LOS ANGELES — Once again, the house of Versace is betting on the power of its ad campaigns to reinvent another pop star in need of an image pick-me-up: Christina Aguilera.

She of the clownish makeup and dyed dreadlocks strips down for Versace’s fall print campaign, which premieres in Interview magazine’s August music issue and in the September issue of other magazines.

The eight Steven Meisel photographs, four of which are shown here in a WWD exclusive, reveal a new, unadorned side of the 22-year-old singer, who’s been called everything from a bubblegum pop princess to a trash-talking diva to a semi-porn tartlet. Those labels have also been applied to past Versace models Madonna and Courtney Love, whose popularity spiked when their ads broke. Both Aguilera and her new pal Donatella Versace are hoping that she follows suit.

“We always think of Christina full of makeup and long hairdos. Nobody has discovered her natural beauty yet,” said Versace by telephone from her house in Milan just before leaving for Paris and her couture show today. “I think these pictures will show her real personality.”

For her part, Aguilera, who took a four-day break from her summer tour to celebrate the July 4 holiday at home with her family in Los Angeles, said, “Obviously a lot of famous women wear her clothes and I feel honored that out of everyone she selected me.”

Aguilera believes Versace chose her “because I take chances and I’m not afraid. With this campaign, I’m defining a new side of myself.” (Just in case fashionistas don’t recognize the new Christina, her name will be prominently printed beneath the Versace logo at the bottom of the photographs.)

She admits the choice may come as a shock to many. “It may be a surprise to see my face with Versace since I’ve only been dabbling in fashion shows. It’s probably also surprising for some critics who haven’t been so open to my style, you know? It’s just funny. That just means they’ll have nothing to say once they see me in the campaign.”

Versace courted the singer in Milan last spring when the designer included a remix of her hit “Beautiful” in her runway show, and afterwards invited Aguilera to stay at her house, where she threw a party in her honor and played “Dirty” on repeat all night. “It was really funny and flattering,” Aguilera remembered. “She was really sweet.”Of course, Versace has a knack for cultivating friends in the music business, including J.Lo, P. Diddyand Sting. “Versace has always been very rock ’n’ roll. I follow everything closely and Christina really took my attention. Her music has evolved from a commercial song (her first hit, “Genie in a Bottle”) to a sophisticated sound. I’m in love with ‘Beautiful.’“

“Of course, you cannot compare anyone to Madonna, but I believe Christina is the Madonna for the new millennium,” she continued.

Aguilera, who was, by turns, street-talking tough and delicately well-spoken in the interview, became positively girlish at the mention of the Material Mom. “It’s such an honor to be in the company of Madonna,” she gushed.“And to be the youngest Versace celebrity face ever!”

As megastars must do when they put themselves in Versace’s hands, Aguilera left her diva-dom at the door when she entered Milk studios in New York on April 1 for the two-day shoot. “It was a first for me in that it wasn’t about my vision, it was about playing model. I was there for Donatella,” she said.

The stripped-down aesthetic of the shoot, styled by Brana Wolf, came about naturally. “Pat McGrath had just put lotion on my face and Guido Palau had only blown out my hair. Steven Polaroided me before they could do anything else. When he got the picture back he said, ‘Let’s shoot like this.’”

The lack of makeup took some getting used to, but Aguilera and the clothes were a natural fit. “I like to accentuate my curves and my little booty, and everything I put on seemed like it was tailored to me.”

Said Versace, “She can wear anything because of the strength of her personality, which is what I like about her. On the set, she knew exactly what she wanted to wear.”

Among the pared down, clean looks that define Versace’s fall line, Aguilera “loved the red corset but my favorite shot is the one of me lying down in the plain black dress. It’s so completely natural and it was one of the first photos that inspired the rest of the shoot.”Versace said she was surprised at the level of concentration Aguilera brought to the set. “We played a bunch of music including hers, but she was concentrating so hard she didn’t seem to hear it.”

Aguilera added, “I stepped into the whole thing open to her ideas and we clicked personally and professionally. In no way, shape or form would I have told anyone what to do. I was like, ‘You really just want straight, blown-out blonde hair? That’s it?’”

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