Claude Montana, the bold, tormented French designer whose exquisite tailoring defined the broad-shouldered power look of the 1980s—a tough, erotic, androgynous elegance that brought him fame and acclaim until he was felled by drugs and tragedy in the 1990s) died on Friday in France. He was 76 years old.

The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode confirmed the death but did not specify the cause or say where he died.

Montana was part of a cohort of avant-garde Parisian designers, including Thierry Mugler and later Jean Paul Gaultier, who idealized the female form in extravagant, stylized ways that harked back to the screen sirens of old Hollywood, but recast on location. . space. Mugler, who died in 2022, offered a campier femme fatale than Montana’s icy vision, although the two were often lumped together as the architects of ’80s “glamazonism.”

Her clothes, said Valerie Steele, director of the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, “were fierce, with a power that was both militaristic and highly eroticized.” And she added: “It was not the appearance of American power of the executive with shoulder pads. “Hers was a different kind of working woman.”

Montana was often inspired by the nocturnal world of the Parisian elite: the sex workers and dominatrixes, the inhabitants of the leather bars he frequented. But he didn’t just stop at fetish equipment.

“His tailoring was scalpel-sharp,” fashion journalist and author Kate Betts said by phone. “The level of perfectionism was intense.”

Josh Patner, former fashion coordinator at Bergdorf Goodman, said in an interview: “His clothes were beautiful, meticulous objects. He defined the design language of his time. The powerful proportions of the 80s, the excessively elegant surfaces, the hard edges made sensual.”

Shy and recessive in person, Montana was nevertheless a born showman. Since his first show in 1977, when he sent out models dressed entirely in leather, with the epaulets of their jackets tied with chains (drawing comparisons to Nazi uniforms, which upset the designer, whose inspiration was closer to home), His performances in Paris were among the liveliest, always supervised by bouncers in white paper jumpsuits and shrouded in secrecy. “You waited and waited,” Betts said, “but it was always worth it.”

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Ellin Saltzman, former fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, said: “There were people crying after Claude’s shows.” And she added: “With an almost Germanic rhythm, they could be very militant but totally sexy at the same time.”

Claude Montamat was born on June 29, 1947 in Paris, one of three brothers. He changed his last name in the 1970s because, he said, people kept pronouncing it wrong. His mother was German; His father, a textile manufacturer, was Spanish. The family was wealthy.

“Very bourgeois,” he told the Washington Post in 1985. “They wanted me to be something I didn’t want to be.”

She left home when she was 17 and moved to London, where she began making paper mache jewelry that appeared on the cover of British Vogue. But back in Paris, where he returned in 1973, he could not find a market for his pieces and, through a friend, he got a job as a cutter for Mac Douglas, a luxury leather clothing company. . A year later, he was the company’s chief designer. In 1977 he was already alone.

By the end of the decade he was a star and his styles would dominate the ’80s. Critics called him the future of Parisian fashion. He had licensing deals, a boutique, a best-selling perfume, and ready-to-wear lines for men and women; he designed for an Italian line, Complice. Eighties stars like Cher, Diana Ross and Grace Jones wore Montana. So did Don Johnson and Bruce Willis.

“He was a great designer,” Steele said, “but he had demons.”

Trapped on drugs, he often disappeared for days or weeks at a time. In 1989, when Dior came calling, he turned down the job. “I need space,” he told The Washington Post that year. “I don’t want to have all this money and go to a nursing home.”

However, a year later he accepted Lanvin’s offer to design their haute couture line, and did so for five seasons. “Her new space maidens are a gentler breed, dressed in soft silk clothes with small waists and full skirts,” wrote Bernadine Morris in a review in The Times. “His collection of hers was a perfect cameo expressing the latest new era of haute couture.”

But many critics panned the new work (Montana’s asymmetrical dresses and beaded tops may have been too minimalist for couture ladies) and dismissed him.

Wallis Franken was an American model with two children who had been Mr. Montana’s muse and runway star since his inception. They shared a taste for nightlife and cocaine and, according to her, Ms. Franken was always deeply in love with him. However, some saw her marriage in 1993 as a manipulation on his part to revive her business, a cynical “white marriage.”

In any case, their relationship, as Maureen Orth reported in Vanity Fair in 1996, was stormy. She was bothered by her affairs with men and he was bothered by her work; He once hit her, she Orth wrote, when photographer Steven Meisel asked her to pose for a Donna Karan campaign.

Three years after their wedding, Ms. Franken’s body was found on the street outside her Paris apartment. Tortured by her own drug use and despondent about her marriage, Franken had told her friends that she had considered suicide. But people whispered: had she been pushed?

“Whatever I’m suffering, I suffer because I suffer,” Montana told the Washington Post. “Many times I wonder why I have to go through that pain.”

Montana continued to publish collections until the turn of the millennium, and critics invariably described them in mediocre terms. By the 2000s he had become a recluse, even as younger designers turned to his bold styles for inspiration.

“There was a sense that Claude would go on and last forever,” Dawn Mello, former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, told Vanity Fair in 2013. “Then he disappeared and fell off the map.”

Designer Lawrence Steele, speaking from Milan, recalled that one of the first fashion items he bought was a navy blue Claude Montana cashmere floor-length coat with shoulder pads “up to here,” as he put it.

“It was 1983 and I had short hair, so I looked like Grace Jones and felt extremely fabulous,” Steele said. “Her clothes gave you a larger than life personality. They were like pure ego and strength. And that’s what the ’80s were about in general: this pure, powerful pride of being.”

Vanessa Friedman contributed with reports.