About Lynn Eleanor Obenhaus (Kohlman)
Lynn Eleanor Kohlman (August 12, 1946 – September 14, 2008) was a fashion model, photographer, author, and creative director at DKNY.
She was born in Teaneck, New Jersey to Clement Wolfe Kohlman (1916-2000). She majored in art history at Oberlin College, graduating summa cum laude, and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. After graduating, she spent time in Florence, Italy, helping restore works of art.
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. 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. She said of her cancer "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."
Her obituary appeared in the The East Hampton Star: Lynn Kohlman, a former fashion model and photographer who kept a part-time residence in Springs for the past 25 years, died of brain cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on Sept. 14. She was 62. Her five years with breast and brain cancer were part of the inspiration for Donna Karan to establish the Urban Zen Foundation. Ms. Karen was a close friend and former business associate of Ms. Kohlman's. In a pictorial autobiography, "Lynn Front to Back," published in 2005, Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee, co-owners of Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, were featured prominently, along with Ms. Karan, who this year opened a store in Sag Harbor to support her foundation. According to Ms. Kohlman's husband, Mark Obenhaus, Ms. Kohlman was also close to Marion Roaman Weil, who owns Zone Hampton, a workout studio in East Hampton. Last year, Ms. Kohlman had photography exhibits at East End Books in East Hampton and at the Fireplace Project in Springs. Mr. Obenhaus said that his wife was "avidly appreciative of Accabonac Harbor . . . it's just her body of water. We just spent the better parts of all of these summers either kayaking, swimming, or clamming" there. The couple were designing their "dream house" in Springs, where she "hoped to spend the rest of her life." Although Ms. Kohlman was born in Teaneck N.J., her father, who had attended summer camp in Springs as a youth, also had fond memories of the area. When he died, his ashes were spread over Accabonac Harbor. It was Ms. Kohlman's wish to have her ashes spread there as well, and her family and friends plan to do so in a private ceremony at a later date. Although Ms. Kohlman had photographed many celebrities, including Keith Richards and Calvin Klein, it didn't stop her from being a "groupie," her husband said, of Neil Young's. When she was approaching 60, she met the singer backstage at a Madison Square Garden concert shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer, and he told her, "Lynn, have a wonderful journey." Her husband said "she was terribly moved by it," and despite a grim prognosis that suggested she would survive only a few months longer, "she lived five years. She survived way longer than anyone expected her to." Shortly after graduating summa cum laude from Oberlin College, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, with a bachelor's degree in art history, Ms. Kohlman moved to Florence, Italy, to restore paintings. Despite the fact that she never wore makeup, Ms. Kohlman happened into modeling — she had done some in college — and after being squarely rejected by Eileen Ford for looking too "eccentric," she was quickly picked up by Wilhelmina, another top modeling agency. Over the next decade her image graced the covers of Elle, Italian Vogue, and Harper's magazine. Living in London in the 1970s, she developed a chic, boyish, and edgy personal style. She became known as the muse to Perry Ellis, who gave her a job as assistant designer, despite the fact that she didn't know how to sketch or sew. He once created an entire collection based on Ms. Kohlman's own oversized pantsuit and white jacket. In the 1980s, she turned to photography, and found that she enjoyed shooting male subjects. When Donna Karan struck out on her own in 1988, she appointed Ms. Kohlman fashion director, and much of the line's androgynous, urban "attitude" has been attributed to Ms. Kohlman's influence.In 2001, Ms. Kohlman left Donna Karan to help Tommy Hilfiger start his first women's fashion line. Shortly afterward, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, only to find out a few months later, while on a yoga retreat, that she had brain cancer. After that, Ms. Kohlman became outspoken about her cancer. In her book, she published a post-operation topless photo of herself, complete with a fresh line of staples in her half-shorn head, next to a nude photograph from her modeling days. Ms. Kohlman was born on Aug. 12, 1946, to Clement Kohlman and the former Eleanor Lerner. She grew up in Teaneck and met her current husband at college. A first marriage ended in divorce. She married Mr. Obenhaus on Feb. 5, 1985. The couple had one son together, Sam Obenhaus of New York City. She is also survived by a brother, Jeffrey Kohlman of Atlanta. Memorial contributions were suggested to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Neuro-Oncology Research Fund, 1275 York Ave., New York 10021.