In the March issue of Quest, I’ve written a piece about Patsy Tarr and her fabulous Geoffrey Beene wardrobe, which is currently on display at the Phoenix Art Museum. Here is the text from that article, along with many beautiful images of her clothing, some of which appeared in the magazine, and some of which are featured here exclusively:
Like all great love affairs, this one begins with a good story. Shortly after her daughter’s birth, in 1979, Patsy Tarr splurged on a simple, sophisticated Geoffrey Beene sundress. It was that garment—so comfortable, so pretty, so versatile—that was the beginning of what Tarr calls a twenty-five-year “addiction.”
Like many great loves, this one blossomed slowly. Tarr says she never intended to wear only Geoffrey Beene clothes; in fact, she purchased things by other designers with every intention of wearing them. Still, she found herself in the same situation time and again: With her husband, Jeff Tarr, dressed and ready to leave their apartment for some event, Patsy would be racing back to her closet to change into a piece by her “beloved Beene.”
Since November, a selection of Tarr’s impressive, exclusive Beene wardrobe has been on display at the Phoenix Art Museum. The exhibit ends this month, and there are hints that it will travel eastward, to Washington, D.C.
Anyone who knows Patsy knows that she is a woman of exquisite taste. She is regarded throughout the country as one of the most passionate, knowledgeable, and unrelenting supporters of dance. She has fostered and financially supported such choreographers as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and newcomer sensation Jonah Bokaer. She’s also the founder of 2wice Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit that supports the performing arts through its grants, gifts, and publications, most noticeably, the illustrious 2wice magazine. In public and in private, everything in her life is precise, measured, and has an intelligent reason for being there (much of her apartment in the San Remo, on Central Park West, is designed by Salvatore LaRosa). In short, everything Patsy is consummately stylish and unequivocally tasteful.
Patsy came to know Beene as a customer, and it was an uncanny match of stylish minds, both couturier and client alike. “Beene clothes were utterly different,” Patsy recalls. “They could be relied upon to fit exquisitely, but the consistency of the vision meant that they changed only in subtle ways from year to year.” Indeed, no item ever went out of style; every purchase Tarr made simply revealed his ideas in more depth.
Geoffrey Beene remains one of America’s most original designers, a true pioneer who elevated fashion to an art. From the start of his career, in 1963, he challenged the American fashion establishment by creating visionary haute couture for women and superbly tailored styles for men that married comfort and luxury. He received eight Coty Awards, three CFDA Awards, an honorary doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been deemed an “American Original” by the Smithsonian. For Tarr, who says that Beene transformed her from a woman “who wished her clothes to serve her into a woman who served her clothes,” there was great privilege in reveling in Beene’s originality of design—the wit, the material, the lightness.
In these pages, we present what Patsy likes to call “Beene-iana,” unique items that clearly express the designer’s sense of humor and expertise with fabric. Many of these garments are one of a kind and show what Beene could do with even a scrap of cloth; nothing, according to Tarr, was “too small or too humble to be transformed into an object both clever and beautiful.” You see here his recurrent themes—flowers, dots, curves, folds, wraps. Beene believed that his designs required a body to animate them, and so you will find a moving model here to showcase some of Patsy’s clothes. These images are but a portion of the originality that was—and still is—an American fashion legend.
(Color Photographs: Jay Zukerkorn / Black and White: Shojl Van Kuzumi)