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Fashion and music: when designers create costumes for a tour

From Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier to Beyoncé and Jonathan Anderson, tourdrobe is the new fashion show

Fashion and music: when designers create costumes for a tour From Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier to Beyoncé and Jonathan Anderson, tourdrobe is the new fashion show

Last week (with not-so "elegant" timing, considering the health status of the the star) Guram Gvasalia, the creative director of Vetements, announced on Instagram that he will design the costumes for Madonna's upcoming Celebration World Tour. With this, he joins a long list of names who have helped make the Queen of Pop look fabulous on stage over the decades. Yes, because everyone wants to dress an icon of her calibre, has wanted to in the past, and wants it even more today as tour wardrobe, i.e. what a star wears on tour, becomes a kind of new fashion show.

The Madonna-Gaultier effect

It all started with Jean Paul Gaultier. It is 13 April 1990, and we are in Chiba, Japan. The audience crowding under the stage for Madonna's Blonde Ambition Tour is expecting a great show, but has no idea of the magnitude the event will actually have in music and fashion history. The stage was set, however, with a $2 million set design, choreography devised by Vincent Patterson for a crew that was among the best in the New York dance scene, and a striking aesthetic mix of Catholic and BDSM imagery that had already drawn worldwide attention to the singer and cost her the cancellation of a $5 million Pepsi contract. Then the sounds of Express Yourself kicked in and Madonna appeared on stage, wearing a pinstriped suit and a monocle. Moments later, she took off her jacket to reveal a bustier with a pink conical bra. "When Madonna called me in 1989, it was two days before my fashion show and I thought my assistant was playing a trick on me. I was a big fan of hers. She asked me if I wanted to work on her tour. She knew what he wanted: a striped dress and some corsetry. She had chosen me because he liked my dresses, which could combine the masculine with the feminine," the designer recalled in an interview with the New York Times. So the French designer made all the costumes for the tour (he repeated the experience several times in the following years, e.g. for the Confessions tour), raising the standard of stage costumes to an unsurpassed level: dressing a female singer could mean becoming a legend. Or at least having a testimonial with a huge fan base and priceless publicity. Especially if the artist in question is of Madonna's calibre and her shows, like Madge's, are perfected down to the last detail. This is probably why Miss Ciccone has been able to count on the creativity of Prada, Gucci, Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander Wang, Fausto Puglisi and Francesco Scognamiglio for her stage performances over the years.


What it means to design costumes for a tour

Music can be a powerful platform. And also a sounding board for fashion. Not only because association with an artist can add to the hype around a brand, but also because it allows designers to let off steam creatively and provides a publicity that is renewed with each live show. While a celebrity poses on the red carpet for just a few minutes, a pop star shows off their costume night after night, is photographed by press and fans, endlessly reused on Instagram, Pinterest and in TikTok audio loops, and remains etched in the minds of the audience. For fashion brands, an event like the Renaissance or Eras Tour is an effective marketing tool, a unique opportunity to have a viral moment worldwide. Apart from the potential worldwide attention, stage costumes are often radical, unique, elaborate and glitzy looks that give the designer a relatively wide scope for creativity. Designing a musician's look, however, is anything but easy. Each garment must be meaningful, integral to an overall experience and functional. As costume designer Arianne Phillips, who has worked with Madonna on six tours including Rebel Heart, tells us, the first step is to study and understand the artist's style. This is followed by several meetings with the artist, the set designer and the choreographer to make sure they are pulling in the same direction and that the outfits work quickly and easily with the set, song selection, choreography and costume changes. At this point they move on to putting the proposals on paper, the sketches, which then have to be submitted to the team for approval. The other very important aspect in this long process, which involves a lot of fit checks, is, as Phillipe and David Blond of The Blonds (costume designers for the tours of Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Selena Gomez) tell us, functionality. Every outfit has to be carefully designed and made to withstand choreography and acrobatics, so it has to offer flexibility, elasticity and durability. The materials and structure of the costumes should not only be visually appealing but also help the performer feel comfortable on stage. Well-placed fabrics and details attract the audience's attention, while rubberised elastics, patches and reinforced seams in strategic places prevent wardrobe malfunctions.


Bey, Taylor, Rosalía and the others

Forty years have passed since the spring when Madonna and Gaultier redefined our expectations of touring costumes, but their lesson is more alive than ever. Pop stars and designers have learned them well, to the point of making every stage of their shows a two-hour runway show and stage fashion something to covet, buy or at least try to copy. Beyoncé only had to emerge from a cloud of mist in a Loewe catsuit to launch a collection of eye-catching outfits specially created or adapted by the big names in fashion to inspire hordes of adoring fans who study every garment worn, comment on every detail and reconstruct a virtual lookbook on TikTok. The Renaissance World Tour wardrobe is breathtaking: a crystal-embroidered bodysuit by Alexander McQueen in Stockholm, a red hooded dress by Carolina Herrera in Hamburg, a sparkling silver minidress by Paco Rabanne in Paris, an ethereal dress by Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam, a crystal-studded mermaid dress by Fendi in Toronto, a floor-length ivory dress by Valentino in Cardiff, ... Each concert is a dazzling mix of glittering fringe, thigh-high boots, holographic prints, modern armour and bizarre eyewear. 

Everything is exaggerated, amplified, designed to make the live experience unique, viral, unforgettable and better than that offered by other peers So every artist is virtually forced to go over the top and offer more, even on a fashionable level. A few examples? For her Eras, Taylor Swift alternated between pieces by Alberta Ferretti, Versace, Etro, Roberto Cavalli, Oscar de la Renta and Zuhair Murad. For the Motomami World Tour, Rosalía relied on Jonny Johansson, creative director of Acne Studios, who designed a total of 128 looks worn by the singer and her dancers, as well as 9 pairs of custom-made shoes.

What if no one wants to wear a star?

In recent years, there have been many brands that have chosen to dress musicians for their tours. In recent months, for example, The Vampire's Wife has dressed Jared Leto and Florence Welch, alternating between creations by Susie Cave and Gucci. The Florentine brand has dressed Harry Styles, Elton John, Bjoerk, Måneskin and Lana Del Rey. And it's the Summertime Sadness singer who gives us cause for a little reflection. Since Alessandro Michele left Gucci, Lana has not worn clothes from famous maisons. Being loved for her talent as well as her style, it seems strange that no big name cares about her looks. The real reason for this is unknown. Rumour has it that it is because of her weight gain, which is no longer fashionable. If this were true, it would be absurd and unimaginable. Lana wore a set by Mirror Palais when she performed at Glastonbury 2023, and looking at the outfits on tour, it seems that other pieces are from the same brand. So let us hope that the singer has chosen an up-and-coming brand and that it's not true that she's having trouble finding a maison to dress her.