Costume Drama. April 2018.

Dear Rowley,

On what level is Beyonce and Jay Z role models? If further proof were needed of this fame-hungry vampire couple’s hubris look no further than their six-year old daughter Blue Carter. Said child has two nannies, a chef, bodyguards and a personal stylist. She’s going to grow-up like the spoilt rotten younger sister of Violet Elizabeth Bott and Verruca Salt.

Black pride and hubris are two very different entities. Jay-Z and Beyonce live like the worst of the African dictators and act like Evita claiming to have a right to all riches the world can offer as an example to her downtrodden people. Allowing a child of six to appear before the world’s cameras wearing a diamond brooch and couture pink baby pant suit is rather sick-making. What can that child have to look forward to? Nothing will impress her come ten years of age.

Jay-Z and Beyonce claim to lead fashion with the latter telling the world her costumes for this year’s music festival Coachella will change fashion history. With the best will in the world, the Olivier Rousteing for Balmain stage costumes are the same old toot that ladies of burlesque have been wearing since the turn of the 20th century.

Have you ever noticed that Madonna rarely if ever sits front row at any catwalk show be it Milan, Paris, London or New York? She has walked the runway topless for Jean-Paul Gaultier back before the old king died but that only confirms her position as the major muse for fashion designers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Where Madonna leads, the likes of Beyonce can only follow.

My closest encounter with Madonna came when she was researching the costumes for her Edward and Mrs Simpson film W.E. I was at Gieves & Hawkes at the time and had gathered as many archive pieces relating to the Duke of Windsor for Madonna and her costume designer Arianne Phillips. I never expected Madonna to show for the meeting but Arianne told me M always attended the development meetings but was unwell that day.

Had Madonna walked into No 1 Savile Row that morning I think I would have gone all hopeless gay fan boy. She and Arianne Phillips have to date collaborated on six world tours’ worth of costumes; the latest being the extraordinary Rebel Heart tour that confirmed Madonna as the numero uno fashion muse for the most directional fashion designers of our time.

Working on storyboards, Arianne Phillips transformed Madonna from Samurai warrior princess to Rockerbilly via 20s flapper and gypsy queen. She worked with Alessandro Michele for Gucci, Alexander Wang, Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy, Lebanese couturier Nicolas Jerban, Prada and Jeremy Scott for Moschino. All the aforementioned worked under the direction of Madonna and Arianne.

I find costume design is rather unsung in the pop industry. Are there awards for best tour costume? If there were Madonna would clean-up. Stage costumes have to perform with the artist. In Madonna’s case, they are layered to give three looks in one set while also being easy to shed, comfortable and dynamic enough to allow for maximum dance action. God knows how Madonna dances in knee-length black PVC boots with six inch heels. Major discipline I would imagine.

The Rebel Heart finale dress by Jeremy Scott for Moschino is a crystal-encrusted flapper dress with elbow length gloves fringed with half a yard of crystal fringe. God only knows how shards of crystal didn’t fly into the audience as Madonna gyrated to Sticky & Sweet is beyond me. I also loved the costume in repose when Madonna sang La Vie en Rose strumming on a ukulele: gorgeous.

What I admire about Madonna as a fashion idol is her refusal to repeat. Vocally and musically, she has successfully smuggled her greatest hits Like A Virgin and Vogue into the present with new vocal arrangements and bravura image-changes. Madonna has performed Vogue dressed as Madame de Pompadour, a Hindu deity and a very naughty Nun in Rebel Heart. The image and the music are in perfect synch every time.

I have only seen Madonna live once and was fortunate to be at the Confessions tour at Wembley Arena when the concert was filmed. This was Madonna’s equestrian era when Arianne dressed her as a riding school dominatrix for the opener and concluded with an Abba Disco Barbie sequinned leotard and cape. For Madonna to be a clothes horse, she has to maintain the figure of an athlete and this she has done throughout her career.

Nobody works as hard as Madonna on tour. I believe Sticky & Sweet toured the world for a year continuously and Rebel Heart was not far behind. Contrast this with Mariah Carey who can barely walk across a stage with breaking a sweat. Madonna gives till it hurts and the audience goes with her. I don’t think Judy Bennett and I sat down once during the Confessions tour. When the artist is giving their all, it seems churlish to not go with her.

I don’t think there’s another artist out there in contemporary rock or pop who puts on a show like Madonna. Every tour is like a blockbusting musical with contrasting set pieces broken only by choreographed happenings to allow for costume changes. Madonna must wear out backing dancers by the dozen. They are invariably a polusexual gang who bump, grind and writhe. Madonna has promoted sexual freedom in the days when gay equalled HIV and death and transsexuals were pretty much unheard of.

Sex with style is Madonna’s stock in trade. She is fearless in her self-expression and positively welcomes controversy playing with Catholic iconography as she has always done. The costumes are an integral part of the woman and her music. Madonna we salute you.