Perched on the edge of her chair, fixing the camera with a smoldering gaze, she looks feral, poised for the kill. She is Madonna, enshrined in a new advertising campaign showcasing Donatella Versace’s spring/summer 2015 collection. Lean and faintly menacing, she appears, at least in the lens of the fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, the image of candid aggression. She is that and more, said Ms. Versace, whose latest print collaboration with the star (a 12-page portfolio set to break next spring in magazines including Vanity Fair and the American, French and Italian editions of Vogue) is but the latest expression of a running theme. “Madonna says it best herself: She is unapologetic,” Ms. Versace said the other day. “She is her own woman, a role model who shows other women how we can do what we want, and get what we want, and do so for all of our lives, with no compromise.”
In the new ads, Madonna appears to have obligingly followed the path of past Versace mannequins, among them Amber Valletta, Christina Aguilera and, perhaps most vividly, Lady Gaga, each with a taut frame and a curtain of center-parted silver blond hair — an evident homage to the slight but sinewy, willfully showy Ms. Versace.
Few played the part as persuasively as Lady Gaga. Bandaged in lavender chiffon, and wearing a lacquered perma-tan, she posed this year for the Versace spring/summer 2014 campaign as an idealized Donatella, a way perhaps of returning the designer’s fanlike admiration.
Ms. Versace, after all, had dressed the singer for the “Edge of Glory” video and her “Born This Way” tour. And last year, Lady Gaga returned the compliment with “Donatella,” a single on her “Artpop” album, in which she croons: “She’s so thin. She’s so rich and so blond. She's so fab, it’s beyond … .”
She could as easily have been describing Madonna, on whom she has arguably modeled her career. Yet Madonna’s latest star turn (which also includes an appearance on the cover of the current issue of Interview) raises questions of her own relevance to a generation of luxury shoppers perhaps more attuned to the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna or, for that matter, Taylor Swift.
Yet in some views, Madonna is as timely as ever. “Once you hit that icon status, it’s not a matter of relevance,” said Lisa Mirchin, an advertising consultant. “Is Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn relevant? I think so.”
Ms. Mirchin, the founder of GlamBrand, an agency specializing in fashion and beauty, said: “Madonna is ageless, and so is most fashion. Women are dressing as one age now. The range can go from 20 to whatever nature and physics will allow.”
More than ageless, fashion remains, for all its lip service to innovation, a resolutely conservative industry. Paraphrasing a theory advanced by Tina Brown during her tenure as the editor of Vanity Fair, Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director of The New York Times, wrote in a column in August that the moment to feature a celebrity subject is “just after peak: just after that person became famous enough to be immediately recognizable by the general audience.”
The reality, Ms. Friedman wrote, is that “fashion likes to do what it knows works, which is to say: sells. Or at least what has been proven to work before.”
Having shared a history with the designer, Madonna fills the bill. Ms. Versace first cast the star in a 1995 campaign, Steven Meisel capturing Her Ladyship in a black-and-white photograph that shows her dining face-to-maw with a large dog.
A decade later, Mario Testino portrayed the pop idol in a 1960s Palm Springs-like setting, tricked out in what a well-meaning socialite might take for business attire. Wearing a giddily patterned shirt and immaculately tailored skirt, she distractedly set about typing and sorting her mail.
And now, the mutable performer, who has incorporated fashion, and often Versace, into a canny performance art, appears as a sexual predator, dressed in a formfitting black leather dress and matching laser-cut Palazzo bag. “It is Versace,” the designer said, “but with a fresh and powerful new air and attitude.”
Still, the more things change
“When Madonna asked me on set, ‘Which character do you want me to play?’ ” Ms. Versace recalled, “I answered, ‘I want you to be Madonna and yourself.’ And she laughed at me.”