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Claude Montana, the Late Fashion Designer Who Defined an Entire Decade

by Hannah Barnett

The French designer, once known as the ‘king of the shoulder pad’, Claude Montana has died at the age of 76, leaving a legacy behind him that has changed the scope of fashion forever.


The term ‘Power Dressing’ didn’t come from nowhere. Montana curated this movement when his harsh, overpowering silhouettes automatically defined this fashion fluctuation. This was majorly Inspired by childhood core memories, when he spent endless days absorbing the lavish costumes and architecture of the theatre world, where glamor, performance and delightful costume design consumed his childhood. 

This can later be seen when the end of his career was unfolding and he took the glitz and beauty route when he produced his best-selling perfume ‘Montana Pour Femme’.


The embroidered dress in 1979 was one of the first perfectionist and un - destructive sculpting within his work that dubbed this movement under his name. Famously known for its intricate detailing: 110 hours of hand beading per dress for the delicate handed - and patient, within ‘The House of Montana’.


Claude’s first collection named, ‘Montana Hommes’ which rocked the runway in 1981 used not only this aggressive silhouette signature but heavy leather which then lingered throughout the 80’s due to its popularity. However, in the haute couture world this wasn’t enough and these unique and distinctive designs caused $50 million debt in the house. But - four years later, he won the ‘Best Women’s Collection in Summer 1895 (Paris).


This questionable and jumpy start to his career was much like his personal life and the talented designer soon became known as the ‘troubled’ one against his competitors. Azzedine Alaïa to name one of a few nearly robbed Claude’s spotlight as his opposite and more conventional approach to silhouettes for women due to the body - con dress enticed critics more. Montana - as always, rose up and the use of sheer colours became a go to within his pieces.


It was known that he ‘wouldn’t settle until he had just the right shade’ (the glass magazine 2015). Much like his runway shows, his artistic view on colour shemes was constantly demonstrated. Being one of the first designers to complete whole shows with one to two colour ways and breaking the normality of using the classic, idealised shades of a season on his designs. Using hues of blues, emerald greens and pinks in his 1985 Autumn/Winter collection and so once again being that quirky designer we can understand.


The accusations of Claude’s designs promoting the ‘neo - Nazi’ aesthetic also led to his debatable but inevitable rise within the fashion industry. When really his heavy leather looks that brought up this uncomfortable accusation, were more of a point in the direction of his sexuality during the 80’s. Montana was openly homosexual and his hints at fetish and sex within his garments were a way of expressing himself in this way. At the time this political, confident movement made Claude stand out from the rest. It made people feel like they could resonate with what once was his hostile designs.  


Power - dressing is always returning to the runway and we can only thank Claude Montana for his bravery for actively choosing to stand out. In 2023 designers such as; Armani, Prada and Saint Laurent all introduced the same look of  pinstripe trousers and pencil skirt sets; ‘office core’ and ‘worker girl’ aesthetic  which is Gen - Z’s power - dressing.

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