Claude Montana

Lauren Downing Peters

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA229

Claude Montana was born in Paris in 1949 to parents of Catalonian and German descent. While Montana studied chemistry and law in school, his passion was design. Montana moved to London in 1971 to pursue work as a freelance jewelry designer, notably crafting pieces out of papier-mâché and rhinestones, and later leather. Applying the skills he obtained as a jewelry designer to fashion, he went on to codesign a collection for Idéal-Cuir, Paris, in 1973.

Montana founded his eponymous label in 1979, and quickly became known for his exaggerated, angular silhouette inspired by Russian constructivism and science fiction. While Montana’s first collection was for men, he is best known for his women’s wear, which eroded ideals of French classicism, prompting New York Times reporter Mary Russell to remark that his “wide, narrow, and asymmetrical” silhouette was “the strongest new look of the fashions to be introduced” at the fall 1979 Paris women’s presentations. Another fashion correspondent, Bernadine Morris, described his models as “aggressive” and as “parading down the runway with the air of army commanders, their shoulders extended half a foot on each side by padding and huge shelf-like sleeves.”

What became known as the tendency for “power dressing” in the 1980s and early 1990s largely derived from Montana’s bold vision—a vision that also awarded him a position as designer in charge of haute couture at Lanvin between 1989 and 1992. While his first show for the house in January of 1990 was regarded as a disaster for the degree to which Montana diverged from the house’s established design ideology, he redeemed himself with the fall collection by staying true to his own taste for clean, angular lines, which had made him famous. Montana would go on to win two consecutive Golden Thimble awards in 1991 and 1992 for his contributions at Lanvin—a first in the history of the illustrious award.

After his departure from Lanvin in 1992, Montana announced his diffusion lines, Montana Femme and State of Montana, and a leather goods collection in 1996. However, these milestones were overshadowed by legal trouble: a small company called Montana Knits sought legal action to trademark its name. The knitwear company won the suit and Montana was obligated to rename his State of Montana Collection, changing it to Montana White Label. Montana would go on to encounter more legal trouble in 1997 when his company had to seek legal protection from creditors in the face of declining sales and considerable debt. By December of that year, Montana had made the difficult decision to sell his company and give up the rights to his name while staying on as creative director at the house.

In 1998, Montana introduced his more affordable label, Montana Blu, with a fragrance following in 2001. In the early twenty-first century, Claude Montana has had very little output aside from a coffee table book published in 2011 entitled Claude Montana: Fashion Radical, coauthored with fashion journalist Marielle Cro, which provides a retrospective the designer’s career and considerable legacy.

Claude Montana, Spring/Summer 1986. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Montana Claude. Claude Montana: Claude Montana Fashion Radical . London : Thames & Hudson, 2011.

Find in Library Morris Bernadine. ““In Paris, High Fashion’s Latest Trip is to Outer Space”.” The New York Times , 14 October 1979 .

Find in Library Russell Mary. ““Paris on the Diagonal”.” The New York Times , 14 October 1979 .