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Thoroughly Modern Madonna : Fashion: The world's most famous chameleon is about to slip into three new looks for the '90s. Copycats take note.

March 02, 1990|BARBARA FOLEY | Foley, a free - lance writer, often contributes to the Times fashion pages

"I like to cross the boundaries between men and women," she says. "That can be frightening, but the things I'm most affected by are things that frighten or challenge me."

"I like to nudge people, to break through stereotypes. There are too many stereotypes. Even liberated women stay in certain categories; no one is too threatening."

Madonna has surrounded herself with a trusted group of creative people who have worked with her from the beginning, yet rarely allow their names to be associated with hers. They all seem to want to stay in the background.

In part that's because she expects to be the the only star in the group. But it's also because she has her own eclectic view, a collision of images from street fashions, ethnic dances and glamorous old movies that only she could combine.

Her definite tastes don't always make her easy to work with.

"She knows she's difficult," says Victor Vidal, one of her regular hair stylists.

"But her saving grace is that being difficult is part of being honest, for her. She complains for a reason. It might be after 14 hours of rehearsal. She'll say, 'Let's get this done,' but everybody else feels the same way."

Despite her strong point of view about absolutely everything, the people around her say she respects and trusts them, starting with her art director, 29-year-old Christopher Ciccone, who is also one of her seven siblings and looks remarkably like her.

"She calls me the 'tastemaker,' " Ciccone says. A painter who has worked closely with Madonna since the early '80s when she peddled her record demos to New York deejays, he is artistic director for the Blond Ambition tour. He is also responsible for the interior design of both her California home and her New York apartment. He describes both as spacious and serene, punctuated with important art.

"She has her own vision, I offer her different ways of looking at things. Other people do, too, but it's different with us. We fight a lot, and either she wins or I win, but we don't let up. Neither of us is afraid to be direct, and Madonna has always known what she wants."

Costume designer Stewart gives Madonna full credit for creating her distinctive clothing style. "She's an actress, not just a singer. For costumes she thinks in terms of story and character."

Peter Savic, her other hair stylist, created Madonna's flirty hair styles for "Desperately Seeking Susan," and has worked steadily with her since then. He also designed her glamour girl styles for "Dick Tracy."

Vidal made up the bleached, cropped, chopped look Madonna wore for her "True Blue" video in 1986. "I told her about this vision I had of her. I wanted to bleach her hair almost white and cut it short. She thought for a moment, said yes, picked up a magazine and never looked up until I was finished."

Madonna's two makeup artists, Francesca Tolot and Joanne Gair both say she knows what she wants. Their only basic rules are to use deeper shades of color when her hair is dark, paler shades when she is blond. And they use less makeup now than ever before, because she wants a less painted look these days. But neither Tolot nor Gair takes credit for teaching her anything new.

"She is aware of her face, she knows what looks good and what does not," says Gair.

In 1987 Madonna added personal trainer Rob Parr to her inner circle. She works out with him for two hours daily.

"She challenges herself more than I ever could," says Parr. "Our workouts often start at 5 in the morning, when she is filming. We work on stamina and endurance for her singing and dancing and we work on the shape of her body."

"I work out for emotional reasons as well as physical," she says. "It makes me feel more in control. I can say to myself, 'At least I've accomplished one thing for the day.' "

Photographer Herb Ritts and video director Mary Lambert are two others in Madonna's stable.

Lambert directed "Material Girl," and "Like a Prayer," perhaps the most controversial of all Madonna's works so far, because of its martyr/victim overtones.

"Madonna makes no effort to mask any of her feelings," says Lambert. "I think part of her appeal is that she personifies the way a lot of people want to be."

Madonna relates that notion to clothes.

"If I'm in a bad mood I dress the way I feel," she says. All of a sudden an underlying toughness about her shows through and she turns defiant. "I don't comb my hair, I put on a cap, a leather jacket, jeans, a T-shirt. It works because I'm dressed the way I feel."

Ritts met Madonna five years ago, while photographing an ad campaign for her movie, "Desperately Seeking Susan."

"She strutted in dripping in rubber bracelets, crucifixes, carrying armloads of clothes and trinkets in a cigar box. I liked the definite way she felt about herself."

Concerning the many faces of Madonna the world has seen since then, Ritts says, "Her attraction isn't about hair or makeup or clothes, it's about her evolution as a person."

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