Your cart

Your cart is empty

Claude Montana Leather gloves

Claude Montana Fashion God Turned Phantom

How do you go from "Fashion God" to the "Phantom of the Palais-Royal?" Legendary designer Claude Montana disappeared so completely from the fashion radar that some people today have never even heard of him. There are a few theories as to why, some more sinister than others.


Claude Montana Vintage Bomber Jacket Leather


He was was born Claude Montamat on June 29, 1949 in Paris. During his teenage years, he and his sister, Jacqueline, acted in walk on parts at the Opera Garnier Theatre. Montana was inspired by this experience and remembers seeing Marc Chagall repainting the ceiling there! (Can you imagine)? He was also inspired by the words of French actress Simone Signoret one evening backstage when she told him that he was sure to be “somebody”. She was definitely right!


Vintage Claude Montana Leather Bomber Jacket


After studying chemistry and law as an undergraduate, Montana moved to London in 1971. While in London, to make ends meet, he made paper mache and rhinestone jewelry that he sold at the London street markets. When Olivier Echaudemaison, a British Vogue cover stylist, discovered Montana's pieces, he featured them on the cover and even found him a distributor. It seems like Montana was born to be successful.


1987 Claude Montana Black Cutwork Leather Jacket


1987 Claude Montana Cutwork Leather Jacket

After a year, Montana left London and went back home to Paris. It was during this time when he started working for leather companies and began to perfect his leather cutting and shaping techniques. 


Rare Claude Montana Vintage Black Jacket With Cutwork


His first collection was presented in 1976 and he started his own label, in 1979. Fun Fact; Claude Montana actually lived with Thierry Mugler and his parents in a studio above their apartment in Paris. Though the two were originally friends, the fashion world turned them into fierce competitors. 


Vintage Claude Montana Princess Coat

Claude Montana Wool Princess Coat (from the Modig Archives)

Montana quickly became known for his exaggerated, angular, asymmetrical silhouettes and dramatic shoulders, bringing a new kind of masculinity into women’s fashion. Inspired by Gay clubs, punk, military uniforms, science fiction and Russian Constructivist art, Montana's aggressive styles weren't embraced by everyone. When Montana's models wore leather and chains, marching to a German-esque soundtrack, members of the press called him a socialist and a Nazi. 


Vintage Rare Claude Montana Leather Jacket


1996 Claude Montana Vintage Leather Jacket (From the Modig Archives)

"To me those ideas are crazy," said Montana in response,"These clothes have nothing to do with politics and the music wasn't German, as some were saying... The hat and the chains were just another way of showing this strong look, but not a political statement." Montana believed that leather needed a strong, aggressive design because of the soft nature of the fabric.


Claude Montana Vintage Grey Jumpsuit


1980's Claude Montana Grey Wool Jumpsuit (From the Modig Archives)

In the 1980s, Claude Montana runway shows were the the high point of the Parisian fashion scene. The tickets were the hottest in town and were selling for a small fortune on the black market. Some, who couldn't find tickets, took knives and cut holes in the tent just to see be able to see the show.


Claude Montana Knit and Leather Jacket
1980's Claude Montana Knit & Leather Cropped Jacket (from the Modig archive)


A known perfectionist, Montana was determined to design the whole woman, not just what she was wearing. Even the models moves were painstakingly directed by Montana. They moved almost in slow motion and were known to hold peculiar positions including the Montana signature S Back. The 1980’s term “Power Dressing” was mainly inspired from the strong, confident look he created on the runway.


Claude Montana Vintage Anaconda Snakeskin Jacket


1980's Claude Montana Anaconda Snakeskin Jacket

After turning down an offer to be the head designer at Christian Dior following the departure of Marc Bohan, Montana accepted a position as the head of haute couture at Lanvin and worked there from 1989 to 1992.  Though his first collection there was met with dismal reviews, he made up for it over the next two years. Montana went on to win two Golden Thimble awards for his contributions at Lanvin. 


Claude Montana 1990s Silk Asymmetrical Blouse


1990's Claude Montana Cream Silk Asymmetrical Blouse

So why did this fashion legend with God like status stop designing and retreat from the public eye?


Vintage Claude Montana Gloves


Claude Montana Vintage Branded Leather Gloves (From the Modig Archives) Image by Nic Porter

The simplest explanation is strong creative idealism, his refusal to adapt to the changing fashion styles of the 1990’s. His sharp, angular designs were in stark contrast to the minimalist, linear aesthetic of popular emerging designers like Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, and Calvin Klein.


1970s Claude Montana Purple Suede Outfit


Claude Montana Early Purple Suede 2 piece Outfit (From the Modig Archives)

It could also boil down to poor business decisions, like acting as his own CEO. Montana was encouraged to hire a professional CEO but named himself as president, thinking that it would be impossible to delegate that responsibility. He also replaced his communications director, Béatrice Paul, with his sister, Jacqueline. Paul, known for her outspoken, direct, disciplined manner, was credited with keeping the company together for almost 20 years. Jacqueline was family, and that created a different dynamic.


Claude Montana Peach silk Blouse


S/S 1990 Claude Montana Peach Silk Blouse

Montana's self destructive lifestyle and relationship with alcohol and drugs could also be major factors.  Though known for being kind and generous when sober, those closest to him claimed alcohol changed him and he became a totally different person when he drank. Under the influence, Montana would sometimes disappear for days, stay up all night, miss appointments, show up late for fittings, leave hotel rooms in shambles and throw tantrums if things weren’t right before a fashion show. 


Claude Montana Giraffe Print Pony Fur Black Leather Jacket


1985 Claude Montana Leather Jacket with Giraffe Pony fur (From the Modig Archives)

The most controversial explanation has to do with his marriage in1993 to the famous model Wallis Franken, who was also his muse. Since he was openly gay, it was speculated that it was possibly a PR stunt to overshadow Thierry Mugler’s recently launched couture collection. Some said it was to "save" Franken because her career in modeling was over. Regardless of the reason, it was seemingly doomed from the beginning.


vintage claude montana 1980s jumpsuit


1980's Claude Montana Zipper Detail Jumpsuit (From the Modig Archives)

A Maureen Orth 1996 Vanity Fair article, "Death by Design" describes Montana’s abusive behavior towards his wife. He called her “old and ugly, and said things like You’re no one, you’re nobody, you’re a weight on my life.’ According to friends, when he was sober, he loved her.

Claude Montana Chartreuse Silk Blouse

Claude Montana Chartreuse Silk Blouse (from the Modig archives)

In June 1996, Wallis Franken fell to her death from the 3rd floor of their Paris apartment.. Though Her death was ruled a suicide, her brother was very vocal about blaming Montana for the mental state that led to her demise. Claude Montana refuses to talk about Franken to this day.

Claude Montana Fringe Sleeve top


The House of Montana filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and Montana has lived a very private life away from the public eye, only being occasionally spotted walking in his neighborhood in Paris.


Claude Montana 1985 Leather Jacket w Zebra Pony Fur


1985 Claude Montana Leather Jacket with Zebra Pony Fur

Claude Montana was a fashion rock star, introducing the world to a new way of imagining the power of clothing. While some of his contemporaries are still designing today, Montana made his bold mark and is encapsulated in the 1980s. 4 decades later, new generations are being introduced to his incredible work and are starting to realize the major impact Claude Montana had on fashion history.


Claude Montana Documented Green top


1985 Claude Montana Green Open Front Top

 “I miss fashion, because when you have something all of your life, it becomes part of you. I miss it all, like holding the fabric in my hands.”

- Claude Montana (Death by Design 1996 by Maureen Orth Vanity Fair)

We really miss you too, Mr. Montana.



The Modig Claude Montana Collection

Blog Cover Image by Nic Porter

Previous post

Leave a comment