Marc Bohan is a lean man with an aquiline nose and a ready smile who clothes himself in Savile Row severity and a most un-Gallic calm, particularly for one who sits in the eye of a whirlpool of celebrity as the new genius of the House of Dior. Only two previous Dior collections have raised more clatter in the press or more noise in the cash register than Marc Bohan's Slim Look, shown to the fashion press and buyers in late January but released to public view for the first time this week. They were the long-skirted New Look of 1947, with which Christian Dior established the House of Dior and made the wardrobes of smart women around the world absolutely obsolete, and the 1958 Trapeze of Dior's jittery young heir, Yves St. Laurent. However, St. Laurent was unable to repeat his first success. The military sought and finally drafted him, and a series of nervous breakdowns followed.
Marcel Boussac, the French textile magnate who is the angel behind the House, summoned 34-year-old Marc Bohan from London, where he had for two years designed good-looking classic clothes for Dior-London—the kind of clothes he had learned to make under the tutelage of that master of casual elegance, Molyneux.
"When M. Boussac told me I was going to design the collection instead of M. St. Laurent," says Bohan, "you could say I became an anxious man. I am a born pessimist."
But the born pessimist's line—the short, easy-flaring skirts of the dresses and suits which rest on and are belted at the hipline, the fluid blousing of the tops, the small lapels and natural shoulders of the jackets and coats—is one of the most wearable collections ever to come out of the Paris couture. There is a slightly cowboy look about the hands in the pockets, the low-slung belts. In fact, one of the best-selling numbers in the line is called "Blue Jeans"—a jeans-colored silk with rhinestone stitching outlining seams and hip-riding pockets.
Unlike Dior and St. Laurent, who were both painfully shy and fled Paris immediately after one of their collections opened, Bohan has remained to supervise the carry-through to customer from his quiet office and his big bright studio high up in the enormous Maison Dior, which now has 1,500 employees and a worldwide volume of over $20 million. There last week he talked of his philosophy of dress for the contemporary woman with the same quiet yet definite authority he brings to his designing. As he talked, he made the accompanying drawings for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to emphasize his points.
"I don't believe a woman should dress in too fastidious a manner. It is just as wrong for a woman to be too conscious of her clothes as it is to be too casual. It is just as wrong to be overdressed as it is to wear a sweater for everything."
The success of his collection is that it is both young and casual. The skirts, both for daytime and for evening, were made for a woman to walk and sit in without being restricted. "The woman of today is very active," says Bohan. "She drives her own car and doesn't have a lackey to help her into the back of a Rolls."
Bohan's mannequins stride through the elegant atelier, hands in their pockets, as if they were strolling in the Bois de Boulogne. "It is very young to have hands in the pockets—even in an evening dress," he says.
Marc Bohan has a red MG which he drives around the French countryside on weekends, visiting friends and collecting antiques. And he has definite ideas about how women should dress for the country. Until recently French women, unlike Americans, dressed the same way for the country as they did for town. "But they're changing—people are traveling more and they're learning. Nothing is more ridiculous than nylons and high heels in the country." He likes the look of woolen stockings, of flat shoes, of a tweed skirt with welting at the hem, worn with a blouse, a belt at the waist and an open su√®de jacket, cut like a hunting jacket—and, again, pockets for the hands in the skirts. Of the British woman's country tweeds Bohan says, "Their very agelessness is their chic."
If a woman doesn't want to wear a skirt, Bohan thinks slacks are fine, "but they must be worn with a tunic blouse or sweater to hide the average hip bulge. And, as for shorts, they should only be worn by the very young, and by that I mean 15 or 16."
Accessories, Bohan feels, are the downfall of many an otherwise well-dressed woman. "She'll spend a fortune on a wonderful suit or dress, then go all wrong on the hat, bag or shoes." For town, all of the accessories should blend, the bag be small so as not to destroy the line. Hats should always be worn with suits. "White shoes with a navy dress should never be seen. I like a little fantasy in sports clothes—an amusing bag at the beach, a colorful big hat or scarf, but not too much. And bikinis are never worn by the right people. A bathing suit should fit the figure and be of a quick-drying fabric, not jersey or wool. It should just mold the breast without artificial boning or brassiering. I like a low V neckline, and either all one color or a contrasting border at the neckline. Youth plays an important role in wearing a bathing suit, and if a woman hasn't a figure for one she should wear it for a swim and then get right out of it."
Bohan was in America when St. Laurent's Trapeze was launched, and he was amazed at how rapidly it swept the country. "American women are always looking for new fashions, for new shapes, bags, shoes, hair-dos and makeup—more than any women in the world." Marc Bohan's last word for them, and for contemporary women everywhere, has the ring of an aphorism: "A woman has to be careful to be casual."