As Madonna announces Hong Kong show, we look at 30 years of the Material Girl as a global fashion icon

The Material Girl, who plays Hong Kong in February, has shown plenty of flesh, and fashion, since she began touring in 1985.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 4:53pm

There’s nothing subtle about Madonna’s on-stage antics. Whether she’s hanging from a crucifix – wearing a crown of thorns, of course – gyrating with semi-naked dancers or cracking a whip dominatrix style, the pop queen’s religious and sexual messages roll thick and fast.

And there’s nothing subtle about her clothes, either. Known just as much for her fashion as her music, Madonna has been pushing the boundaries with her onstage costumes since her 1985  Virgin tour, in which she wore copious amounts of lingerie, sending US sales skyrocketing. As she prepares for her first gig in Hong Kong in February  as part of her Rebel Heart Tour, we take a look back at the Material Girl’s evolving on-stage wardrobe.

The Virgin Tour (1985)  

Madonna’s first tour was planned for a global audience, but was restricted within the US and Canada. The pop star’s image of crucifix earrings and fingerless gloves sent young fans into a frenzy, giving rise to a new term, Madonna wannabe (it was officially recognised by the Webster’s Dictionary  in May 1991). She also went big on lingerie, sending US sales of lacy bras soaring 40 per cent. Macy’s New York department store was also flooded with buyers, who bought the tour merchandise. For the show’s closing act, she took to the stage in a virgin-white wedding dress.

Who’s That Girl World Tour (1987)  

For her first world tour, she collaborated with US costume designer Marlene Stewart.  In her honour a statue of the singer – wearing a conical bra – was  erected in her name, at the centre of the town of Pacentro,  Italy, where her ancestors used to live.

Blonde Ambition World Tour (1990)   

Mixing Catholic icons and sexuality (thanks to songs such as Like a Virgin, in which male dancers caressed her as she simulated masturbation), Madonna was always going to land in religious hot water. She angered the Church of England and the Catholic Church –  Pope John Paul II  even asked followers not to attend her concerts. (In Rome, one of three  shows was cancelled.) As for fashion, the tour popularised the underwear-as-outer-wear trend and introduced the bullet bra, as well as a false ponytail hairpiece thanks to  French  designer Jean Paul Gaultier,  who also designed the bra. She also went through showgirl outfits with nods to 1930s Hollywood films.

The Girlie Show World Tour (1993)

Madonna got out the leather and whips for this show, which was thick with sexual overtones – think simulated orgies – and also gave big nods to looks from Studio 54 and cabaret. She performed Vogue in a bead-incrusted outfit by Dolce & Gabbana, and turned up the heat in Fever,  unravelling her jacket, mask and gloves while dancing suggestively with two shirtless male dancers. It was a tribute to  actress Marlene Dietrich,  with Madonna donning a  blonde afro wig for a disco-styled rendition of Express Yourself  and a classic tux for Like a Virgin.  Other looks included military trench coats and Victorian-themed costumes.

Drowned World Tour (2001)   

This tour was supposed to start in 1999, but was delayed until 2001 (Madonna  gave birth to her son Rocco  and  married film director Guy Ritchie).   Gaultier was again on board, fusing punk with Scottish looks (hence the pins and kilts). Dean and Dan Caten,  who created DSquared2,  also worked on the shows. Madonna went geisha for her performance of Frozen,  donning a short black wig and wearing a hand-painted kimono with  15.8 metre-long sleeves. She also appeared as a cowgirl, wearing a stars-and-stripes vest accessorised with a raccoon’s tail. (For the shows in Los Angeles after the September 11 attacks, she wore an American flag kilt). She also slipped on a Dolce & Gabbana  T-shirt with “Mother” written on the front and “F*cker” on the back.

Re-Invention World Tour (2004)   

The tour was divided into five segments: French baroque-Marie Antoinette  revival, military, circus-cabaret, acoustic and Scottish-tribal, conveying various political  messages and symbols of peace. As she began performing American Life,  war footage flashed on screens behind her.

Confessions Tour (2006)  

Twenty-four  articulated trucks were needed to transport the stage and props, which included a two-tonne, US$2 million disco ball embellished with a further US$2 million worth of Swarovski crystals. The concert was divided into four parts: equestrian, bedouin, glam-punk and disco, in which Madonna donned horse-riding gear, whip in hand, did some burlesque dancing and went glam-punk for her rendition of Ray of Light.  But she caused the biggest stir when she entered the stage pinned to a giant mirrored crucifix wearing a crown of thorns, again upsetting religious groups.

Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008)  

Political gestures got just as much coverage as her well-toned (for a 50-year-old) biceps. And there was a who’s who of fashion on board for this tour. Arianne Phillips  designed the main costumes (Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci  contributed two outfits), Tom Ford  was behind bespoke suits for the band, Miu Miu  created the shoes, Stella McCartney  provided the thigh-high boots and Moschino  made the sunglasses. Other designers involved included Yves Saint Laurent,  Roberto Cavalli  and Jeremy Scott.  

The MDNA Tour (2012)   

For this tour, Madonna reunited with Gaultier (she even donned one of his reinvented cone bras).  “Gaultier is kind of godfathering the costumes for a section of my show, with all my dancers. I’m really happy he’s doing it, because he’s such a genius,” she said at the time. And there were loads of his trademark looks. For I’m Addicted,  Madonna dressed in a  Joan of Arc-inspired outfit, her dancers dressed in  Shaolin-inspired clothing,  and went all schoolgirl, complete with pom-poms, for Give Me All Your Luvin’.  As usual there was lots of clingy black leather.