Fashion designer Geoffrey Beene was an American pioneer, challenging the industry at every turn. He had his own way of doing things, breaking and rewriting the rules. He created new seasons, Summer/Winter, and designed brilliantly crafted pieces accordingly. “Design is a revelation to me. It’s like taking something that is not alive and giving it form, shape, substance, and life,” Mr. Beene observed.
While his clothes reflected his intuitive understanding for women’s desire to be comfortable and glamorous at the same time, Mr. Beene also understood the power of the photograph to communicate this understanding to consumers. Mr. Beene observed, “Clothes should look as if a woman was born into them. It is a form of possession, this belonging to another.” And if the clothes belong to the woman, the photograph is the perfect invitation to the viewer to participate.
From 1988–1995, Mr. Beene partnered with Guzman, the husband/wife photography team of Russell Peacock and Connie Hanson, to produce a series of photographs of Michele Quan modeling the clothes. As Guzman recalls, “Mr. Beene introduced us to Michele. She was a good choice for his designs during that period. Both were elegantly streamline! Mr. Beene always played with contrasts. He would juxtapose an androgynous jumpsuit with a provocative layer of sheer lace. He would mix refined fabrics with quotidian materials like cashmere with metallic lame. He was thinking about the approaching millennium (2000) and what women should wear. For the modern woman comfort and simplicity were essential. Michele represented the modern woman in that not to distant future. Her personality matched his objectives. Elegant yet understated, feminine but powerful.”
Ms. Quan had first met Mr. Beene on a go-see for his show. She remembers, “Alber Elbaz was there at the time, and later Doo Ri Chung. I remember him as quiet, kind and supportive but he definitely knew what he wanted. When working with him, he wanted the images to show strength and energy. That’s what seemed important. His clothes were beautiful and very body aware but not in a predictable way. He seemed to forge his own path. One of his shows was done choreographed by a dancer on a stage. His vision was always unique from what I was experiencing in the modeling world at the time. Apart from doing the show, I would go to his showroom on 57th street and shoot look books there. We didn’t talk a lot, but I always felt comfortable and at ease with him.”
The collaboration between Geoffrey Beene, Guzman, and Michele Quan lasted nearly a decade, resulting in an incredible series of photographs that are constructed with the same detail and care as a Geoffrey Beene design. Guzman explains, “We shot with a large format, Sinar 4X5 camera. We used Polaroid type 55 film which, in addition to producing a Polaroid image, also provided a beautiful negative. After being exposed, the negatives were dipped into a sodium sulfite clearing solution after which they were washed and dried. They would then be used to make prints in the darkroom. Sometimes watermarks would appear on the negatives, which in those days could cause a problem. Now, of course, they represent part of the process and seem to add a fleeting quality to the images.”
This attention to the craft of the photograph distinguishes this body of work in the larger realm of fashion photography. As Ms. Quan remembers, “They were great to work with. It all felt very natural, they worked together and individually, starting with and idea and then elaborating. It was a process I think they were working with a big format camera, which always feels a bit more careful and thoughtful.”
Looking back at the photographs, Ms. Quan observes, “I remember quite vividly how it felt to be trying to make shapes and silhouettes. Modeling was not always easy for me, I never felt totally at ease most times, but there was no instance of that when I worked for Mr. Beene and Guzman. Mr. Beene was also the last designer I was working with when I started my jewelry business, and he was always enquiring about that. He didn’t mind when I started getting tattoos but he did mention some weight I had gained with a chuckle and suggested I lose it before the next show.”
All photos ©Guzman.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.