She’s the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time, the queen of reinvention, and one of Time’s “25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century.” She’s the Material Girl and, honestly, who wouldn’t be if they had Jean-Paul Gaultier whipping up designs like the infamous cone-bra bustier? This mononymous pop legend is known for her fashion statements, some of which are on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as a part of Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power. We celebrate Madonna for her contribution to pop music and powerful image.
By 1990, Madonna had already sparked controversy and built a following of fans all over the world with the albums Like a Virgin, True Blue, and Like a Prayer. Named the “Artist of the Decade” by MTV, she was also condemned on numerous occasions by the Vatican. Fans began dressing like her—skirts over pants, lace gloves, rosaries—but no one was prepared for what she had in store for her Blond Ambition Tour. The iconic cone-bra bustier made its first appearance, displaying Madonna’s overt sexuality and high-fashion aesthetic. Beyond that, the cone-bra represented Madonna’s effort to create a provocative and indelible image in a field of male musicians and late-1980s bands. The garment’s angular construction was in complete opposition to the idealized, soft depiction of the female body. It revealed her body, while transforming it into something powerful. Gaultier’s creation was controversial, which dovetailed perfectly with Madonna’s image as a risk-taker.
Also on display at NMWA is Madonna’s Dolce and Gabbana tuxedo, which she donned for her 1993 Girlie Show World Tour. If the cone-bra wasn’t proof enough that Madonna could wear whatever she wanted, she used the top hat and tails to manipulate gender norms and shatter audience’s expectations again. Madonna’s greatest legacy—so far—is that she was never afraid to open people’s eyes to a new way of seeing something, which she has done through both fashion and her music. While the Girlie Show tour was criticized for being too provocative, it reached wide acclaim and—like most everything else she has done—became a huge popular success.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts hosts Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power from September 7, 2012–January 6, 2013. Don’t miss this exhibition, which illustrates the important roles women have played in rock and roll from its inception through today.
—Kristie Landing is the publications and communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.