Queen of Style
In many ways, she is just as you’d expect. She’s bang on time. She’s direct and economical with her words, and doesn’t feel the need to witter on endlessly. She’s got that strange American twang cut through with clipped English pronunciation. And she wraps up proceedings with expert polite efficiency: ‘I have to go as I have a meeting in seven minutes. Thank you.’
But I’m happy to report that the woman who has reigned as queen of the music industry, fashion world and Planet Celebrity for the last 25 years isn’t entirely terrifying. Maybe she was just in a very good mood, as the Madonna I encountered was warm, laughed a lot and even did small talk, finding it amusing, that my name sounds like Harry Potter (I get this a lot and it’s irritating, of course, but when Madonna takes the mickey out of you, well, it’s just not that annoying, is it?)
At 48, Madonna remains the consummate celebrity multitasker: the most successful female pop star the world has ever known, businesswoman, mother, provocateur and winner of our Style Icon Award at the recent 10th ELLE Style Awards. ‘I’m so flattered by that,’ she says. ‘Thank you, ELLE.’
Since elbowing her way into the spotlight in 1983, she has mastered more looks than most of us have had dinners. But it seems the only person not fascinated by Madonna’s ever-changing style is Madonna herself. ‘I don’t have any particular favorite look. I like them all,’ she shrugs. ‘I don’t like to look back. Who wants to wear last year’s clothes? There are too many new things to buy!’ Including pieces from her latest collaboration with high-street retailers H&M, M by Madonna, a sophisticated, grown-up collection featuring tailored trench coats and day dresses. ‘I’ve tried to make a very chic line that’s relatively inexpensive,’ she says. She even does her own market research. ‘I try my designs out on my husband – I put on an outfit and say, “Do you like this?” And he says, “Oh yes, that’s cool.” And I’ll go, “Yep, it’s only 20 pounds.” And I do a lot of testing when I go out. People will comment on my outfit and I’ll say, “Thanks, I designed it.” And they’ll look closely and go, “Really?”‘
Madonna is also working on a children’s clothing range, a tie-in with her English Roses children’s books series for which daughter Lourdes, 10, models and test-runs the prototypes. But all is not entirely harmonious in the Ritchie household where matters of fashion are concerned. ‘My daughter is going through a phase of wearing jeans that are so tight she can’t bend her knees in them. I have a closet full of clothes and you wear the same pants every day. And please wear a belt because I don’t want to see your butt crack when you band over.” And my son never wants to take of his Gap army fatigue pants. They both wear the same thing over and over again.’ Does she keep hold of her own pieces for Lourdes to inherit some say? ‘The only thing she’s requested to have when she grows up is my wedding dress, to wear for her own wedding,’ she smiles. If Lourdes changes her mind, she’ll find the rest of her mum’s covetable vintage collection in California. ‘I have an archive museum in a warehouse which houses all the costumes I’ve worn on stage and in videos – one-of-a-kind pieces made for me and special pieces that I’ve always loved.’
While Lourdes may be wilful when it comes to fashion, husband Guy is far better behaves. ‘I like it when my husband wears suits and I tell him that on a regular basis.’ Does he comply? Yes, he does. He’s very obedient in the clothes department!’ Does it work both ways – does he pass comment on things you wear? ‘Not really. Although once he said, “I like the dress you’re almost wearing” – you know, one of those comments. But I think he pretty much approves of how I dress.’ Even the Confessions on a Dance Floor leotard? ‘He likes it,’ she says firmly. Subject closed.
Just as no one can touch Madonna in the style-chameleon stakes, no one can match her capacity for controversy. For a quarter of a century she has weathered storm after storm: some major (to name but two, 1992’s X-rated Sex book, various Pope-baiting activities included in her 1989 Like a Prayer video),, some minor (saying ‘f***’ live on TV while presenting 2001’s Turner Prize and opining that English hospitals were rubbish before the birth of son Rocco in 2000, for instance). All of it, publicly at least, has been water off a duck’s back. Recent months have been business as usual – at the time of writing, she’s surrounded by maelstrom of rumour and hearsay about both the legality of her adoption of Malawian baby David Banda and the state of her six-year marriage. On the later point, I ask if, as current headlines suggest, she’s considering leaving London and heading home to America. She deftly bats the question away. ‘Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t think that far in advance. I like living here, but I still have a place in New York and I go to America all the time anyway.’ In order to survive being the most talked-about woman alive, she’s had to develop an impenetrable shell inside which to retreat. ‘I don’t read magazines or newspapers much and I don’t go out much,’ she says. When I quiz her on British women’s style, she replies. ‘Thing is, I don’t really pay much attention to it. I just run around in my tracksuit with my sunglasses on.’ When everyone in the world is looking at you, it seems you just have to look in the other direction. She admits to getting stressed – but by work, rather than the negative attention. ‘I get stressed if there are too many projects going on at the same time and I feel overwhelmed if I’m trying to meet too many deadlines and spent time with my family.’ How does she deal with it? ‘I scream a lot! Sometimes I handle it well, sometimes I don’t. I take a deep breath or sometimes it’s nice to go run really fast on a treadmill for half an hour and get out all of my aggression. And I’m surrounded by very efficient people who remind me that it’s just a job and I’m going to be OK.’
Currently in-between albums and with her design collaboration done and dusted, Madonna seems to be enjoying life beyond her day jobs. She remains enamored with her adopted city. ‘I like the pace here in London, I like being able to walk to my local restaurants and pubs. Most of the places I go to are within walking distance. I like the community feeling and I like living right next to the park.’ Is she a proper Londoner, though – can she get around without A-Z? ‘In a car, driving by myself, absolutely not. There are too many one-way streets. I could walking or on my bike, though.’
Mornings are spent honing that famous body. ‘I’m sticking to Pilates and doing my cardio workouts. I mix it up – Pilates, gyro-tonics, yoga. I do it six days a week with Sundays off. So Sunday is her day of rest, then? ‘Actually, Sunday is a day for horse-riding. There’s no such thing as a day off! Such dedication to the pursuit of the body beautiful comes with a pay off, but does Madonna ever have a fat day? I’m surprised by her answer. ‘Yes, I had one yesterday. I run longer on the treadmill and don’t eat as much the next day, so then it evens out. But I’m sure it’s all in my head.’
The rest of her day is spent with the children ‘playing with them, reading with them, doing their homework with them.’ One thing you won’t catch her doing is idling around designer stores in London’s Bond Street, platinum card at the ready. ‘I’ve never liked shopping – I don’t like going into a store and going through racks. So I’m happy to have girls who do it for me. What’s wrong with me? I don’t like to shop and I don’t like to cook!’
While you can’t catch her slaving over a hot stove, she does enjoy eating out and indulging in her latest role – Madonna the wine buff. ‘I’ve had a few wine-tasting sessions and a brief education. People have come round and pointed things out, taught me the differences. I’m particularly fond of red wine – I like Bordeaux.’
As for the next big Madonna reinvention? It seems the following up to the disco-diva look that accompanied 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor album and tour is some way off.. ‘I’m only just getting my head back into the idea of going to the studio to make another record, and until that happens I can’t think about the way I want to present the music and the whole package,’ she says. So we’ll just have to hold our horses, while she’s enjoying some time out riding hers. With her next appointment 7.5 minutes away, I finish by asking how happy she is in her own skin. It depends on what day it is,’ she smiles. I’m pround of what I’ve accomplished. I’m blessed and grateful that I have the family I have. I have an incredible life, so, yes, I am happy.’
M by Madonna for H&M is on sale from 22 March. For a preview of Madonna’s new designs, see elleuk.com. Madonna’s The Confession Tour – Live from London DVD is out now.