Geist & Geist, Inc., records1916-1978 Majority of material found within 1930-1978
Geist & Geist, Inc., was a manufacturer of women's knitwear products, typical of the small, flexible family firms that dominated New York City's famous Garment District for much of the twentieth century. The records of Geist & Geist, Inc., document the activities, especially design, publicity and marketing.
- Majority of material found within 1930-1978
54 Linear Feet
Geist & Geist, Inc., was a manufacturer of women's knitwear products, typical of the small, flexible family firms that dominated New York City's famous Garment District for much of the twentieth century.
The Garment District, centered along Seventh Avenue between 34th and 40th Streets, owed its prominence in the American clothing industry to several factors. New York being the major Atlantic port and communications nexus meant that domestic manufacturers would be in close and continuous contact with the changing fashion scene in Paris and other European centers. The District was perfectly placed to receive imports from Europe and disseminate the latest styles to the rest of the nation through the city's publishing and advertising industries. The loft buildings of the Garment District were also within walking distance of the major flagship department stores and specialty shops and convenient to buyers and other middlemen. New York's garment industry was largely in the hands of Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe and their American-born descendants, both as proprietors, workers and union officials. The large number of small firms, clustered together in classic industrial district fashion, were able to respond rapidly to the seasonal changes in styles and tastes that characterized women's fashions in particular and to the concomitant need for custom and small batch production.
Geist & Geist, Inc., was founded as a partnership in 1920 and incorporated under the laws of New York State on June 24, 1931, by Charles Geist (1892?-1955) and Feivel Geist (1884-1977), sons of Jewish immigrants from what is now Poland. Charles Geist was the salesman while Feivel Geist managed the production. Charles Geist made trips to Paris, London, and Scotland beginning the in the late 1920s. In addition to these trips, Geist & Geist had correspondence (reports on seasonal fashion collections, sketches, etc.) with fashion designers and companies in Paris, France. The company originally focused on making jersey sweaters. In the 1930s Geist & Geist used lastex to make bathing suits in addition to their knitwear. Geist & Geist moved to Connecticut in the mid-1930s but moved back to New York City in order to stay close to the fashion industry hub.
In the 1930s Geist & Geist became members of the Fashion Originators Guild of America (FOGA), an organization created in the depths of the Depression on March 14, 1932, to stop design piracy in the fashion industry. Manufacturers of women's clothing and textiles used the Guild to register their clothing designs and then boycott retailers who sold clothes found to be copies of these designs. Geist & Geist, Inc., began registering designs with FOGA in 1934. The Federal Trade Commission held FOGA to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and issued cease and desist orders against the Guild. FOGA appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1941, upheld the FTC's ruling that the Guild did indeed violate the Sherman Act by its use of group boycotts and monopolistic practices.
Feivel Geist retired in 1939. His son Meyer J. "Mike" Geist (1922-2013) was born on February 22, 1922, and spent two years at the McDowell School of Costume Design learning all aspects of the fashion industry such as pattern making and drafting. Mike Geist enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in February of 1943 and ended up as a German prisoner of war. Upon returning from World War II, Mike Geist joined the family business. Mike Geist had early success with sweaters but did not become the chief designer until after the death of his uncle, Charles Geist in 1955. Starting in 1957 Mike Geist made trips to Paris and other locations in Europe for fashion purposes.
By the 1950s the company was producing cardigans, pullovers, hooded sweaters, and college sweaters. In the 1970s Geist & Geist did well with active sportswear and clothes made out of stretch denim. Mike Geist created outfits for U.S. teams in the 1963 Pan-American Games and the 1968 Olympic Games. Mike Geist became a member of Woolknit Associates, Inc. in 1964. Woolknit Associates, Inc. was incorporated on June 13, 1939, as a trade group of manufacturers in the wool knitting industry for the purpose of promoting American-made wool knit goods. Mike Geist received so many awards from Woolknit Associates year after year that he finally decided to retire himself from receiving any further awards and became a member of their Hall of Fame thus making it possible for others to be acknowledged.
Geist & Geist, Inc., relied heavily on department store advertising and also employed the Kairalla Agency, a public relations firm that served many wool knit manufacturers. Upscale department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stocked Geist & Geist clothing. These department stores would receive an eight percent discount if they paid Geist & Geist within ten days.
By the 1970s, the stores began asking for advertising money as well as more time to pay manufacturers. These concerns along with other factors, such as the rise of synthetic fabrics and growing competition from lower-wage countries, led Mike Geist to retire from the fashion industry, leaving his two sons, Jeffrey Geist and Jonathan Geist to work in the family business from 1971 through 1978. Geist & Geist, Inc. closed in 1978, and its charter was declared void by the state on June 23, 1993. Mike Geist died on January 16, 2013.
The legacy and impact of Mike Geist lives on through his numerous awards and accolades. Not only did this recognition come from Woolknit Associates, but also other sources such as Sports Illustrated. Geist was nominated numerous times to be the Sports Illustrated Designer of the Year, finally receiving the award in the late 1960s.
His designs were sought after by some of the most popular actresses and fashion celebrities of the time including Jacqueline Kennedy, Mitzi Gaynor, Celeste Holmes, and Marilyn Monroe (who cherished Geist as one of her very favorite designers). Geist designs were frequently seen in both television soap operas and on the silver screen in Lolita, which featured one of his most famous designs, the hooded sweater. The designs of Mike Geist and his firm also graced the cover of Vogue magazine on more than one occasion as well as being regularly covered in Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times Fashion Magazine. In addition Geist and Geist was advertised in every major newspaper around the country, and throughout its years in business, never paid for advertising.
Scope and Content
The records of Geist & Geist, Inc., primarily document the design and marketing aspects of a New York Garment District manufacturer during the mid-twentieth century. The collection is divided into four separate series.
Series 1, Administrative Records, includes financial records, correspondence, and awards won by Mike Geist. The series also includes information on Woolknit Associates, Inc. and contains board of directors' meeting minutes, awards, and other items.
Series 2, Publicity and Scrapbooks, consists of two subseries: Subseries A includes fashion catalogs and publicity scrapbook;. Subseries B contains loose files that included clippings, advertisements, photographs, and loose scrapbook pages.
Series 3, Sketches and Samples, consists of various sketch and sample books as well as Geist & Geist’s swatch books.
Series 4, Artifacts, includes various clothing items from the designer. A separate inventory listing these items is located in Box 1.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Gift of Mike and Judy Geist, 2009.
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Geist & Geist, Inc., records
- Christopher Michael and Andrew Engel
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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