PARIS — "She can wear anything," Jean Paul Gaultier said about his friend Madonna.
But more often than not, the pop superstar chooses to wear Gaultier, which will be the case when her "Confessions" world tour kicks off Sunday at the Los Angeles Forum.
Sixteen years after Gaultier's cone-breasted bustier from the "Blonde Ambition" tour ignited an innerwear-outerwear trend, Madonna will take to the stage in looks that range from kinky equestrian and haute harem to what might be described as Biblical chic — an off-the-shoulder blouse and velvet cropped pants accessorized with a crown of thorns. Also, in keeping with the disco flavor of her latest album, there will be a flaring white pantsuit à la "Saturday Night Fever" and a sparkly pink jumpsuit.
Gaultier gave WWD a preview of the costumes for a spectacle Madonna has boasted will "turn the world into one big dance floor." To be sure, it will cement the star's reputation as a quick-change artist, with at least four complete changes, plus several on-stage transformations.
Gaultier's couture atelier in Paris has been working overtime to realize jodhpurs, blouses and jackets in luxurious fabrics such as taffeta, duchess satin, Chantilly lace and silk chiffon. Deadpans Gaultier about the Material Girl: "She's quite obsessed with the quality of fabrics."
Not to mention every last detail of the show's look. "It's her baby as a tour," Gaultier said. "She's in total command, like the director of a movie."
But as has been the case over an 18-year friendship, the pop star and the couturier are typically tuned in to the same fashion station.
Just as Madonna took up horseback riding in a serious way — even taking a fall last year that landed her in the hospital — Gaultier was hitching himself to Hermès as its new designer of women's ready-to-wear, including in his first collection a saddle-like bustier and a belt sprouting a tail out the back.
In fact, the horsey connections go way back. Some 15 years ago, Gaultier took Madonna to the Zingaro theatrical horse show in Paris, "and she loved it."
But while Madonna may come to the table with firm ideas about the look and themes of her concert, she expects Gaultier to come back to her with creative propositions.The designer's mind went to the elegant, top-hat look of Romy Schneider in Luchino Visconti's "Ludwig." Gaultier also recalled a quote from the late photographer Helmut Newton, who called the Hermès shop on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris "the most expensive and luxurious sex shop in the world."
"I told [Madonna] that, and she agreed completely," Gaultier related.
The designer carried the riding idea over to the tour's male dancers, cast as horses, with built-in saddles and harnesses, to a riding-crop-snapping Madonna. Gaultier proposed that some of the male dancers also wear small, saddle-like accoutrements perched on one shoulder.
The saddle actually interfered with one crucial head-turning movement, but in this instance, Madonna altered the choreography slightly in aid of a strong fashion statement.
Hardly a stranger to the stage, and one of the most physical performers in pop, Madonna had strong opinions about how the clothes had to be made to withstand the demands of the choreography. She said no to magnetic or button-style closures, insisting on plastic snaps. Sleeve linings had to be slippery to be easily peeled off sweaty arms. And her hats, some sprouting heavy horsehair, are secured with a complex system of elastics.
Gaultier, to be sure, is looking forward to checking out several stops of the tour, which winds up its North American leg July 23 in Miami before hitting Europe for dates in August and early September. "I'm a real fan, by the way," he said.
Indeed, the designer flew all the way to Japan to see the first stop of the "Blonde Ambition" tour back in 1990, and not only to see his costumes. Which is a good thing: The concert was held in an open-air stadium and it poured rain from start to finish, including on stage, which was why Madge and company wore only black bomber jackets. The bustiers had to wait for a drier day.
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