The world of fashion lost one of its most cherished icons on September 6, when Marc Bohan, the longest-serving designer at Dior, passed away at 97 in Châtillon-sur-Seine, France. The revered fashion designer, known for his timeless approach to beauty and designing clothes for “real women,” leaves behind a legacy that is nothing short of extraordinary.
Bohan’s journey in fashion began under the guidance of his mother, Genevieve, a milliner, who encouraged him to pursue a career in the industry. Despite a brief stint in banking at his father’s insistence, Bohan was destined for fashion, a path that led him to work for renowned design houses like Robert Piguet, Edward Molyneaux, and eventually Dior.
Taking over from Yves Saint Laurent in 1960, Marc Bohan embarked on a remarkable journey with Dior that lasted three decades. His entrance was marked by skepticism, with many waiting for him to falter. However, Bohan silenced critics with his inaugural collection, “the Slim Look,” which was met with widespread acclaim. Elizabeth Taylor was among the many who were captivated by his designs, reportedly ordering 12 dresses from that initial collection.
Bohan’s approach to fashion was grounded in a deep understanding of the women he dressed. He once said, “My style makes itself felt slowly via the woman. She must feel happy in her clothes. A woman wants to be paid compliments. She wants to please. And that is the way I feel about creating clothes.” This philosophy underscored his entire career, making him a favorite among notable figures such as Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand, and many others.
Bohan’s tenure at Dior marked a significant period in the fashion house’s history. His designs, often inspired by art, literature, and cinema, showcased his penchant for combining classic elegance with a touch of whimsy. For instance, his 1966 fall couture collection drew inspiration from “Dr. Zhivago,” featuring beautiful long coats, calf-length dresses, and high boots. Bohan’s ability to capture the zeitgeist while remaining true to the Dior aesthetic cemented his status as one of the industry’s most influential designers.
His contributions extended beyond women’s fashion. Bohan played a pivotal role in making designer childrenswear a major phenomenon, a trend initiated by Jeanne Lanvin. His daughter, Marie-Anne, was the first model for Dior childrenswear, and Bohan created a series of matching outfits for Elizabeth Taylor and her daughter, Maria Burton.
Bohan’s talent for crafting exquisite bridal gowns was another facet of his brilliance. He designed the wedding dress for Silvia Summerlath when she married King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in 1976 – a simple silk duchesse gown with a high neck, long sleeves, and a train extending from the shoulders. Another iconic creation was Princess Caroline of Monaco’s lace dress with illusion veiling for her 1986 wedding to Philippe Junot.
One of Bohan’s most celebrated creations was the stylized dress and coat he designed for Farah Diba Pahlavi’s coronation as shahbanou (empress) of Iran in 1967. The ensemble, a long white imperial dress with a sleeveless coat in green, adorned with a white mink collar and the arms of Iran embroidered in stones on the back, showcased Bohan’s ability to merge tradition, symbolism, and style.
Marc Bohan’s departure from Dior in 1989 marked the end of an era. His designs, characterized by their elegance, wearability, and timeless appeal, continue to be revered by fashion enthusiasts worldwide. Friends and colleagues often described Bohan as reserved and somewhat downbeat, but his work spoke volumes about his talent and dedication. As he once said, “I am not in the business of pushing myself or my name. The people who matter know what I have done.“
Despite facing personal and professional challenges, Marc Bohan remained dedicated to his craft and continued to make a significant impact on the fashion industry. His influence on fashion extended beyond his time at Dior, and his work became synonymous with a refined, classic style. Not only did he create iconic designs for celebrities and royals, but he also worked on productions for opera and ballet, showcasing his versatility as a designer.
Although his tenure at Norman Hartnell was not as successful as hoped, it was a testament to his determination and resilience. Bohan faced the loss of two wives and juggled single parenthood with a demanding career, but he always maintained a professional demeanor and a commitment to excellence.
Bohan’s friendship with notable figures such as Francoise Sagan and Niki de Saint Phalle highlighted his connections within the broader cultural community. His work extended beyond fashion to include costume design and collaborations with artists, indicating the depth of his creativity and influence.
In the years following his departure from Dior, Bohan continued to receive recognition for his contributions to fashion. The awards and accolades he received, including being named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and receiving the Ordre de Saint Charles from Monaco, were well-deserved acknowledgments of his talent and impact on the fashion world.
The Dior Museum’s exhibition in 2009, “Dior: The Bohan Years,” further cemented his legacy by showcasing some of his most iconic creations. Additionally, the publication of “Bohan’s Dior: 1961 to 1989” by Jerome Hanover helped to ensure that his contributions to fashion would not be forgotten. Hanover’s hope that Bohan would be remembered as “a man of style” rather than “a man of one style” reflects the enduring nature of his designs, which continue to inspire contemporary designers.
Indeed, Bohan’s influence can still be seen in modern fashion, as noted by Hanover, who observed elements of Bohan’s work in collections by Prada, Raf Simons, and Hermès. It is clear that Marc Bohan’s designs transcended trends and have become timeless classics. His understated elegance and commitment to craftsmanship made him a pivotal figure in shaping the aesthetic of the 1960s and beyond.
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