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House of Style

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When her husband, Marc, asked her to help manage his Paris clothing business in 1982, Michele Bohbot, then 22, was horrified. “I didn’t think this was normal for a man to send me to work,” says the Moroccan-born Bohbot. “I married to raise children! But I wanted him to love me, and I wanted to impress him, so I did it.”

And did it well. Today, Bohbot heads Bisou Bisou, a flirty clothing line she founded in 1989 (Sharon Stone and Britney Spears are fans) that rang up $80 million in sales in 2002. In December she and Marc, the company’s CEO, agreed to sell Bisou Bisou exclusively at JC Penney, a move that could bring an estimated $500 million in sales over the next five years. “Bisou Bisou is a brand customers can trust: sexy, hip fashion,” says Penney’s CEO Vanessa Castagna. The deal, says Bohbot, may help her realize her dream of “a Bisou Bisou universe—candles, sheets, maternity clothes.”

And that old plan of raising kids? Check. Now 43, Bohbot lives in an 11-bedroom, 18-bath Beverly Hills mansion with Marc and their brood of seven: Yoann, 21, Sandra, 19, Steven, 17, Stephanie, 14, Noah, 11, and twins Chloe and Celine, 5. “It’s like our family lives in a hotel that my mother manages,” says son Yoann. Though she did take off 18 months after her last pregnancy, Bohbot, says Marc, “went crazy” at home. So how does she do it? “She has a huge passion for designing,” says Yoann. “She has energy for us because she loves what she’s doing.”

Bohbot’s friend Dominique Duncan, a retailer, offers another theory. “She doesn’t watch TV. She doesn’t hang around at Starbucks. If she has one hour free, she is going to do something.” Bohbot, who employs a cook, nanny, maid and chauffeur, often knocks off work at 5 p.m. for dinner—and sometimes even prepares it herself. (Attendance is mandatory; the kids get grounded otherwise.)

“Michele is very much in control. I think she has a file cabinet in her head,” says Marc, 49, who claims he would have been happy with two children, “but she would come up to me and say, ‘Hi. I’m pregnant.’ She can’t [live] without the next project, and children are the most important one.”

Growing up in Casablanca the daughter of a well-to-do boat manufacturer and a homemaker, Bohbot never imagined she would be a designer. “Morocco still influences my work,” she says. “The colors—the vibrant blue of the sky—they’ve stayed with me.”

But it was Los Angeles that really honed her style. She and Marc, whom she met at 19 and agreed to marry four days later (“I just go with my feelings,” she says), ran a chain of boutiques in Paris before moving to L.A. in 1987. When the French jeans they were importing failed to catch on, Bohbot—who had slouched through her teens in an army coat—started designing sexy tops inspired by California girls. “I was impressed by how good the women looked,” she says. Her line took off, and Bisou Bisou (French slang for “small kiss”) was born.

Today, Bohbot feels some sadness that Bisou Bisou’s shops will close as a result of her Penney’s deal. “That company is my baby,” she says. “But this is the best thing—to bring fashion to so many women.” (Priced from $38 for a T-shirt to $168 for a dress, her clothes will now sell for 50 percent less.)

It’s not as if she won’t have plenty to do. In addition to designing, she teaches yoga twice weekly. And there may be more projects in the works. “One of my girls just lost a tooth,” Bohbot says. “I started crying and told Marc maybe we should have one more, no?”

Allison Adato

Alison Singh Gee in Beverly Hills