Editor’s Note: This is the third in the weeklong series diving into the Fairchild Archives to highlight WWD interviews with key designers of the past, as well as photos of their work. Here, a July 7, 1970, interview with Christian Dior designer Marc Bohan, who had already served in that role for a decade – and would do so for another 19 years until 1989.
PARIS — IT’S TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE HAUTE COUTURE COLLECTIONS, AND MARC BOHAN HAS ESCAPED THE HOUSE OF DIOR FOR LUNCH AT HIS APARTMENT.
His latest acquisition dominates the pale beige room, a collage which, from a distance, looks like an 18th Century mother and child.
Up close, you can see the pair are made up of clothes hangars, nuts and bolts, a juicer, a number 2, the feet of a doll, a candle, a ciothes sprinkler. Everything is plastified and varnished a warm butterscotch.
“I went to see some Klimt drawings and found this. It’s amusing, but at the same time It has a quality.”
For Bohan, this mixture of drolerie and quality is the new luxury. The new individualism.
“I THINK THIS IS THE KEY TO NOW-FASHION – INDIVIDUALISM,” SAYS BOHAN.
If you ask him about romanticism in fashion, he makes a face.
“Well, when you use that word, people think chi-chi flowers, frou-frou, big hats. And that isn’t romanticism at all. Romanticism is gentleness, if that is what you mean, it’s what I’m after.”
“Things must look simple, but they must not look poor. What I’m trying to do is create luxury. Quality. By taste. By simplicity. Something very refined.Very elegant. Not showy at all. That is true elegance. And so few understand it.”
“Fabric gives the style. Fabric dictates what you do with length. Look at short. Stiff fabrics made the style. Now, we have turned the page and, voila, fabrics are supple again for the new lengths. As length established itself, prints were very important but I think they are calming down now, and we are seeking individualism through color.”
For a time Bohan has stuck to grays and blacks in his own wardrobe. Now, he is sporting a dull gold tie with his brown shirt and beigey-brown suit.
He talks about a wonderful silk velvet he’s found which doesn’t crease, and some printed velvets. “But they’re driving me crazy, because it’s taking so long to have them made.
“Do you know, I’ve already picked the fabrics for next summer’s Dior Boutique collection? We are getting into a bad situation. If you don’t order special things for the couture, the fabrics people wind up showing you [are] the same for rtw and couture.”
Although he believes strongly in the importance of rtw, he says it can never take the place of couture.
“For one thing, in a couture presentation, you see a whole fashion mood brought together. I really regret that many women are passing up the defiles now to go to their favorite vendeuse and have her pick 10 or 12 models for them to select from. The woman who does this is missing so much – the little jokes that make up the spirit of a collection.”
The presentation of a collection, in his opinion, is anti the rtw spirit. “The beauty of rtw is that you can have the same dress in six different colors. A sweater in 20. In rtw, the choice is the woman’s. I think a wardrobe should be based in the couture – for the important coat or tailleur and tor the dress for the important occasion. Fillins can be boutique, rtw.’
IN HIS OPINION, YOUNG PEOPLE ZERO IN ON WHAT’S HAPPENING IN FASHION AS SOON AS IT HAPPENS.
“The young understand instinctively that a mink coat can look terribly vulgar while a rabbit coat can look very elegant. This is a very important phenomenon in fashion today.”
He cites the example of Courrèges.
“His style – you like it or you don’t – but those first dresses of his were le grand luxe in the fabric, cut. But women ruined that beautiful simplicity with mink stoles, the wrong hairdo, a big pin that said nothing except that it cost a lot of money.
“It’s better now than in the ’50s, because people are less inhibited by the money they have. They didn’t know how to stop. They were overdone. Now, we live in a period of great fantasy. And this is dangerous, but I’d rather see a hippie in violet than certain duchesses. Why? Because the hippie exists in his clothes and that is individualism.
“Fashion chic isn’t a question of money. It’s more a question of flair. It’s knowing how to buy a marvelous sweater, a divine jersey. Maybe it is a bit expensive, but it is the right sweater. Good French rtw isn’t cheap. I think we’ve passed the mentality of ‘oh well, it doesn’t cost very much but I’ll only wear it two or three times.’
“At the same time, we’ve lost the mentality, ‘Well, I’ll buy a coat at Dior and wear it 10 years because it cost a lot.’ We’ve gone through a certain disequilibrium. Women used to think – and a lot still do – that it is enough to look their best.for special occasions. Then they go all out on coiffures, the works.
“A woman in the country in a sweater and a pair of pants can and should look as good as one setting off for a ball. What is old now is not being in fashion.
“Long isn’t old. Long is a taste of paradox.”
Bohan may be the softest spoken of the couturiers, but when he warms to his subject he talks with the passion and conviction of a Bible-thumping evangelist, a comparison that’s reinforced by his favorite interjection – “Thank God” – which peppers his conversation.
HE’S ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT HIS NEW CABINE.
In his search for a new woman, he made a clean sweep of the cabine. Only four of the 10 Diormannequins remain from last season. Marc has found six new girls, three of them English.
“Much taller girls than before. With a real shape. I never used to like hips. Now,” grins, “you can have some.”
He shapes his new woman in the air – slightly rounded hips, a marked waist and décolleté. “At last, a woman with a shape, a real shape,” he says.
He feels it is the longer lengths, the softer fabrics that brought his woman into being. For day, he likes a length that covers the top of high boots which he will do in the same color as the outfit he shows them with. For evening and late date, his length is just above the ankIe.
Of the projected 100 to 110 models in the collection, he now has 30 far enough advanced to call a general rehearsal for that night. “By this time tomorrow, maybe 30 will be out,” he laughs. “But I like to see everything together and the only way you can do that is through a rehearsal.”
The couture is the main thing his mind these days but almost nothing is done in the House of Dior that doesn’t pass under his scrutiny.
“I have a very inflated title,” he grins. “Right at the top of the pyramid, too. It is director of artistic supervision. This morning it was the furs. Yesterday, I had to look at all the selection of gift merchandise for the Dior boutique. Then, I had to supervise ‘Baby Dior,’ and, of course, there are the Dior shoes.
“One does several jobs. One isn’t just ‘the couturier’ anymore. Now, one is the designer.”
After the collection, Marc and his daughter Marianne will take off for holiday in Marrakech. Meanwhile, Marc is keeping his cool by seeing the best Paris has to offer – “The Kitchen” one night, “Orlando Furioso” the next. He sounds like the press agent for both.
Last weekend. he saw “Woodstock.” “‘It was so American,” he says. “An incredible naivete. You saw kids doing absolutely crazy things and then, you’d see them calling home to their mothers to tell them they were all right.
“But the best thing I’ve seen all year,” he says, “was ‘Women in Love.’”
Archive research by Tonya Blazio-Licorish.