Geoffrey Beene (born Samuel Bozeman, Jr. in 1927) was born into a family of doctors in Louisiana. He studied medicine at Tulane University, but his true passion often crept through, sketching Hollywood-style gowns in his anatomy textbooks. Beene dropped out and pursued fashion studies and apprenticeships in New York and Paris before working on Seventh Avenue in New York City’s garment district, most notably designing for influential fashion house and talent incubator Teal Traina. In 1963, he launched his own womenswear company. As one of the first Americans to use his own name on the label, Geoffrey Beene essentially declared independence from European fashion houses as the arbiters of taste.
His modernist collections won loyal clients, glowing reviews and many awards for their original use of fabric, inspired mix of color and pattern, flattering fit as well as comfort. Known as a designer’s designer, Beene extended his vision to a line of inexpensive sportswear called Beene Bag and to menswear and other licensed categories, with the conviction that good taste transcends price.
Phillips-Van Heusen, as PVH was known at the time, entered designer-brand licensing in the late 1970s. Seeing a market vacancy in classic American dress shirts with a contemporary edge, Phillips-Van Heusen’s Designer Group worked with Beene to conceptualize the designer’s take on dress shirts. Geoffrey Beene entered a licensing partnership with Phillips-Van Heusen in 1982, and just short of a decade later, became the number-one selling designer brand shirt in the U.S.
The fashion press regularly interviewed Beene as a maverick in American fashion with strong, sometimes contrarian opinions. Whenever the topic of licensing came up, Beene reserved top praise for his collaboration with Phillips-Van Heusen. In 1991, Beene told MR magazine:
“I think that if someone like Van Heusen can take a men’s dress shirt and turn it into those millions that they have…what I have learned about licensing at this point—and I say this with an exclamation point: you are only as good as the hands that you’re put into. PVH has done it with the greatest accomplishments…I have to give the credit to Mr. Phillips and his team for knowing how to take my name and run with it. I've had my trials in menswear…Van Heusen was the first to really do it right.”
For a 1993 PVH associate newsletter, Beene elaborated on the relationship: “I believed in [CEO Larry Phillips] – and how right he was about this industry. He’s visionary. It’s been wonderful for me to watch my growth with Phillips-Van Heusen. There is great dedication and integrity among the people I have worked with. They are genuinely excited about what we are doing…In so many companies – and I really mean this – you don’t feel the sense of energy that you do in PVH. It’s unique today.”
Some of PVH’s first designing software was used for the Geoffrey Beene line, refining and streamlining the creative process. The design teams who translated Beene’s vision created a new Geoffrey Beene signature for shirts—textured patterns in clear colors that were a little different from what others were doing. Season after season, Geoffrey Beene shirts, in dobbies, jacquards, and satins, gained a following of discerning customers. Geoffrey Beene shirts became so well known that Beene wryly observed that younger consumers thought he only designed shirts.
Before passing away in 2004, Beene won eight Coty Fashion Critics awards and four from the CFDA, including a lifetime achievement award in 1998. In 2018, PVH acquired the long-time licensed Geoffrey Beene brand, truly securing the successful partnership for further expansion.