LOS ANGELES — On Monday, when the spotlight reveals Madonna on the opening night of her Reinvention Tour at the Great Western Forum here, Christian Lacroix will be right there with her. So will Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier and several more friends.
Superstars these days might not be able to leave home for tours without a high-profile European designer providing at least a couple of wardrobe changes, but leave it to Madonna to have almost all of them. The pop icon is breaking a record (if such things are kept) by taking on her 14-city North American tour — along with stops over the Atlantic in London, Paris and Arnhem, Holland — not one designer but the custom pieces from 13 of them — 14 if you count Alexander McQueen’s contributions from his archival signature and Givenchy collections.
And by the end of it all, 750,000 people are expected to see her — at prices ranging from $65 to $930 a ticket in the U.S. alone.
“No one can deny the unique relationship Madonna has with fashion, and fashion has with Madonna,” Arianne Phillips, stylist and costume designer for the tour, told WWD late Tuesday night following dress rehearsals for the two-hour concert. “Madonna has a history of collaborating with fashion designers. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to collaborate with several of them.”
And enlisting so many different designers made perfect sense for a tour cheekily titled after the way the singer is chronically described for exposing yet one more aspect of her endlessly layered personality.
The concept, continued Phillips, who started work on the tour March 1, is “a wink, a nod to parts of her career. Despite what journalists constantly say — that she’s reinventing herself, it’s really an organic transition of who she is. It’s not like she sits down and plots her next move. Madonna has this great sense of humor. She leaves no stone unturned, including winking at us by calling it the ‘Reinvention Tour.’”
Throw in a musical journey from which to draw and there was no shortage of inspiration for wardrobe.
Lacroix was called on to reconfigure the original couture he created for the Steven Klein-photographed portfolio that appeared in the April 2003 issue of WWD’s sister magazine W. Several of the images from that shoot will appear on screens onstage and then “come to life in the three-dimensional aspect of the costume,” said Phillips, who’s worked with Madonna since 1997. This is her second tour with the artist, following 2001’s “Drowned World Tour,” which marked the pop icon’s return to concerts following a seven-year break.
There are corsets, of course, potentially inhibiting for singing, that had to be worked out in multiple fittings. The original from the Klein shoot didn’t move. “But Mr. Lacroix was the perfect designer for this,” said Phillips, “because he’s designed for the opera, so he and his atelier understand the nature of performance and costume completely.”
Much of the embellishments — the baroque embroidery, beading, handpainting and mass of Swarovski crystals — remained, but the costume has now been cut in softer fabrics.
Lacroix said the Klein images “epitomized the drama of couture, theatrical skill and today’s show business.” He reinterpreted the red-sequined and embroidered corset from the W shoot in nude and glitter for the tour.
“I’m not a close friend of Madonna’s, but I always felt that she’s a very Christian Lacroix girl,” the designer said. “I remember she sent her measurements for the very first collection in 1987 and she was gorgeous in Vogue magazine in a black jacket with carnation piping and a ‘Madonna’ embroidered on her back.”
The pair, in fact, have only met once, he recalled by e-mail Wednesday, at a post-couture party for him. “Privately, I know we do have a lot of inspirations in common. And I would like to dedicate our work for her to her biggest fan in France, a friend of mine who died from AIDS a few weeks ago, who was so happy knowing I was going to create something for this tour.”
The Klein shoot, in fact, infuses the entire concert. “It had to do with the process of the performer,” said Phillips. “Madonna always talks about focusing on the process and not just the end result. If you do the best you can you’ll reach certainty in the outcome. That is the spiritual side of Madonna and something you see throughout the show.”
Klein also photographed the tour book. For that production, McQueen forwarded some 50 pieces from his own archives and designs he’d done for Givenchy Couture.
Act three goes to Chanel, with Karl Lagerfeld dressing Madonna “at her sassiest — as the sexiest chorus girl you could ever imagine,” said Phillips, who, for the sake of keeping some element of surprise, remained mum on the details of the clothes and the song list. “She shows the precociousness we love about her. This part is a wonderful Fellini-esque carnival. What’s really important to Madonna is that the show, the costumes, the choreography all have a subtext of entertainment.”
The “emotional heart of the show,” she continued, bows next. The costumes are quieter, but no less powerful. The Stella McCartney silhouette, Phillips said, “is Madonna at her best.”
McCartney, who hints at the look by referring to its masculine, bespoke styling, calls it a “less is more” moment. “She has worn my bespoke clothing a lot in the past. In fact, the first thing of mine she bought was a bespoke suit.” This particular design, the designer added, is “very Stella McCartney in spirit, but for Madonna, mixing very masculine elements with her iconic energy. It’s simple and tasteful and very wearable. But she’s playing with her masculinity and making a statement of a certain attitude and sexuality.”
Yet audiences also may find Madonna in that fourth act looking equally as striking in a black Yves Saint Laurent top, worn with trousers by Los Angeles rising star Louis Verdad, whom Phillips put on the radar only a year ago after dressing her high-profile client in his Forties-flavored clothes.
“Some of the costumes will change from night to night,” said Phillips. “It can get routine on the road, so what I learned last time is to keep an element of interest and surprise for both Madonna and the audience.”
So, for the third act, Lagerfeld designed two options and Phillips designed another.
In fact, despite all the outreach, Phillips had her work cut out for her. Besides Madonna’s five costume changes, there are two background singers who also change five times, 10 dancers and their six changes, and the four members of the band who only change twice. And the entire company tests the limits of their wardrobe, dancing and singing night after night, which is why four to six of everything — including the couture — has been made in advance.
Phillips designed the complete second and last acts of the five-part show. Act two is a “real rock ’n’ roll section” based on Madonna’s recent “American Life” album. And the finale, she revealed, merges hip-hop sensibilities with traditional Scottish elements, including kilts — something introduced in the last tour.
The extended wardrobe credits are a departure for Madonna, who has always relied on a single designer to costume the bulk of her tours. Her most intimate collaboration has been with Gaultier. As much as he wanted to participate, time constraints — in part due to his new charge at Hermès — made it impossible, said Phillips. But his presence is there in the shirts he sent over for the dancers.
“The generosity from the fashion community has just been incredible,” she noted.
That goes down to Madonna’s toes. Shoes are necessary for the choreography, and several designers swiftly obliged with custom pairs. There are the steep 4-inch heels, no less, from Miu Miu, and Jimmy Choo and Gina of London provided footwear for a video portion. And, Phillips noted, “Yves Saint Laurent shut down production” to make six pairs of above-the-knee leather boots with 3-1/2-inch heels, based on a favorite pair Madonna owns from a couple of seasons ago.
In a video clip, there is a costume by Jeremy Scott, and Dolce & Gabbana provided most of the undergarments.
Asked about the wardrobe budget, Phillips paused before replying: “No expense was spared, whether it was something we covered, or the designers covered. Money’s never been an issue. These fashion designers put a lot of time and energy and heart into being a part of this.”
– With contributions from Robert Murphy, Paris