Fashion Icon Claude Montana, ‘King of the Shoulder Pad’ in the 1980s, Passes Away

Claude Montana, the renowned fashion designer who rose to fame in the 1980s as the ‘King of the Shoulder Pad,’ has tragically passed away. He died aged 76. He designed the exaggerated silhouettes that typified power-dressing women in the 1980s, when he became known as the “King of the Shoulder Pad”.

Throughout his career, he garnered a reputation for being a visionary in the fashion industry, consistently challenging conventional norms and creating pieces that were both edgy and sophisticated.

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Although at first, Montana’s aggressive silhouettes, heavily influenced by constructivism, shocked critics and buyers. His first collection, in 1979, almost entirely made of leather, provoked a volley of abuse. Critics described it as “flashy, trashy, and demeaning to women” and “hooker fashion”. He was accused of being misogynistic and promoting a “neo-Nazi” aesthetic, although in fact his aggressively sexual leather-zipper-and-studs look owed more to the gay subculture of which he was an active member than to any political movement.

Nonetheless, Montana’s catwalk shows, with their haughty, Amazonian models, had become the biggest ticket in town by the mid-1980s, thanks to his razor-sharp tailoring, proficiency with leather, and masterful use of color. Others followed Montana’s lead the next season. Claude Montana has been worn by Cher, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Grace Jones, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sally Field, as well as Don Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke.

By the late 1980s, his fashion business had expanded to encompass women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, licenses for scarves, ties, and eyeglasses, and Montana Pour Femme, a best-selling perfume.

Then things began to go badly wrong. In 1989 he turned down the job of head designer at Christian Dior because he found the assignment too demanding. “I need room,” he told The Washington Post. “I don’t want to have all this money and go to an asylum.” The job went to Gianfranco Ferre. Later the same year the ailing house of Lanvin hired Montana to do its haute couture line. Montana won the Golden Thimble, couture’s top award, two seasons in a row, but Lanvin was losing too much money on couture and did not renew his contract.

Even by fashion industry standards his dismissal was brutal. His employer phoned the press hours after he had shown his January collection in 1991 to announce that Montana was out.

Deeply wounded, he retreated to his ready-to-wear business and continued to produce leather bomber jackets and zipper-encrusted dresses. But his designs seemed old fashioned among the grunge, waif and romantic looks that monopolised the catwalks in the early 1990s. His futuristic all-white autumn womenswear collection  in 1995 won praise, Women’s Wear Daily concluding “nobody beats Montana for his precision tailoring”, yet it was not enough to halt the slide in sales.

The passing of Claude Montana marks a significant loss in the world of fashion, but his legacy will undoubtedly live on through his groundbreaking work. May his soul rest in peace!

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