Of course, Madonna didn’t just look strong; in her spray-on leotard and fierce 1970s styling, bumping what can only be described as buns of steel, she looked absolutely jaw-droppingly fantastic. Did she do something different, exercise-wise? “I kind of started all over again. I used to be a freak about doing yoga, but I had to do a lot of Pilates to rehab my shoulder joint and get the use of my arm back. So I started really getting into Pilates and dancing more. My Pilates instructor was a dancer, so my workouts became much more ballet-oriented, rather than the visceral, gymnastic, ashtanga yoga thing.”
And this changed her actual shape? “I think it made me less muscular, believe it or not. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I stopped doing [yoga] and you shock your body. James D’Silva, my Pilates instructor here in London, is a genius. Now all my girlfriends go to him, and we’re fighting to have appointments.” She playacts imperious, queenly Madonna: “I’m very irritated.”
Madonnas music is back in the soundtrack to our lives, so the back catalogue of her looks is feeding the imagination of fashion designers. In fact, the Spring 2006 collections are a veritable Madonna retrospective: “La Isla Bonita” at Yves Saint Laurent; her gamine matelot tee from “Papa Don’t Preach” updated on Jean Paul Gaul tiers runway; Balenciaga’s sublime collection, so “Like a Virgin”; “Nothing Really Matters” geisha echoed in the sexy dresses at Lanvin. Meanwhile, the Stella McCartney three-piece Madonna rocked at Live 8 last summer has ushered in a wholesale revival of the white suit.
Of the above, Madonna is most excited by her geisha look (“Love. Obsessed with that whole world”) and the full-on froth of “Like a Virgin” (“Cool. Because I wasn’t trying too hard”). Essentially, she is a woman at peace with her fashion past. “Some of the early ’80s looks I’m not terribly fond of.” Surely she’s not referring to her Keith Haring fluorescent-graffiti tube skirt (top tip: neon’s going to be big)
One has only to Google “Madonna, leotard” to see how provocatively bothersome the sight of a physically potent 47-year-old waggling her sexy booty is. “Well, I think passive beauties have their place in the world,” she says. “It’s hard for me to relate to that because I’ve never been a very passive person. Physicality, feeling strong, feeling empowered was my ticket out of middle-class Midwest culture. So I equate movement and strength with freedom.”
Propelling herself from a Catholic childhood in Michigan from one reinvention to the next, each stage of Madonnas 200-million-plus-album-selling career has been expressed not just in music and movement but in an arresting, eye-popping visual. And just as for fall-this is a key reference)? “No! I love that skirt. But in those days I was collaborating with people like Warhol, Keith Hating, Jean-Michel Basquiat-not fashion people. I was kind of wearing other peoples art, if you know what I mean.” Amused eyebrows. “It wasn’t necessarily flattering.”
Fast-forward to an interesting moment in I’m Going to Tell You a Secret Madonna says she likes to think of a concert as an art installation. It’s a little psychological trick she plays on herself to overcome first-night nerves, because at an art performance mistakes don’t really matter. Ironically, the territory Madonna has been staking out and exploring so fearlessly for the past 20 years in pop-sexuality, identity, the body, religion, taboo breaking, autobiography-is precisely the stuff that preoccupies many contemporary artists today. Madonna is far too savvy to make high-art claims for her own oeuvre; however, she does say she feels particular kinship with artist Tracey Emin (whose work she admired long before she invited Emin to join her posse of British friends) “because her work is very confessional. I think most female artists are that way. Maybe not in pop music, but if you look at the work of Sylvia Plath or Frida Kahlo or the poetry of Anne Sexton, a lot of female artists take what they’ve experienced in their life and put it into their work. I don’t think I’m so original or unusual in that respect. Maybe people aren’t so used to it in pop culture.”