People Staff
December 24, 1979 12:00 PM

He just might be the Yves Saint Laurent of the ’80s. Even his fellow Paris designers—never a charitable lot—have given Claude Montana the nod. Pierre Cardin proclaims him “an original.” Dior’s Marc Bohan adds, “Fashion has to move. What Montana is doing is the avant-garde.” And Karl Lagerfeld, the industry’s previous enfant terrible, declares: “He has made the strongest statement of the new generation.”

Claude Montana (the name comes from his Spanish father, who ran a Paris fabric house) burst on the scene two years ago with his “Tough Leather” collection, fitted with chains and topped with aviator helmets. Neo-Nazi, maybe, but the critics loved it. And Montana, 30, has since won bravos for his Star Wars-style greatcoats with shoulders extending six inches on either side, atop skinny leather pants. For next spring (above) he offers flaring winged lapels, flying-saucer hats and football shoulders. “Fashion is like art,” he announces. “It reflects its time.”

Montana grew up in an affluent Paris neighborhood, the middle of three children and the family’s black sheep. “I could never fit into the Protestant, bourgeois scheme of things,” he confesses. “I had to run away and believe in myself.” He hung out at the trendy clubs and cafes of Paris and Saint-Tropez and survived by crafting papier-mâché jewelry in London, before winding up with a leather-goods house back in Paris. There in 1975 he put together his first collection.

Today Montana fits all his clothes on American model, muse and girlfriend Wallis Franklin, 30 (above, second from left). He designed a Satanic Bride wedding dress in red leather she wore in a Studio 54 fashion show earlier this year, but they keep separate quarters. Fashion’s next arbiter anticipates no miniskirt revival. “That,” says Montana with a Gallic shrug, “is a gag meant for 18-year-olds.” And working women can anticipate a more sporty look, he declares. “Eccentricities will be reserved for evening.”

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