But Madonna didn't come up with her early, iconic look on her own. Madonna had a lucky star on her side back then, a visionary stylist, who actually crafted that image. And that woman also went by singular name: Maripol.
Speaking to Yahoo! Music from New York, where she still resides and where she's preparing to release a new photography book, Maripola X, Maripol humbly, grudgingly concedes, "Whatever, yes, I did create a legend." Recalling the night that started it all, at New York hip-hop club the Roxy more than three decades ago, she says: "There was lot of mix of culture coming from England, with people like Bow Wow Wow, and then there was Fab Five Freddy, from 'Yo! MTV Raps,' which was also the beginning of this whole movement. Fab Five Freddy asked me if I could find cute girls, and I turned around and saw Madonna and asked her if she would want to go onstage. I asked her if she had a nice bra on, and she thought I was out of my mind! I asked her to actually take her top off. And the rest is history."
Maripol's involvement in Madonna's early career opened many doors for the singer. For instance, there was the night that Madonna, at the time still a total unknown, performed at Fiorucci's 15th anniversary soiree — a booking that Maripol, the art director for the trendsetting Italian boutique in the late '70s/early '80s, had to fight for. "I had a big budget and I kept saying to my boss, 'I want this singer.' Everybody was like, 'No, no, who is that, who is Madonna? We want the girl who played in Flashdance, Jennifer Beals.' And I'm like, 'Jennifer Beals? She is not a singer!' Finally I won. I had a big rubber cake with 15 candles and Madonna to jump out of it, and Madonna jumped out that day. The club was packed, and she got the manager of Michael Jackson to come, and I think he signed her right there on the spot."
Maripol also stepped in when she thought the stage costumes for 1984's The Virgin Tour were, well, a little too Prince-ly. "There was a designer, a really nice English girl, Marlene Stewart. And Marlene designed everything [for the tour] very 'Purple Rain.' And I went to Madonna and she showed me everything and I said, 'Madonna, you're Madonna. Why don't you keep a bit of what you have?' And she listened to me."
Madonna's peekaboo bridal gown still stands as one of her most memorable looks, of course. Older generations may vividly recall the exact moment when they first saw Elvis twitch his pelvis on TV or when the Beatles first performed on "Ed Sullivan," but for children of the '80s, THE defining televised music moment was when Madonna kicked off the first annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. No one had ever seen anything like it at the time, and Maripol was there to see it in person.
"Madonna had to break through; I knew she was going to make it big, because I could see how ambitious she was, in a very genuine and sweet way. The wedding outfit did help. I knew that day that she had made it," says Maripol. "Every journalist was rushing, running, going, 'Oh my God, who is this girl with the white outfit rolling and crawling on the floor, with crosses in her ears and her name is Madonna? And she's singing about being like a virgin?' They were shocked, yes!"
Once the aforementioned Madonnabes came out in full force and took over malls everywhere, Maripol had mixed feelings about the trends she'd helped create. One time, when judging a Madonna lookalike contest in 1985 with none other than Andy Warhol at Macy's (amusingly, the department store that would carry Madonna's own Material Girl fashion line decades later), she was conflicted. "I saw those young girls and it was sad. They wanted to mimic Madonna, and they were so young. It was all about the fun and stuff but…oh my God," Maripol sighs.
Perhaps she had mixed feelings over the fact that she never really got proper credit, at least not in the mainstream, for her pop-culture influence. When mall shops ripped off and mass-produced her designs, Maripol ended up basically broke. "If only I would have been smart, if only you could copyright the look — which I don't even know if it existed back then — I would have been a multimillionaire for sure." she says. "I did go bankrupt because everybody copied me, every single industry. But genuinely, it doesn't matter. I swear I don't care. I became a freelance stylist to survive, and then I had a kid. I bankrupted in 1988 and had a kid in 1990. I'm very happy; I have a beautiful 23-year-old son now."
Eventually the chameleonic Madonna changed her style, many times over, and while Maripol was still involved with Madonna's later looks — the sleek bustier outfit that Madonna wore for her Marilyn-esque first major makeover in the "Papa Don't Preach" video, and the rubber dress she wore in the milk-lapping scene of the "Express Yourself" video, were both Maripol creations — eventually Madonna moved on the other, higher-end designers (like Jean Paul Gaultier, who created her early-'90s cone bra).
"I think Madonna might have a multiple personality. I know you [think I am kidding], but I think it goes with the pain of losing your mother so young [at age 5]. Multiple personality, that's my theory," Maripol muses. "But that is really excellent for her career, because she decides to really change her look, so people will never get bored of her. It's a genius strategy. She says she changes her music, but come on, the music has always been the same."
Maripol has also art-directed music videos for the likes of Cher and Elton John; she's a regular contributor to Document magazine; she collaborated on a 2010 line of vintage-inspired jewelry and T-shirts with Marc Jacobs; she launched a new jewelry line called Atomic Glamour; her Polaroid photographs have been shown in galleries around the world; and she directed ARTE Creative's Keith Haring documentary The Message, which can be viewed here. "I also have multiple personalities," the artist laughs.
With such a bustling career, Maripol harbors no resentment towards Madonna, reasoning: "I'm very happy for her. And you know what? In a way, I got the freedom to walk around in the street, and she doesn't have that. And I think it's very difficult for her to not be able to have that freedom. Once you lose that freedom, does that make you more happy in life? I've always kept good relation with her and I really wish her the immense best, and I will get my claim of fame eventually. I'm always there and I'm always redoing fashion…My jewelry back then and now came from the heart, came from the street, came from our brain, came from the fact that you don't have to spend $5,000."
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- Madonna Louise Ciccone