Come on, Vogue! This weekend, Madonna kicked off her global Celebration World Tour in London, where she treated fans with a career-spanning performance of some of her greatest hits. Almost better than the setlist, however, was the Queen of Pop’s epic new outfits for the stage—well, new in a sense. All of them riff off of her most iconic looks over the years (including, yes, that signature Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra). In honor of the tour’s kickoff, Vogue caught up with tour costume and creative designers Eyob Yohannes and Rita Melssen to get a closer look at Madonna’s one-of-a-kind, custom-made looks.
Given the magnitude of Madonna’s new tour—she’s performing on 78 days across 15 different countries—Yohannes and Melssen needed top-tier stage fashion. To focus the wardrobe and give it a strong, clear message, the duo opted to mimic the theme of the show, which explores Madonna’s four decades of hits. That’s how they landed on referencing some of Madonna’s most famous outfits. “Fashion has always been a part of her storytelling,” says Yohannes, “so we drew from her past stylistically, and we kept those themes within the costumes.”
For the most part, Yohannes and Melssen created and designed all of Madonna’s costumes themselves, though they also enlisted designers such as Donatella Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dilara Findikoglu to create special one-off looks for her, too. “We wanted to reference everything that she’s done, and make something new out of that,” says Melssen. “We created a whole new world.”
The tour traces Madonna’s meteoric rise to superstardom, beginning back in the ’80s. Yohannes and Melssen began their research by looking at Madonna’s polaroids and performances from the era. “There were a lot of grunge and punk kids, but also the New Romantics,” says Yohannes. “This section feels like being at a New York club, where all of these different cultures meld together.”
Act one opens with her singles such as “Burning Up” and “Everybody.” For the latter track, Madonna sports a punky tailcoat by Findikoglu, inspired by an archival blazer that the singer wore for a performance in Japan back in the ’80s. “It was a men’s coat that she got from a vintage store,” says Yohannes. “[For the new one,] we tricked it out, and added memorabilia and pins from the ’80s onto it. It was very much an ode to New York in the ’80s.”
For act two, Madonna moves into the ’90s with “Erotica” and “Vogue.” The costume duo wanted to explore the songs’s themes of sexual expression and liberation. “We had an idea to make it about boxing,” says Yohannes. “The dancers are all dressed in boxing clothes, and M is in a boxing robe—but then there’s this beautiful sensuality when she unveils a slip dress.”
For “Vogue” specifically, Madonna and the costume team enlisted designer Jean Paul Gaultier to create a modern new version of her iconic cone bra, made famous during the 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour. This time around, Gaultier created a black cone mini dress, encrusted with black crystals. “It would not be a show without Gaultier,” says Melssen. “He just knows her body and how she wants to feel. [Madonna] couldn’t imagine doing this without having [him.]” (Also not to be missed? Special guest Bob the Drag Queen recreated Madonna’s Marie Antoinette-themed 1990 VMAs look for the “Vogue” performance.)
Act three focuses on the 2010s, and Madonna performs “Die Another Day” and “Don’t Tell Me.” It’s the latter song’s western-inspired fashion that takes center stage. “We wanted to take it to this cool, futuristic world,” says Yohannes. Her final look—a leather corset and shirt made in-house—was punctuated with a cowboy hat made by Ruslan Baginskiy, and a pair of custom Miu Miu cowboy boots. ”They’re knee-high and have beautiful white western stitching, and a silver heel and toe cap,” says Melssen. “The girls are going to want it.” In act four, meanwhile, Madonna leans into futurism, and rocks a special, foiled-Mylar Versace look that’s ready for the Metaverse. She wears it for “Ray of Light,” an obvious choice. “Versace made a silhouette that Madonna has never really worn before—a catsuit—made in the pattern of broken glass,” says Yohannes. Melssen adds, “When the light hits this catsuit, it looks like armor.”
In building this wardrobe, Melssen and Yohannes had to consider functionality and movement as well as aesthetics. “She changes a lot in the show, so we needed to make sure that the clothes were quick-rigged,” says Yohannes. “There are center back zips on almost all of the costumes, so she can go in and out pretty quickly.” The speedy costume changes were made possible with strategic layering and styling. “There’s a lot of under-dressing as well,” says Yohannes. “She wears costumes underneath each other, [to be ready] for the next number.”
One of the greatest moments in the tour comes towards the end, when Madonna performs a special rendition of “Like a Virgin.” All of the dancers wear various looks from her archive—be it a red carpet look or album cover look. “For a lot of these looks, [Madonna] still had them in her archives, so we went to look at them and matched the fabrics and embroidery,” says Yohannes. Even the superstar’s son, David, makes a cameo, wearing the white fur coat, cowboy hat, and Versace chain jewelry Madonna sported in the 2000 “Music” music video.
It’s these types of thoughtful details that made working with the Queen of Pop so fun. “She is involved in every single process of the costume design,” says Yohannes. “She looks at all the fabrics, sketches, and buttons. She cares about who the characters are, and the clothes telling that story.” As more fans get to witness the show over the next year, the pair hope viewers will see that vision come to life. “I hope people realize how much of an artist she is,” says Melssen. “I also just hope that they feel seen and have fun!”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com