Born: Marc Roger Maurice Louis Bohan in Paris, 22 August 1926. Education: Studied at the Lycée Lakanal, Sceaux, 1940-44. Family: Married Dominique Gaborit in 1950 (died, 1962); married Huguette Rinjonneau (died); daughter: Marie-Anne. Career: Assistant designer in Paris to Robert Piguet, 1945-49, and to Molyneux, 1949-51; designer, Madeleine de Rauch, Paris, 1952; briefly opened own Paris salon, produced one collection, 1953; head designer for couture, Maison Patou, Paris, 1954-58; designer, Dior, London, 1958-60; head designer and art director, Dior, Paris, 1960-89; fashion director, Norman Hartnell, London, 1990-92. Awards: Sports Illustrated Designer of the Year award, 1963; Schiffli Lace and Embroidery Institute award, 1963; named Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, 1979; Ordre de Saint Charles, Monaco.
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"N'oubliez pas la femme," Marc Bohan's much quoted comment in Vogue magazine in 1963, is the tenet which underscored all his work. It brought him success throughout his lengthy couture career, his design always based on the adult female form and a recognition of his customers' needs rather than an overriding desire to shock and provoke headlines in his name. From his early days at Molyneux he learned a sense of practicality, as well as an appreciation of the flattering potential of luxurious fabrics and good fit. His perfectionist zeal and attention to detail, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s at Christian Dior, a good fashion sense, were always at the foundations of his reputation.
It was at Dior that Bohan's talents were established, winning him international acclaim. He enabled the house to remain at the forefront of fashion while still producing wearable, elegant clothes. To achieve this end, Bohan combined innovation with repeated classic shapes and styles, reworked to express the current mood. In 1961 Dior included some of the briefest skirts of the couture collections, but the neat black-and-white tweed fabric of these little suits enabled Bohan to please the established clientéle, as well as attracting new customers with wit and modernity. His suiting always showed the most directional styles and cut, which others soon followed.
This ability to ease normally cautious clients towards new, more radical styles by carefully balancing all the elements of a design was seen again in his 1966 collection, when he showed the by then de rigueur mini with longer coats, promoting a shift in hemlines gradually rather than dictating a change. It was this desire to coax and flatter which distinguished his couture work. His sensitivity to the needs of women prevented him from trying to mold them into ever-altering silhouettes, or forget their desire to look grown up and elegant even when fashion promoted girlish styles in the 1960s. His use of decoration was equally discreet; he prefered the demure wit of pussycat bows on simple silk blouses and shirtwaist dresses or naturalistic floral prints to add interest to his creations, rather than any overblown gestures that might render the garments less easy to wear, making the client self-conscious.
Bohan was unafraid to tell his customers what was most flattering for them and they appreciated his honesty; his rich and famous client list remained faithful even when he switched from one house to the next. His eveningwear, with his clever suiting styles, was his greatest strength—with an understated sense of style allowing the luxurious fabrics and subtle detailing to shine through the simple forms he preferred.
In his work for Dior and his later creations for Norman Hartnell, Bohan's love of simplicity was continually evident. At the former he presented stark modernist shapes, like the angular ivory silk evening tunic and matching cigarette trousers (1965), with rich red floral design creeping over its surface. At Hartnell he again excelled at reviving the spirits of an established couture name. He developed his pared-down style to fulfill the house's design brief, attracting a younger audience with his first collection, combining flirtatious shaping with classic styles. In 1991 he showed the sophisticated chic of black sheath dresses with diamanté buttons next to witty fuchsia silk scoop-necked dresses with short, very full skirts—harking back to the bubble dresses that had reinvigorated his work for Dior in the late 1970s. Again he provided choice for his customers and commercial designs which were well received by the press.
Bohan's time at Hartnell was brief, curtailed by the recession of the early 1990s, which caused a decline of interest in couture and precipitated the demise of several smaller houses. His sense of elegance, however, remained undiminished. In an October 1994 interview and pictorial featuring his newly-renovated, 18th-century country home in Burgundy, France, for Architectural Digest, Bohan declared, "For me, elegance is a yardstick, [it is] the art of knowing how much free rein one can allow one's imagination without over-stepping the boundaries of classicism." If his suits were the most innovative area of his work, he balanced their fashionable cut with well-constructed feminine separates and striking eveningwear, which had the lasting appeal characteristic of all elegant design.
updated by JodiEssey-Stapleton