene's lifetime achievement awards include the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's American Original award, presented in 2002. In 2003 he became the first recipient of the Gold Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in Fashion from the National Arts Club. He received a career excellence award from the Rhode Island School of Design, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1992.

Beene weathered a famous seventeen-year feud with Women's Wear Daily, during which the publication refused to mention his name. By early 2002, Geoffrey Beene pulled his couture line out of retail stores; he continued to produce clothing for a select group of private clients.

See also Fashion Designer; Paris Fashion; Vionnet, Madeleine; Women's Wear Daily.

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100 Fashion Tips

100 Fashion Tips

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