Geoffrey Beene: A Lasting Legacy

On February 16th, Capsule offers fashion illustrations and bespoke mannequins from the estate of Geoffrey Beene, an icon of American fashion.

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Published on
January 25, 2023
A collection of Geoffrey Beene fashion illustrations offered in the sale.
A collection of Geoffrey Beene fashion illustrations offered in the sale.

Geoffrey Beene’s legacy is one of perpetual achievement: as The New York Times put it, "fashion editors ran out of superlatives to describe Mr. Beene's high-wire act." The list of accolades the icon of the American fashion scene racked up over the course of his career is seemingly endless. Just a year after founding his firm in 1963, Beene was awarded the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics' Award. This would be one of eight Coty awards given to the designer over the course of his life, more than any other designer has received to date. In 1976, he became the first American designer to show a collection in Milan, Italy. Not only did The Council of Fashion Designers present Beene with America’s Designer of the Year Award in 1986, but also named their Lifetime Achievement Award after him as tribute.

Though his list of awards is impressive, Beene’s truest achievement was of course the body of work he left behind. Capsule celebrates his distinctly modern and dynamic designs with the sale of forty fashion illustrations and twenty decorative mannequins from his estate. Proceeds from the sale of this property will benefit the Geoffrey Beene Foundation’s cancer treatment research initiatives. These items are offered in Fashion, Art, and Design, live bidding for which begins on February 16th at 11:00 AM.

10 Joe Eula Illustrations for Geoffrey Beene
Lot 4 | 10 Joe Eula Illustrations for Geoffrey Beene

Before beginning his career in fashion, Beene planned to follow in the footsteps of his family members and become a physician. After studying medicine for three years at Tulane University in New Orleans, he dropped out of the program to pursue fashion in Los Angeles and later New York. Perhaps unexpectedly, Beene’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology became integral to his design process. Knowledge of and consideration for the human form set Beene apart from peers, allowing him to create clothing that flattered rather than merely covered the body.

50 Jeff Sayre Illustrations for Geoffrey Beene (1970-74)
Lot 8 | 50 Jeff Sayre Illustrations for Geoffrey Beene (1970-74)

In an industry ruled by lively personalities and rapid change, Beene was admired in personal and professional settings alike for his serenity. Referred to as “the quiet one”, Beene channeled his penchant for placidity into his designs: sleek, minimal, and understated, his collections, while diverse, are consummately timeless. It is perhaps for this reason that icons of American fashion, such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who wore one of his dresses to her husband’s inaugural ball, have long flocked to Beene. This wasn’t his only brush with the white house: in 1967, he designed a wedding dress for Lynda Bird Johnson, eldest daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Vintage Geoffrey Beene Mannequins, Set of 2
Lot 7 | Vintage Geoffrey Beene Mannequins, Set of 2

Beene’s efforts to create enduring work extended further than the design process— his ethos informed the way he displayed his collections as well. Beene often preferred dressing mannequins rather than live models, an innovative choice that gave his shows a theatrical flair. Fueled by a belief that hair and makeup looks are destined to become dated, the designer opted to use headless mannequins to preserve the timeless quality of his designs. Capsule’s February 16th auction offers twenty lots of these mannequins from the designer’s archives.

6 Sirichai Paintings for Geoffrey Beene
Lot 5 | 6 Sirichai Paintings for Geoffrey Beene

Anne Hall, who worked for Beene for many years and whose illustrations are featured in the sale, said that one of the most important lessons Geoffrey Beene taught her was “to take risks - to put together things that do not seem to go together.” This desire to innovate was certainly visible. In 1966, just three years after the launch of his line, Beene shocked the fashion world with his use of gray flannel and wool jersey in evening wear. Though bold choices like this certainly cinched his reputation as one to flaunt convention, Beene’s risks were often more subtle: unusual silhouettes, mixed patterns, layered hems.

Geoffrey Beene’s contributions to building the contemporary American fashion scene are difficult to overvalue. At a time when Parisian Haute Couture held massive cultural authority, Beene dared to stay true to his own perspective, to consider his own values, and to forge his own aesthetic. These contributions have been acknowledged inside and outside of the industry by tastemakers like Agnes Gund and Paloma Picasso. Mr. Beene’s clothes appear in many museums, including The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which houses hundreds of his garments in its permanent collection.

Pre-bidding for Fashion, Art, and Design is available now. Live bidding begins February 16th and 11:00 AM.

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