Designer Geoffrey Beene dead at 77

 / Updated  / Source: The Associated Press

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Geoffrey Beene, the award-winning designer whose simple, classic styles for men and women put him at the forefront of American fashion, died Tuesday at his home. He was 77.

Beene died of complications of pneumonia, according to Russell Nardozza, vice president of Geoffrey Beene Inc.

He launched his own company on a shoestring budget in 1963 and turned it into a fashion empire. Along with Bill Blass, he was regarded as one of the godfathers of American sportswear.

Beene was born in Haynesville, La., and initially planned to become a doctor, enrolling in the pre-med program at Tulane University. It was during lectures, when Beene became bored, that he began sketching gowns — a sign that medicine would not be his future.

His first job in the industry came when he signed on as an assistant in the display department of the downtown Los Angeles branch of I. Magnin, the clothing store chain. A company executive recognized his talent, and encouraged Beene to get a job in fashion.

A move to New York City in 1947 was followed by enrollment at the Traphagen School of Fashion, followed by time in Paris to learn the business. He returned to New York and got his first big break in 1954, a job designing for Teal Traina and his fledgling firm.

In 1963, Beene opened his own company in a champagne-colored showroom on Seventh Avenue, and the business was an instant success. In its first year, Geoffrey Beene Inc. sold $500,000 worth of clothes, a figure that would quadruple in just two years.

In 1964, Beene won the first of eight Coty Fashion Critics Awards. His work is exhibited in museums around the world.

No services for Beene were planned, according to Narozza. He was survived by a sister, Barbara Ann Wellman of Conroe, Texas.

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