The Runway Unbound: Geoffrey Beene’s Fashion Presentations

Geoffrey Beene was decades into his successful fashion career when he had a revelation during a trip to Germany. He saw an antique mechanical clock where wooden dolls would pop out and spin around to music a few times a day. It reminded him of the predictability and monotony of fashion, especially runway presentations. Long an individualist who dressed independent-minded women, Beene thought it was time to further disrupt the idea of women as “perfect, pretty, uptight dolls.”

Another flash of inspiration occurred when he presented a show on a theatrical stage at a university out of necessity. These influences merged at his Fall 1991 presentation, what he called a “multifaceted media show” featuring video projections, artistic lighting, and models “performing the collection” in a theater.

Already, Vogue had observed the emotional response to Geoffrey Beene presentations: “Women cry at his shows.” But Beene continued to experiment with the format each season. In 1992, Beene began to cast dancers from the School of American Ballet to animate his clothing on the runway and in print advertisements. He collaborated with filmmakers and designers from the dance world to infuse his work with a fresh, often unpredictable angle.

New York Magazine celebrated Beene’s Fall 1995 presentation as one of that season’s best: “There is one Picasso; there is one Astaire; there is one Beene. It is a truism that his clothes move but watching a column dress dance across the stage is to re-see fashion as art, not mere commerce.”

Beene’s diverse casting was another way that his presentations separated from the pack. From designing costumes for the Supremes early in his career to partnering with the Ebony Fashion Fair, Eunice Johnson’s long-running benefit and fashion showcase for the Black community, Beene demonstrated a conviction in racial inclusion.