Claude Montana

B. 1949

Birthplace: Paris, France

Awards: Best Women's Collection, Paris Opera, 1985 Best European Designer, Munich, 1987 Balenciaga Prize—Best Designer, Madrid, 1989 Prix Medicis, 1989 Fragrance Foundation Award, 1990

De d'Or Award (Golden Thimble) (for Lanvin), 1990, 1991

Claude Montana grew up in a well-to-do family, but he did not want to pursue the professional career his family would have preferred. After leaving home in his late teens and getting by on odd jobs, including one as an extra at the Paris Opera, he went to London where he started to make jewelry out of papier-mache and rhinestones with Michelle Costas. It was the early 1970s, a time when "anything goes" was still the fashion mantra; hence, their unlikely combinations of paper and sparkle won them quite a bit of attention and even a write-up in British Vogue.

Upon his return to Paris in 1973, he worked as an accessories and ready-to-wear designer for a Parisian manufacturer. Although he insists that he knew nothing about making clothes, he learned quickly. A friend recommended him for a design assistant's position at MacDouglas Leathers, and, in less than a year, he was promoted to head designer. By 1975 he was doing freelance work for Complice and beginning to formulate the technique and silhouette that would make him the essential designer of the 1980s. He founded his own company in 1979, debuted his menswear in 1981, and opened his first Paris shop in 1983.

The moment was right for the sharp-edged, tough chic shapes for which Montana became internationally famous. His razor-like cuts defined the 1980s woman, providing her with body-conscious clothing that made her look bold, powerful, and even somewhat dangerous. It was this aggressive shape, created with boldly padded shoulders, oversized collars, and the top-heaviness of biker and military jackets, which brought him notoriety and, also, criticism. He was called a misogynist for creating such impractical clothes and faced loud protest for his use of leather and heavy metal: chains, buckles, and studs. Nevertheless, his futuristic silhouette was the one that defined the moment.

Montana, who loved to adorn his clothing, called on fellow designers Walter Steiger and Jean Colonna to help him create accessories. Lucrative licenses with the Italian fashion giant GFT, eyeglasses with Alian Mikli, and the introduction of his trendsetting Parfum de Peau, one of several successful fragrances, made his company highly profitable. In 1989 Montana became head couture designer for the House of Lanvin, winning professional praise, breathing new life into the ailing house, and becoming the first designer in history to win two consecutive Golden Thimble Awards. In 1992 he launched a well-received secondary line, the State of Claude Montana, which brought further success.

In the mid-1990s, problems began to plague the designer. The company changed manufacturers for apparel and fragrances, as well as partners in the Japanese market, putting the company in financial straits. Montana's wife of two years committed suicide, and some blamed his mistreatment of her. His top senior associate and trusted aide for twenty years, resigned soon afterward. In 1997 Montana was forced to file for protection from creditors.

Since 1998, however, Montana has been preparing for a comeback, and fashion history has shown that a great name can always be revived. In 1999 everything was in place for the reintroduction of a new sportswear/ city wear collection, Montana Blu, in partnership with the Baumler Group, which will handle the product development, marketing, and distribution of Montana's lines, described by Baumler as young, modern, and more understated than in the past. So far the reaction from the fashion press has been quite favorable. See also: Jeanne Lanvin. Website:

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