Like any self-respecting child of the 80s, I had it big for Madonna, and many of her earlier incarnations resonated hugely with myself and my peers. I didn’t know anyone I grew up with that didn’t shadow her moves in the Vogue clip or flounce around in overzealous eyeliner, slashed tank tops and teased hair ala her ‘Like a Virgin’ years.
There’s something about Blond Ambition-era Madonna that struck a chord with me and has continued to have an influence and impact throughout my adult years (and many others, I don’t doubt). In my case, probably something to do with the timing, as the greatest incarnation of Madge there ever was conveniently exploded into the public sphere right around the time I was reaching the tender ages of adolescence.
The Blond Ambition tour was launched in support of her fourth studio album, ‘Like a Prayer’, and engendered a huge amount of controversy, mainly for its juxtaposition of Catholic iconography and sexuality. It was an “elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza” with the fierce, ripped, sexually liberated Madonna at the centre of the storm. While the Who’s That Girl tour established Madonna as the leading female artist of the Eighties, Blond Ambition enabled her to reach a new level of stardom in the most complete way, with that mix of adoration and extreme criticism that only true idols attract.
Strutting her toned, lithe self around Madonna was a shocking, fierce and glamorous force de jour. Decked in S &M inspired Gaultier costumed (including the infamous coned-bra corsets so sharp they could point an unsuspecting eye out) she sung of liberation, sexuality, and not being afraid of telling men what you want. Sticking a firm middle finger up to patriarchy, she did everything good girls don’t (and more), right when 2nd wave women’s lib and femme liberation was about to reach its searing point.
Take a look at my gallery below and cast your mind back to a time when Ms Ciccone caused trouble wherever she went…From the famous Letterman interviews when she opened her mouth and told it like it was, to the hugely controversial coffee table tome SEX that was banned in like a zillion countries and subsequently became a collector’s item, she knew how to shock, and did so with her own brand of sass and humour.
And revel in the amazing fashions of the one and only Gaultier! I am equally enamoured by his initial designs and feel that his costuming together with Madonna’s stage show were a completely perfect melding of two creative minds.
Jean Paul Gaultier initially prepared almost fifteen hundred sketches to help Madonna define the various looks of the show.
“She knew what she wanted: a pinstripe suit, the feminine corsetry. Madonna likes my clothes because they combine the masculine and the feminine.” Jean Paul Gaultier
With those rock hard thighs wrapped in fishnet, that famous mane of platinum hair, teamed with high performance art aesthetics, cabaret, and plenty of bondage and kink, Madonna circa 1991 was a force to be reckoned with and a woman at the top of her game.
Maclean’s said the show “unfolds like a kaleidoscope of sexual decadence. The references range from Berlin cabarets to New York leather bars.”
The third segment of the Blond Ambition show was a cabaret inspired by the 1990 film Dick Tracy, in which Madonna starred as “Breathless Mahoney”. During this segment, Madonna was wearing a green and white striped showgirl outfit.
The fourth segment of the show was inspired by 1930s Hollywood films using the work of artist Tamara de Lempicka and an Art Deco set design. Madonna performs “Cherish” in a fur-trimmed robe, simulating playing the harp backed by three male dancers dressed as mer-men.
The fifth and final segment includes one of two encores – “Keep It Together”, inspired by the work of Bob Fosse, with Madonna dressed in bowler hat and performing chair-juggling. The “Keep It Together” routine was also inspired by the film A Clockwork Orange and found Madonna speaking with a cockney accent.
Choreographer Vincent Patterson recalls that Madonna wanted to “break every rule we can … She wanted to make statements about sexuality, cross sexuality, the church … But the biggest thing we tried to do is change the shape of concerts. Instead of just presenting songs, we wanted to combine fashion, Broadway, rock and the performance arts.” And in the words of author, and good friend Matthew Rettenmund, “They succeeded”.
Wearing the famous gold conical bra corset designed by Gaultier.
Not many pop imitators have really come close to the shock waves of hysteria, awe, adoration and fear she inspired in girls and boys alike at the time.
Letting off steam with her dancers at a Herb Ritts party.
From an iconic shoot with famous shooter Steven Meisel in 1991.
The Japan and North American shows featured Madonna in her trademark blonde ponytail hair extensions. However, because the hairpiece kept getting caught in her headset microphone and was pulling her real hair out by the root, she switched to short blonde curls for the European leg of the tour.
“My show is not a conventional rock show, but a theatrical presentation of my music. And like theater, it asks questions, provokes thoughts and takes you on an emotional journey, portraying good and bad, light and dark, joy and sorrow, redemption and salvation. I do not endorse a way of life, but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgements. This is what I consider freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. Every night, before I go on stage, I say a prayer, not only that my show will go well, but that the audience will watch it with an open heart and an open mind, and see it as a celebration of love, life and humanity.” (From Truth or Dare)
- Madonna Blonde Ambition Rehearsals (lgbticons.com)
- Madonna’s iconic bra to go on display at Gaultier exhibition (itv.com)
- Attitude magazine wants your Blond Ambition memories (madonnalicious.typepad.com)
- Jean Paul Gaultier brings retrospective to London’s Barbican (fashion.telegraph.co.uk)