Cover photo from “Madonna’s style guru”

Madonna’s style guru


Arianne Phillips is one of Madonna’s best-kept secrets; the chic, personal stylist who for six years, has cooked up some of the star’s most glamorous, trend-setting looks.

These days, Phillips and her contemporaries, like Los Angeles-based stylist Philip Bloch and Sex and the City’s Patricia Fields, are celebrities in their own right, and among a privileged few permitted to gather close in the court of movie stars and music artists, consulting on matters of fashion.

Phillips began styling in New York in the late ’80s, originally as a cash job to get through college. But she became hooked, ditched college and took it on full-time. Now she divides her talents between costume design for film, editorial work for the world’s fashion bibles (Italian VogueDazed and ConfusedVThe Face, et al), and styling for some of the world’s biggest celebrities, such as Madonna.

She has influenced many of Lady M’s most jaw-dropping outfits including, for her role in David Williamson’s play Up for Grabs, a dazzling pair of tuxedo trousers by Clements Ribeiro. In a moment of spontaneity, it was also Phillips who used a delicate Hermes scarf, wrapped as a blouse, for Madonna’s character in the film Swept Away, directed by her husband, Guy Ritchie. Predictably, sales of both the Clements Ribeiro and Hermes pieces skyrocketed.

Explaining her choice of outfits for one of the world’s most photographed women, Phillips describes her role as that of an “editor.”

“We conceptualise the photograph, video or CD cover, and then I gather clothes. I look for mood, story and character — what will photograph interestingly,” she says.

Stylist Philips has cooked up some of Madonna's most jaw-dropping looks.
Stylist Philips has cooked up some of Madonna’s most jaw-dropping looks.

Phillips met Madonna on a cover shoot for Rolling Stone. She was visiting with another client, Courtney Love. Since then, Madonna and Phillips have been inseparable partners in style. “Madonna is as modern a person as I have ever met. I would describe (her) style as ever-changing.”

Phillips presents her clients with a range of suggestions and then discusses different combinations and ideas with Polaroid photographs and — often multiple — fittings before arriving at a final outfit. It’s a flexible process. When something’s not working, says Phillips, “It’s important to be open to change.”

She is a seasoned fashion expert, scouring the globe not only for Madonna, but for stars such as Justin Timberlake and Love. She sifts through flea markets and bargain bins, avant-garde designer shops and haute-couture salons. “I love shopping in London,” she says, “The little boutiques around Portobello market, the Rose Bowl flea market in Los Angeles, the flea markets in Paris, the Corso Como in Milan …”

Phillips has an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion and tapping her list of favourite clothing outlets and brands around the world can be like a word association test: “Shoes?” “Diavolina and Sportie LA,” she says without hesitation. “Casual wear? “H&M and the Gap.” “Vintage?” “Decades in Los Angeles.”

Her favourite brand is Rick Owens and, although many of her clients are dressed in true rock-star garb (read: extroverted from top to toe), Phillips’s own style is whimsical; a quirky mix of rough edges and unexpected combinations. “I like to mix up and down, high and low,” she says.

This article originally appeared in The Age.