Madonna reinvents herself as a megabrand

There's nothing quite like the experience of Madonna whispering in your ear.

So says Dari Marder, a Glen Cove resident and chief marketing officer of Iconix Brand Group. Marder is no stranger to celebrity -- she's worked with stars, from Britney Spears to Beyoncé to Sharon Stone. But in recent years, when Iconix developed the Material Girl line with Madonna and her daughter Lola, Marder found it took some effort to suppress a certain . . . giddiness.

"At a photo shoot, say, I have to be professional and process what she's saying, but I can't help but think, 'Madonna's whispering in my ear, ohmygodohmygodohmygod,' " Marder says.

Inevitably, Marder adds, Madonna's comments -- about the lighting, perhaps, or a model's body position -- are right on target. "It's often something nobody noticed, and makes all the difference," she says. "It's like she sees things through a different filter."

That Madonna has business savvy is hardly news, but what may surprise some is the fact that her marketing potential, as an international brand, seems stronger than ever. And her appearance in this Sunday's Super Bowl half-time show is just the start of a very big year.

Madonna's other ventures include a new film ("W./E.," about the love affair of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, which she directed and expands into theaters across the country this month), a new record (dropping later this year) and tour, plus her first fragrance (Truth or Dare by Madonna, created by Coty, to be sold exclusively at Macy's starting in April).

"Madonna is one of those celebrities people either love or don't," says industry analyst Marshal Cohen of NPD Group, a market-research firm based in Port Washington. "But even those who don't love her still love to hear what she's up to."

The new scent is the first product in a new Truth or Dare lifestyle brand, which will roll out footwear, accessories and intimates in September, hoping to capitalize on the success of Material Girl, the fast-fashion juniors label sold at Macy's.

"I have always been obsessed by fragrance," Madonna told Women's Wear Daily, and "wanted to create something personal that was an expression of me but that other people could relate to as well."

She decided to create a fragrance with notes of gardenia and tuberose, reminiscent of a scent worn by her mother. "My oldest memory of my mother is her perfume," Madonna explained. "I carry it with me everywhere."

If Madonna's new venture succeeds, she'll have reinvented herself. Again. This time, as a business titan.

"She's able to keep her finger on the pulse because she's very collaborative, working with people in different fields who impart a freshness to her work," says Marder. "I think that says a lot about her as a person."

"One of the ways Madonna has separated herself from other celebrities is her ability to keep in the forefront of trends that go beyond her specific talent," says Cohen. "She's best known as a singer, but she's gained recognition with acting, philanthropic endeavors . . . even adopting kids."

Truth or Dare, which will be more sophisticated than Material Girl, will target women in their 30s and 40s. It's supposed to resemble a glimpse in her closet.

"She's very, very, very involved," Marder insists. "She goes through racks of samples, very concerned about fit, especially in the intimates line."

Of course, that launch is still months away. Right now, Madonna has a half-time show to plan.

"Timing is everything in this business," Cohen notes. And with her new line launching soon after theSuper Bowl, he says, "her timing almost couldn't be any better."