Last night, Persol fêted their annual ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens with costume designer Arianne Phillips as one of its honorees. Mention Phillips’s name to anyone in the music or film industries and you’ll immediately notice a twinkle in their eye—the woman is legendary. She’s worked as Madonna’s personal costumer for 15 years on top of an additionally long list of film credits. Most recently, she did the costumes for Madge’s current MDNA Tour which marks their fifth touring collaboration. At the exhibit, which opens today through August 14th, you’ll find an entire section devoted to Phillips’s costumes for the Madonna-directed film, W.E, which focuses on the Duchess of Windsor’s controversial life. Dutifully holding court beside her exhibited creations, we chatted with Phillips about what it’s been like to work with the queen of pop for over a decade.
Fashionista: How does it feel to see your work exhibited like this? Arianne Phillips: It’s incredible to be a part of such an illustrious group of filmmakers and to have it be represented in such an academic way. There are all aspects of filmmaking displayed here and to be able to represent costume design is incredible. I think they did a beautiful job and I’m very pleased with how it’s been put together.
Does looking at these costumes bring back any memories? Once you work on a film and the film becomes realized, it’s sort of like childbirth in that you kind of forget what it was like. To see it now I can get a new perspective on it. Also, to see all of my research materials displayed around [the costumes] is an exhausting thing to look at. It reminds me of how much energy it took to accomplish. I’m really proud of the work though and it’s a real honor to be represented in this context alongside other filmmakers.
You just designed the costumes for Madonna's MDNA tour—is there a different process in designing those costumes compared with the ones on display here today? In a way the conversation is very similar. I’ve worked with [Madonna] for 15 years and this is my fifth tour. Working on the film was unique because she was behind the camera with me and that was really great. She is a really aesthetically rigorous and curious person, really forward-thinking and always pushing herself. I feel like I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been with her on this journey for the past 15 years and to get to do so many diverse things. She’s such a prolific artist and to be able to collaborate with her in all of these different disciplines is an incredible opportunity that isn’t lost on me. I don’t take it for granted; it’s really been an exceptional experience.
Does working with someone who is so forward thinking push your artistic limits in any way? It’s definitely taught me to constantly think about being relevant—not being nostalgic and to keep creating new things. It’s rigorous, [Madonna] is an athlete in many senses of the word, in both her physicality and also aesthetically. I’ve learned so much just to keep up with her; it’s helped me create a fluency. I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to push myself more so that I had if I was not working with her. I think it’s made me a better artist; she’s made me a better artist.