As Madonna turns 50, Liz Jones says she's still the most stylish woman on the planet
Yes, she's been guilty of some howlers, but our fashion guru defends the pop icon's choices and explains why she's the original trendsetter
Birthday girl: Madonna leaving Volstead nightclub in London where she celebrated with husband Guy Ritchie
How easy it is to underestimate the huge impact Madonna has had on the way women wear clothes. How easy to dismiss her as just another spoiled star with more money than dress sense who reinvents herself every six months in a cynical bid to prolong her career.
But being a style icon - a real style icon who creates trends, rather than someone like Victoria Beckham who slavishly follows them - is about changing attitudes as well as hem lengths. And Madonna has done that in spades.
In 1983, when she first burst into my consciousness, I loved her not just for her cut-off tights, her curvy body with its round tummy, her big brows and even bigger hair tied up with dance tights and scrunchies, her fingerless gloves and armfuls of gaudy bangles - all of which I adopted for myself - but most of all for her unabashed joy in her own body. She exuded sex and power.
She wasn't coy or flirtatious; she was just happy in her own skin. She was in love with herself, which I rather envied but which lots of men, then and now, found threatening and distasteful.
And while many would accuse her, in all her endless permutations, of stealing innovations from the street, from the gay community, from the black community - well, so what? Taking something marginal and making it mainstream is of itself a talent.
Without Madonna, would we have adopted - wholesale - legwarmers, corsets, black lace and crucifixes? Would we have exposed our navels and our bras? I very much doubt it.
I remember watching Madonna in the video for Lucky Star, in which she was clad head to toe in black, and later throwing everything colourful from my wardrobe.
Scroll down for more
All change: Courtesy of Versace, a softer look for the girl whose style no one can pin down
And, later, when I saw her in the video for Papa Don't Preach in that boat-necked, striped Breton fisherman's sweater, Fifties cropped trousers, ballet flats and a gamine haircut, I could only think: 'Wow!' Why on earth would anyone want to wear anything else, ever?
Every night, I used to smear Vaseline on my eyebrows, willing them to grow. I became less ashamed of my jutting jawline and too-short legs. Even now, feeling short on bravery, I think: 'Hmm, I wonder what Madonna would do?'
It is so easy to dismiss Madonna at every costume change as a woman who had no identity or agenda of her own.
Take her appropriation of the blonde Hollywood bombshell look, which she adopted when she accompanied Michael Jackson to the Oscars, and used again in her video for Material Girl and on the cover of the album Bedtime Stories.
She wasn't trying to ape the glamour of a Marilyn Monroe or a Jean Harlow - two women who were ruled by their relationships with men and ultimately destroyed by the fact that they had no real power. No, what Madonna was really doing with that platinum hair and those hourglass satin dresses was to say: 'I can look like this, but I can also be rich, a great businesswoman, indulge my own sexual fantasies, swear like a trooper and treat men as the mere throwaway playthings they really are. I don't have to dress like a man in order to behave like one.'
The conical bra she wore for Nineties' Blond Ambition tour, courtesy of long-term collaborator Jean Paul Gaultier, was not about being shocking, or provocative; it was poking fun at her own persona.
She had a great deal more to say than the likes of, say, Mischa Barton or Beyonce Knowles or any of the toothless women who set themselves up as icons nowadays. The only questions they are posing in the way they dress and preen are the mind-numbing: Do I look young, and do I look pretty?
My favourite looks as Madonna metamorphosed through the decades were her short hair and her black leather period, captured gloriously in black and white by Herb Ritts.
I liked, too, the fact Madonna could sometimes look dreadful, like a man in drag; and at others as exquisite as Christy Turlington in a Calvin Klein ad.
Isn't that how we all feel? Sometimes beautiful, sometimes too hideous to leave the house?
I also liked the pre-Raphaelite curls of 1998's Ray Of Light, and the urban cowgirl look of Music, courtesy of her close friends Dolce & Gabbana. (I cannily framed the sequined T-shirt D&G gave to a selected few at Madonna's Brixton concert in 2000.)
In Vogue: Madonna's fashion hits at the MTV Europe music awards in 2005, and left, working the Marilyn Monroe look at the Oscars in 1991
Yes, of course, Madonna has made many, many fashion mistakes. The long black hair and long black dresses (again, Jean Paul Gaultier) for the video of 1998's Frozen merely made her seem like a superannuated Kate Bush. The peroxide crop and black, bushy brows of Who's That Girl? shoved her into cartoon territory.
I didn't buy, at all, her reinvention as respectable Earth Mother. I hated the tweed flat cap, pseudo-English lady-of-the-manor look she tried on for size when she married Guy Ritchie. It just didn't suit her.
I remember sitting feet away from her at the launch of her first children's book in 2003, when she turned up at the Kensington Roof Gardens in a floral Prada tea dress, and resenting her for selling out so easily, for trying to fit in. I only hope that underneath the prim frock she wasn't wearing any knickers.
But her biggest triumph as a fashion icon has come, perversely, as she has progressed through her 40s. How marvellous it was to see Madonna, at the age of 47, for 2005's Confessions On A Dancefloor album, in fishnet tights and a leotard, with frosted eyeshadow, bubblegum-pink lip gloss and a Farrah Fawcett flick, with a body and attitude that the 20-something likes of the soft-fleshed Lily Allen or the emaciated Amy Winehouse can only dream of.
At the start of her career, when she performed Like A Virgin at the MTV awards and revealed she wasn't wearing knickers beneath all that white lace, and during her flirtation with S&M imagery (what with the release of her coffee table book Sex and the video for Justify My Love), she was endlessly criticised for being too outrageous.
'Like Christie Brinkley going to court': Madonna's fashion misses include 'matchy-matchy' florals, and her gothic Ray of Light phase
On the eve of her new tour, the reverse is happening. 'The new Madonna look evokes a kind of athletic, campus-casual blandness, as if designed for anonymity at the gym,' wailed The New York Times.
This particular barb was accompanied by a photo of Madonna in a pair of cut-off tights, satin shorts, Miu Miu heels and a Louis Vuitton bag.
'She looks like Christie Brinkley going to court,' sniped the designer Betsey Johnson.
Excuse me? Even now that Madonna has, impossibly, unbelievably - given that she can still tie a knot in her legs behind her head - turned 50, she is still making waves in fashion, at the cutting edge, always keen to nurture new talent and play with new ideas.
I saw her in Cannes earlier this year and she was demure and beautiful in a pink Stella McCartney dress - rendering all the pneumatic, overtanned starlets instantly ridiculous.
On the cover of her new album, Hard Candy, she is dressed - courtesy of a new stylist, credited only as 'B' - as a fighter in black bodysuit, patent leather boots, with a pale face, black eyeliner and, wait for it, a mullet haircut.
I can hardly wait to see her on stage in her Sticky And Sweet tour, just to gawp at the costumes pulled together by long-term collaborator Arianne Phillips.
Two outfits have been designed by Riccardo Tisci, who has breathed new life into Givenchy. There are shoes and boots by Stella McCartney and Miu Miu, bits and bobs from Roberto Cavalli and Yves Saint Laurent, and outfits by Jeremy Scott with vintage prints by Keith Haring.
And who but Madonna would bother to make sure the male members of the band are kitted out by none other than Tom Ford himself? 'Maybe she is trying to figure out who she is at 50,' says Jay Engel, who runs a fan site called Absolutemadonna.com. 'I wouldn't say she feels very comfortable right now.'
I would say the opposite is true. She is out there, still performing, and she is saying: 'OK, I'm 50, I'm a mum, but I'm not dead yet. I am not going to run away and hide, and if I want to wear satin shorts at my age, so what?' So what indeed.SOURCE: UK DAILY MAIL
Where Madonna Does it Better