Written By:

Claude Montana 1947-2024

by Tony Glenville

When a fashion show finishes, within minutes it’s gone. Like any performance the magic dissipates in seconds, and only those in the room really know the effect it had on the audience. Today we see clips of Claude Montana shows on YouTube, but the distance between those blurry clips and the effect those shows had on those of us lucky enough to be in the tent is immense.

Montana appeared in the late 1970’s and displayed an extraordinary vision of what fashion could be; strong, vibrant, dramatic, and modern. His broad shoulders and cinched waist, his shining leathers and immaculate silhouettes presaged a new woman, and man, who strode into the room, took centre stage and was a star. His use of proportions, fabrics, and details was truly special and his eye edited looks to perfection. Sharply cut tailoring, spiralling sinuous drape and aggressively scissored leather were all components to the Montana look. He handled colour in a complex pattern of switchback stories; inky black, snowy white and then ombree violet, or vicious lime and hot orange. Although he had themes and signatures, he was able to jump each season from winters chilly wrappings to the languor of tropical relaxation, from huge, belted trench coats to fluid beach pyjamas. He made clothes, but with an innovative approach to silhouette and construction, he built on couture, Cardin, Dior, etc, but made it one hundred percent his own. His shows were events, crowds fighting to get in, a front of house team of Cruella de Ville bitches, and invitations merely featuring the single word “Montana” on heavy card. The volume of the music was the highest, his models the most out of this world, the posing the most extreme and the shows were events of epic proportions. One moment a single model, perhaps Marpessa poised for seemingly eternity in a pose, swiftly followed by twenty models all in a single colour in a freize across the stage. This was fashion as drama, fashion as opera, and fashion that took no prisoners.

We faithful followed every second; the shows, the perfume launches, the menswear; sexy is an understatement, the time at Lanvin, the awards, the boutiques, and the sheer high-octane brilliance of it all. Then the tragic fall, since to fly that high means, a disastrous tumble is inevitable. I, like so many in the last few hours since his death, don’t want to dwell on the problems, the gradual failure and the final sadnesses. In the end what matters is his contribution to French fashion and fashion history. For those of us who were at those shows they were “fashion moments”, moments that stay with us forever.

Thank you, Claude Montana, for moving us, exciting us and as the expression goes from Diana Vreeland “giving us what we never knew we wanted” and that was in a word – Montana.