Lynn Eleanor Kohlman 055

Lynn Kohlman circa 1970

Kohlman-Lynn 1968

Lynn Kohlman engaged

Lynn Eleanor Kohlman and Donna Karan on Oprah 3

Lynn Kohlman on Oprah Winfrey

Lynn Eleanor Kohlman book

2005 biography

Lynn Eleanor Kohlman obituary Los Angeles Times


Lynn Eleanor Kohlman tombstone


Lynn Eleanor Kohlman tombstone 2


Lynn Eleanor Kohlman (1946-2008) was a fashion model, photographer, author, and creative director at DKNY.



She began as a fashion model in the late 1960s, and appeared on the covers of major fashion magazines. In 1968 she became engaged to Arnold LaGuardia. [1] In the 1970s, she was a photographer for Interview, Vogue, GQ and Glamour. In 1989 she was appointed the fashion director of the Donna Karan Company and later was involved with Tommy Hilfiger's launch of his women’s wear line.


In 2002, she was diagnosed first with breast cancer, then with glioblastoma multiforme. She appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.

One day while I was going through all this [the mastectomy], two friends stopped by my New York apartment. I told them, "This wouldn't be so bad, but my breasts were the best part of my body." And one of them said: "Pick something else." So I decided to love my legs, which had always been the least favorite part of my body. Today I feel more beautiful than I ever did, which is one of the main reasons the book is called Front to Back.


  • New York Times: Lynn Kohlman, 62, Model and Muse, Dies. The cause was brain cancer, said her husband, Mark Obenhaus. Ms. Kohlman also worked as a design executive for Mr. Ellis and other fashion houses and later as a photographer. Her personal style was tough and creative. She wore her hair short and her suits oversize, often paired with motorcycle boots. It was her offbeat style that attracted the attention of Mr. Ellis in the 1970s, and he often described her as a muse. Mr. Ellis once designed an entire collection based on an oversize white linen jacket Ms. Kohlman had worn and, as usual, she was the first model sent out onto the runway at that show. He gave her a position as an assistant designer at his company, even though she said she could not sketch or sew. Ms. Kohlman also appeared on the covers of Vogue and Elle and in advertisements for Yves Saint Laurent and Anne Klein, where Ms. Karan became the designer after Ms. Klein’s death in 1974. Ms. Karan, after starting her own company, hired Ms. Kohlman as the fashion director of DKNY, when her less expensive collection was started in 1988, to give the clothes a fresh sense of urban toughness and a masculine/feminine blend. Ms. Kohlman also later helped Tommy Hilfiger start his first women’s collection. “All of those iconic things about DKNY were because of her look,” Ms. Karan said. “She was the Patti Smith of fashion.” Ms. Kohlman wrote about her experience with breast cancer and brain cancer in a 2005 autobiography called “Lynn Front to Back.” The title referred to her career transition from being a model in front of the cameras to the person taking the pictures, but also to her acceptance of her post-surgery body, as she had always been proud of her figure. The book opened with two arresting images of Ms. Kohlman, shown before and after a mastectomy and a separate operation to remove a walnut-size brain tumor that left 39 visible titanium staples in her scalp, which she said she had chosen to show that her body was more beautiful than ever. Lynn Eleanor Kohlman was born on Aug. 12, 1946, in Teaneck, N.J. After studying art history at Oberlin College, she moved to Florence, Italy, to help restore artworks damaged in the Arno River flood of 1966. But Ms. Kohlman, who had modeled during college, was soon discovered by Wilhelmina Models and got her first assignment, for The New York Times Magazine, around 1970. She also loved photography, and her casual portraits of Calvin Klein, Keith Richards and Stephan Weiss, Ms. Karan’s husband, were published in magazines including Interview, Vogue and GQ. In addition to her husband, Mr. Obenhaus, a producer and director of documentaries, Ms. Kohlman is survived by a son, Sam, who also modeled in advertisements for DKNY, and a brother, Jeff Kohlman, a federal judge in Atlanta. After her breast cancer was discovered in 2002 and then an aggressive form of brain cancer was found the following year, Ms. Kohlman said she was determined not to hide behind her scars. On “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she described walking in the East Village and receiving compliments from a body piercing fan because her staples were “really nicely spaced and even.” She gave him the name of her doctor.

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  1. ^ "Lynn Kohlman Engaged". New York Times. April 12, 1968. 

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