Geoffrey Beene, 1927–2004

Death of a courtly radical

In all the obituaries of designer Geoffrey Beene, who died on Tuesday, no one has mentioned his affinity for the downtown fashion scene. After all, who would have expected that this Southern gentleman, the guy who designed Lynda Bird Johnson's wedding dress, would decades later make a polka-dot frock for Kim Hastreiter, editor of Paper magazine, when she was honored by the CFDA several years ago?

We'll never forget when our phone rang and it was Mr. Beene's office on the other end, saying he liked a piece we wrote (a very mean piece!) about Coco Chanel's fascist sympathies. Even though we knew at the time that Beene lived in a townhouse in the West Village, we were still a little surprised to find out he was a Voice reader.

Geoffrey Beene didn't show in the Seventh on Sixth tents. He presented his lighter-than-air architectural dresses, with their distinctive spiral seams, in quiet installations or in makeshift runway shows set up in his midtown studio, an old-fashioned salon with spindly gold chairs and models far more mature than the usual 16-year-old girls. Instead of the booming runway music, the soundtrack evoked an earlier time, when glamour was glamour. We can never hear the song "Oh, Look at Me Now" without thinking of that salon, and those coiffed ladies in the audience, and Mr. Beene himself, too shy to take a bow, peeking out at the end of the show.

 
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