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Claude Montana and the Dominatrix Aviatrix

Posted by Meghan
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Montana at his F/W 1983–1984 fashion show in Paris, with models wearing his designs, Courtesy Vanity Fair.

 

Last night, I took advantage of my favorite New York City perk, the ability to stroll across Houston on any given weeknight and visit a time and place of my choosing by way of a good old-fashioned movie theater. I landed in 1939 Barranca, a tumbledown Andean aviation outpost, among a band of daredevil pilots lured by topological diversity, meteorological uncertainty and the cantankerous affection of Cary Grant. Only Angels Have Wings is director Howard Hawkes at his best, a lighthearted celebration of masculine virility set against the thrilling backdrop of the golden age of flight. Admittedly, I was surprised at how entertained I was as the final credits rolled. Had I caught wind I was in for a two-hour action film that featured a mere two sets (three if you count the cockpit, and I wouldn’t) and about as many costume changes, I most likely would have skipped the utilitarian fantasy that was about to unfold before my very eyes. As it was, I walked home dreaming of clothing adorned with functional straps and buckles, sturdy trousers belted at the waist-proper, leather bombers lined with shearling, and waxed trench coats, all in a nice, sensible palette. I settled into bed, iPad in hand, eager to fill my mind with visions of Amelia Earhart and the Red Baron, but my Google jaunt settled upon an image that was decidedly less Out of Africa and more, well, Claude Montana.

 

Only Angels Have Wings

 

Only Angels Have Wings

 

Claude Montana F/W 1983. (L) F/W 1983 Ad from American Vogue. (R) F/W 1983 Runway.

 

Behold, the King of Shoulder Pads’ take on the Aviatrix. Just look at her in that strapping silhouette: contoured cheekbones as razor sharp as the tailoring, head-to-toe deep cobalt leather trimmed with thick swaths of bright shearling, the pugnacious proportions brightened by whopping playful propeller tie clips and cartoonish headwear. The Montana woman is one of dazzling strength, yet she who never loses her sense of humor.

The look is from Claude Montana’s F/W 1983 Collection, shown in March of that same year. It had been four years since the blonde Clau-Clau, as he was affectionately known, had launched his eponymous line. At this moment, the fashion capital of the world was facing a crisis of sorts (or so it was, according to the home-born ranks), that of the Japanese invasion. A tidal wave of deconstructed black flooded the city of lights, and in the midst of the cerebral meditation on dress, the traditional maisons seemed dowdy and out of touch. It fell to the rising class of French designers to wrestle back control, and this young crop did so in the name of theatricality – Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian LaCroix, Thierry Mugler, and of course, Claude Montana.

A month before his presentation in Paris, Montana was visiting New York for a promotional show held at the Seventh Regiment Armory. From behind Andrew Goodman’s desk at Bergdorf Goodman, he confided to John Duka of the New York Times, “In Paris, the rage now is Japan. [But] for me, the new direction is what I call the new classics. Simple, soft, but not plain. I don’t believe anymore in clothing you can see from 200 meters. For fall, I’m making clothes that are close to the body and reveal it, but they are not skintight the way many clothes from Paris have been lately. That would not be sexy.” During another preview to the Los Angeles, he explained his fall show would be a homage to the chic Parisienne, “Simplicity but a rigorous simplicity suggesting sport.” God bless the man’s sense of simplicity.

Back in Paris, the show proved the usual explosion of bold concepts and expert detailing, boundless vigor and raw talent. Mary Lou Luther of the LA Times noted that the “extraordinarily strong collection earned him the first prolonged, foot-stomping, screaming, yelling standing ovation of the season.” To date, it is one of Montana’s most powerful showings, dubbed the “Wall Street” collection after the elongated shapes and cocoon coats in dramatic proportions cut away from the body. His accessories were equally admired; beyond the playful pins, there were bracelets shaped like luggage straps and asymmetrical fedoras lined in leather and topped with feathers. Here is the Parisian femme fatale in all her glory.

 

Vogue, June 1983.

 

WWD, March 15, 1983.

 

Claude Montana coats, Photo by Helmut Newton, Vogue, July 1983.

 

(L) Montana F/W 1983. (R) Vogue Ad, September 1983.



The electrifying onslaught of this collection is a reminder of the sophisticated showmanship Montana reached at his zenith, presentations that would later serve to inspire the shows of Alexander McQueen. Most enjoyable is the rousing assortment that graced the runway. Dominatrix Aviatrix comes in more than one flavor! And she is but one sliver of the presentation as a whole. In the midst of the pageant of football-shouldered broads, Montana puts forth a lithe, narrow silhouette for evening. In 1989, Montana himself would look back at the fertility of these shows with longing, “‘When I see the videos, I think, what nerve I had. Army, navy, Spanish-look, Renaissance, Black Sicilian widows, American football player, the fall of the Roman Empire.’ The late critic Hebe Dorsey once called one of his shows Montana’s Tour of the World in 45 minutes.”

Is it overload? Perhaps. Over-stimulation? Sure. But Claude Montana’s F/W 1983 Collection is a reminder that for all the trim neatness, even rugged, good taste of classic utilitarianism, fashion is at its very best when it is laced with a heap of fantasy, a stroke romance and pinch of tart.

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