His fashions seem to be everything he is not.
They are tall and broad-shouldered, for those lanky women who can only be met in the magazines. He is short and slight, and really doesn't care much for fashion on himself.
They are bold and theatrical, for the woman, he explains, "who likes to make an entrance." But he is painfully shy and soft-spoken and hides in a back room during the annual Paris fashion presentations.
They are expensive. But he spends little money on clothes, wearing the same sweat shirt and jean jacket for 15 years.
"What can I say?" asks Claude Montana in his lilting French accent, barely above a mumble. "There is very little I can do about it. I will not wear my own clothes. I put them on and they are just not for me . . . I think I spend so much time thinking about other people and clothes, that it just doesn't interest me for myself . . ."
Claude Montana is just about the brightest young star in the French fashion constellation these days. At 36, he is compared to the deities in his industry, such as Saint Laurent and Givenchy.
He made his name on macho-looking bikers' leathers for women, and today, he is known for his wonderful, bold shoulder lines on top of narrow, snug skirts.
"I think he is the most important designer in Paris today," says Val Cook, vice president of Saks-Jandel, which. along with Woodward & Lothrop, is the only Washington area store to carry Montana's designs. "He is the new Saint Laurent, an incredible talent, a real creator. He is simply the future."
Recently in Washington visiting Saks Fifth Avenue, which carries his line in New York, Montana took time to talk in his hotel suite. He has wispy blond hair and sad, tentative green eyes; he is single, and Women's Wear Daily has often chronicled his disco forays in Paris, with his "shy retiring manner, even while dancing away into the wee morning hours . . ."
When a photographer arrives, Montana is the perfect subject, leaning against an outside tree, head down, eyes up, lips pouting. With no encouragement he shifts his feet, flips his collar up and pouts again. He has done this before.
"Yes, yes, but it is very difficult every time," he insists.
For him, it all started by accident. A maverick teen-ager, Montana ran away from home for the first time at 17 to get away from what he has described as "very bourgeois" parents, who had hoped he would study law or chemistry like his older brother. A few years later he left his parents for good and headed to London.
"It was an excuse not to be close to them," he says. "I had trouble with my family . . . They wanted me to go on with my studies . . . I didn't know what to do, but I knew it wouldn't be law or science . . . They wanted me to be something I did not want to be."
Once in London, he resorted to an old grade-school standby in order to make a living: papier-ma che'. "I remembered an old recipe where you take toilet paper and put it in some water and add some glue and cook it and you have paste."
With a little imagination, an eye for color, and luck, he designed a line of Mexican-style papier-ma che' jewelry that did remarkably well in London. When he returned to Paris, though, he says, that city, "wasn't ready for the look. It was too advanced.
"I was desperate then," he says, "and so a friend persuaded me to try fashion, and I had nothing better to do. So, why not?"
And so at 25, he became an assistant in MacDouglas, a well-known Parisian leather firm. Within a short time he developed into a formidable force in leather fashions and one of the innovators of the tough-looking butter-soft leather clothing of the '70s. A few years later, he tried his own collection.
"It was very difficult and very slow," he says. "At first I was very well received by the press but not by the buyers. It was strange -- my shapes -- and the buyers could not get used to it." Still, the favorable press continued, and soon Japan and America were devouring his collection. His U.S. customers now include Neiman-Marcus, Marshall Field and Bergdorf Goodman.
He says that today he would like his style to be seen as something that is "moving all the time."
"I would like women to say that they could be able to wear a piece of my clothing for a long time," he says. "I want it to be thought of as classic, as transcending time."
Women, for sure, would like to think of his clothing this way, too -- considering the price tag. A winter suit, which is two separates matched together, can average around $800; a blouse sells for $300 to $400; and a coat can cost $900.
"Sure, the prices do concern me," he says. "When I meet people they sometimes say, 'I like your clothes but I don't have the money to buy them.' This does not make me happy. But it is very difficult not to do beautiful clothes with nice fabrics and a lot of work."
He says that, in a way, he is designing for the women who doesn't exist anymore.
"That woman doesn't care about comfort, just about her look," he says. "It is the woman of Hollywood in the '40s. Today, everyone in the movies wants to look like the girl next door . . . I would love to have designed for the Hollywood of yesterday."
Next year, Montana will launch a fragrance that he says is not complete, and that is causing him much anxiety. "You can miss on a collection, but you cannot miss on a fragrance," he says. "If it's wrong, that's the end of it. It is a very stressful situation."
His priority for smell: "I don't want it to give people a headache."
He describes the unnerving process of showing his collection to a critical audience twice a year as simply "scary." More than that, he won't say.
"Why should you know what I have to go through to finish the product? All you need to know is the end. All you need to see is the magic."