Claude Montana is an unlikely fashion legend. His label has been largely dormant since the late 90s; his short-lived tenure at the fashion house Lanvin (a label due to be reinvented, again, this season by new designer Bruno Sialelli) is all but forgotten. Montana himself still lives in Paris, and roams the Palais Royal, where his apartment is situated. He is mostly unrecognised. Except, that is, for anyone with any interest in fashion, to whom Montana was, is and possibly always will be “a god”, to borrow the terminology of the master milliner Stephen Jones, who created hats for Montana from the mid-80s.
Even if you don’t unpick fashion history with obsessive tenacity – even if you wouldn’t recognise the man on the street, and possibly haven’t if he’s passed you in Paris – you’ll recognise Montana’s signatures. Montana wasn’t the first designer to use shoulder pads (and he didn’t always use them) but certainly his process of and prowess in carving out a silhouette helped define the 80s. His shoulders were the biggest in fashion land – quarterback scale, often teetering above tight waists and slender trousers or pencil-skirts. “It was really that shoulder that drove me completely off my fashion victim deep end,” says Marc Jacobs. “Nobody did a stronger shoulder.” Both his Autumn/Winter 2018 show and the spring collection entering shops now was an outright homage to Montana’s silhouettes, albeit alongside a mash-up of fashion from across the broad. Montana’s, however, was the presence that asserted itself most stridently – just as it did way back then. And if you’re dissecting it down, you can see Montana reflections in collections across the board.
Given that his signatures are being rabidly revived across fashion as a whole, interest in Montana’s back-catalogue is experiencing an understandable uptick. On NOWNESS today a documentary launches, unpicking Montana’s importance during his own time and continuing influence on the fashion world. The real-time testimony, by original Montana fans such as Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, models including Yasmin Le Bon and collaborators such as Stephen Jones, are further underscored by a host of fashion designers, Jacobs included, who pay reverence to his pursuit of perfection and continual role as inspiration to subsequent generations.
And the documentary coincides with a new capsule collection of archival Montana reissues, the brainchild of vintage retailer Byronesque and global luxury e-commerce platform FarFetch, who will sell the collection exclusively. The selection comprises emblematic Montana pieces from 1979 through to 1994, reproduced from originals sourced from archives around the world – many made by the same specialists who worked with Montana in the first place. They’re not clothes for shrinking violets – including a leather dress embroidered with a rampant eagle, a bouffant silk blouse with oversized leather bow, and a ledge-shouldered t-shirt writ large with Montana’s signature.
Signatures are something Montana had – or rather, has – in abundance. Byronesque wanted to look beyond the shoulder pads for this sharp, 11-piece iteration, working with Gareth Pugh as Design Consultant to eke out an identity for Montana in the 21st century. His exceptional sense of colour – often compared to Yves Saint Laurent and including contrasts of aubergine, forest green, Yves Klein Blue and rich Lindt-chocolate brown – is underscored, as is the often-overlooked fluidity of many of his creations. Here, the garments have been exactly reproduced – often down to the interior finishes and fixings, and frequently including accessories.
Born in 1947, the same year Dior launched his acclaimed New Look, Montana’s sculpted silhouettes had an equally significant impact on the way clothes looked some 30 years later. By the mid-80s, almost all designers fell in line with Montana’s edicts – “the brand shaped fashion history,” says Gill Linton, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Byronesque, who spearheaded this reissue collection to resurrect pieces of history for right now.
All fashion, of course, is destined to fall out of fashion – by the late 90s, Montana’s sculpted, controlled clothes were out of step with a decade that ushered in deconstruction, grunge and heroin chic. Today, however there has been a reassessment and work of Montana and Thierry Mugler, his contemporary – and, in the mid-70s, sometime flatmate in an apartment on the Avenue de Wagram – has shifted back into focus. Mugler’s enviable archive isn’t just on show in museums (the first dedicated to the designer, Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, opens in Montreal in March): Cardi B wore two Mugler numbers for the red carpet and her performance at the 2019 Grammy awards. His perfume also continues to do swift business.
There is no Montana house archive to loan out – which is why these archive reissues will be snapped up by new generations of trend-setters and, probably, music and movie stars hoping to make an unexpected impact. They’ve already started: Alicia Keyes wore an archive black leather Montana jumpsuit to the aforementioned Grammys this weekend; while last October, Lady Gaga wore a trouser suit from Marc Jacobs’ spring collection with Montana-homage shoulders to Elle magazine’s 25th annual Women in Hollywood event. “I wanted to take the power back,” she said – which those shoulders did.
It chimes with what Montana himself told Vanity Fair – only in 2013, but reflecting on his career as a whole; “I wanted women to look beautiful and impeccable.” That’s an idea as relevant in 2019 as 1979 – arguably, even more so.
The capsule collection of reissued Montana designs, by Byronesque and Farfetch, is available on www.farfetch.com now.
Montana and Claude Montana trademarks and designs are the exclusive property of the MONTANA TRADEMARKS and MONTANA CREATION companies.
Hair: Syd Hayes. Make Up: Gemma Smith-Edhouse. Model: Querelle Jansen.