For Truth or Dare’s director, Alek Keshishian, what Madonna “really has is confidence in pulling off whatever she decides to wear – it’s a childlike confidence, like playing dress-up in the attic.” While still antic, Madonna’s relationship with fashion has evolved. “I connect to fashion when I need to collaborate with somebody on something. I do love people like Galliano and Gaultier and Olivier [Theyskens]. I do think they’re real artists. I’d go to them. You can draw a line between craftsmanship and artistry and just facade. We live in a culture and a society that’s obsessed with the surface of things. I’ve worked with all those photographers; I know how much they like to retouch!”
Madonna’s interest in her clothes and her costumes over the years is perhaps more curatorial these days. A team of experts is working on cataloging and conserving the extensive collection, currently stored in an L.A. warehouse. “I’ve kept everything,” says Madonna. “The ‘Like a Virgin’ dress. Pieces that Gaultier had made from the Blonde Ambition tour. All the costumes from all of my shows, all the dancers’ costumes, everyone’s costumes.” She has ruthlessly destroyed all the duplicate and triplicate costumes (“Because we didn’t want anything to end up on the internet. When you don’t want anyone else to have it… you burn it”). “My goal is a traveling exhibit, like the Jackie Kennedy show,” she says. “Not just costumes but video imagery and film and interviews and concert footage, so it’s a multimedia kind of journey that you go on.”
Today, her various closets are brimming with country clothes instead of the designer extravaganzas of yore. Even her urban wardrobe, heavy on Prada, Miu Miu, and McCartney, often has a rustic brogue. “Lots of tweeds and lots of caps and sensible walking shoes – it’s hopeless to walk around that estate with a pair of heels!” says Madonna. “I don’t shoot anymore, but I had a lot of suits made for it.” The estate is run as a highly successful shoot – one of the top five in Britain. Pheasants and partridges emerge from every copse and thicket, tottering lazily by; a brazen cock pheasant will even join Madonna’s beloved chickens scrambling for the feed scattered over the stableyard’s cobblestones.
After the madness of her public life, Ashcombe provides the perfect refuge; “it’s like a big vortex; it sucks me in,” says Madonna, who comes to dread the moment “when you leave that bowl of comfort and you go back into the big bad world. And it’s just so teeming with life,” she adds. “There’s a pigeon that keeps flying back – for years now, like a carrier pigeon. He keeps showing up in our backyard.” Madonna has been thinking about this homesick bird, for later in our conversation she says, “maybe that’s Cecil Beaton? He did show up timely for the Vogue shoot, I have to say! I’m sure Cecil’d be very happy to know that I lived in his house. He probably does know.”
© Vogue Magazine