MadonnaTribe meets Maripol
Back in 2007 MadonnaTribe had the chance to meet the one and only Maripol, the famous art director, stylist, designer and photographer who was an instrumental presence and influence in the raising years of Madonna. With her unique sense of style and classy yet innovative creations she contributed in the making of the cultural myth Madonna is considered today. Her original rubber bangles, cross related jewelery, fashion tops, were responsable of the wannabe phenomenon that catapulted Madonna into the eye of the world. Today’s fashion is still inspired by many of her ideas and fashion statements.
But Maripol is also a great photographer who has captured with her polaroids featuring the likes of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Fab Five Freddy, Debbie Harry and Jean-Michel Basquiat, that unique New York’s downtown scene of the ’80s.
We are proud to say that since 2005 we have become friends with this incredible and unstoppable woman who has finally agreed to let MadonnaTribe readers into her world of memories.
MT: Hi Maripol, welcome to MadonnaTribe.
Madonna fans know the story of Madonna arriving to the Big Apple with only 35 dollars in her pocket to find fame and fortune.
It was almost the same for you, isn’t it?
Maripol: (laughing) yes it was. It happens when you’re young. When I came to New York I was 19 and I came with my boyfriend, photographer Edo Bertoglio. We were in love and I came here for three months, I was still in art school (Beaux Arts). We had an apartment already set up because my boyfriend came six month before and we set up already everything. My parents would have not let me go otherwise. Madonna crossed a few states and I had to cross the Atlantic. My parents wanted to know who was the man I was going to live with, what I was doing…
MT: Edo Bertoglio did shoot those pictures for the cover of the first album that were never used…
Maripol: Yes, I styled them and Debi Mazar did the make up but they were rejected.
MT: Then your career in America really started when you became the art director at the Fiorucci fashion store on 59th street.
I think it was in 1976 right?
Maripol: It was 1977 actually, I was doing stuff with them not only as an art director but I was travelling around the world doing collections for them. And that’s also when I started my first rubber jewellery collection in 1978. That was the first accesory & jewellery line for Fiorucci.
MT: What did inspire you to do this kind of job?
Maripol: It was just that I never never found anything I liked in styling photography so I decided to make them. And also I was a young girl and I was attracted by objects and I liked to use them by taking away their original meaning. I would see something I liked and I’d say: “that would be great as an earring”.
MT: And you happened to be in the New York scene when it was so alive…
MT: You were surrounded by so many talents such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat who are not among us anymore. How was living first hand that era and what are the most beloved memories you have of that time in New York?
Maripol: We lived uptown for three years, from 1976 to 1979. We had an Harley Davidson and people always called us the punk of downtown. We decided then to move downtown because we needed a big space and we found a really rundown loft and that was the beginning.
So we got the space and that was the best thing. We started to have parties, happenings and also photography and my designs.
MT: How did you meet Madonna for the first time? I think it was through your common friend Martin Burgoyne, right?
Maripol: Yes, Martin. I remember she came to my loft because she wanted me to work on a new look for her but actually I met her before that day, at the Roxy, as she said in a television interview in Philadelphia. She said “I met Maripol at the Roxy and as I was wearing a nice bra she asked if I wanted to go on stage” and I thought she was absolutely out of her mind.
MT: So that was your first impression of her?
Maripol: My first impression… Five Fab Freddy wanted me to get some girls on stage with him, he was rapping and I saw her standing out so naturally cute!
MT: Let’s talk about Madonna’s Virgin look – how was it created?
Maripol: She came to me and I just styled a bunch of things on her. I was already making the rubber jewelery and I was already making the crosses because of my love for the punks. So it was perfect for her. And talking about the clothes, Erika Bell used to make a lot of her clothes, I would give her clothes from Fiorucci and it was a mix of everything. And for “Like A Virgin” I was really hired as her stylist, to be with Steven Meisel and work on the look of the album cover.
MT: What memories do you have of that Like A Virgin cover shoot with Steven Meisel? I think it was done at the Saint Regis Hotel.
Maripol: Yes it was uptown, at the Saint Regis. And I remember everything. I remember the blue satin sheet she used to cover herself with [the photo later used on the european cover of the Material Girl single]. We did a bathroom shoot and there are a lot of photos that we never used.
MT: Was there any funny thing that happened during that photoshoot?
Maripol: Yes, at the beginning there was an art director, she wanted everything to be Madonna in black, a heavy rock “Black Sabbath Madonna”. And I didn’t think that it fitted very well. I said why don’t we bring out the aura of the “Like A Virgin” song, we can play with that. And it was rebellious since who was going to believe she was still a virgin!! She agreed and we got along very well.
MT: Did you design the “wedding dress” for the “Like A Virgin” video?
Maripol: No, the veil was designed by my friend Katsuko and the dress was one we bought. I was in Japan doing a collection for Fiorucci and I missed the whole shoot but she stayed “street Madonna” and used some of my jewellery in the parts of the video on the bridges of Venice.
MT: And then came the MTV Awards performance…
Maripol: The idea of that performance came from an kind of a vision I had. We used the exact dress she is wearing on the album cover. We were right there. It was incredible because nobody expected it to be so raunchy. Cindy Lauper was there and was going to be star of the night and then Madonna came out. During the performance the camera shooting live, went right under her skirt and I remember Freddy De Mann saying: “Never again will I let her being shot live”.
But that “did it”. I remember all the photographers running to the press conference right after she went off!!!
MT: Did you have the chance to see how that performance was re-created on MTV with Britney and Christina twenty years later?
Maripol: Yes, she also had Lourdes on stage with her wearing the same look.
MT: How did you came up with idea of using rosaries and crosses as jewellery. I understand you did that before “giving” it to Madonna.
Maripol: Yes, well for Madonna it was meant to be something very spiritual. I was also raised catholic and Madonna and I both rebelled to that. My mother didn’t like it. It was a way to say “why if I wear it on the ear it makes me a lesser good catholic girl??”.
MT: You already founded your company Maripolitan Popular Object LTD that was also in charge of the merchandise for the Virgin Tour. Did you work on any of the tour outfits as well?
Maripol: No that was Marlene Steward. I went to Los Angeles and Madonna was showing me the concepts and the whole feel was very “Prince”. Because of “Purple Rain” just released I said to her “are you Prince or are you Madonna?”
MT: And what about the “wannabe” phenomenon?
Maripol: We had a look-a-like contest at Macy’s. Andy Warhol and I were the judges. So much fun with hundreds of kids, some of them pushed in by their mothers. At the end we made sure that the girl that was more similar to Madonna was the winner. But it was really fun. I have many letters from the kids from back then. “To Madonna’s jewelry designer”.
MT: Do you remember what was Andy thinking of Madonna?
Maripol: We went to the wedding of Madonna to Sean Penn together. He saw Madonna as a phenomenon and he loved her.
MT: And what about that “Boy Toy” belt? Did you design that?
Maripol: No, everybody had those, but I did the one for the cover of the Like A Virgin album.
MT: It usually happens that Madonna takes something that already exists but she has the power to make it become mainstream. In a way it also happened with the bangles, you were already producing them for other artists such as Grace Jones, but they are still associated to that early image of Madonna…
Maripol: Well yes and when Madonna did Desperately Seeking Susan it was very good that she kept all the jewellery and bangles for the part.
MT: Oh right, I was wondering if you worked on that movie as well and wanted to ask about that…
Maripol: No, but I remember she used to wear all those antique stuff and I kept saying to her: “Just be yourself”.
MT: And what about her look in Vision Quest?
Maripol: I didn’t work on that film either but she was already decked with all my stuff for that. It’s a beautiful scene, I love the song [Crazy For You].
MT: And she just went on with what you created for her…
Maripol: Yes. Perfect, sexy, and modern.
MT: Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery among the ones you created for Madonna through the years?
Maripol: Actually I did her wedding present and I made one earing, it can be seen in some pictures at the time. It’s a little star that I made with gold Chain and pearls. That was very special because I only made one piece, it was only for her and I never made it for anyone else.
MT: Many stars loved your jewellery and still keep with care the pieces they have…
Maripol: Yes, I used to make mesh jewellery, and Cher came to my loft. She saw things on Madonna that she liked and she bought some of my stuff. Then years later I was the stylist on of her video” walking in memphis” and she took me to her closet, she opened it and there it was. She still was keeping them there.
MT: Then in 1986 with True Blue, Madonna decided to change her image. It was a complete change…
Maripol: Well I guess it was because she was married to Sean and maybe he wanted her to be “Mrs Penn”.
MT: What happened then?
Maripol: Oh, I bankrupted in 1987. I went out of business because of everybody copying me from everywhere in the planet.
How can you survive when millions of people start making their most horrible supposedly rubber jewellery which was actually made out of plastic?
Mine was made of genuine rubber. I had a factory in Hong Kong, I had this dream to help the rubber industry in places like Malaysia and helping poor people giving them work. Nobody else had that dream. Pure greed!!
Now I know how it must feel to be Prada or others and see your knock off everywhere!
MT: Let’s talk about your more recent book, which is a collection of Polaroids…
Maripol: I wanted to call the Book Maripolaroids but there were problems so I called it Maripolarama. Published by Powerhouse books, it’s a nice little memory book without pretention, it’s very fashion. It will really show you that the style of then hasn’t really changed and it’s very similar to the style of today.
MT: Are there some pictures in your new book that you cherish more than others?
Maripol: Actually I love them all.
MT: What is that make a Polaroid photo so special to you?
Maripol: They do have something special, it’s just that they capture the instant. That’s it. You do it, you see it. You don’t have to go to the lab to have it developed. It was digital before the digital. And now its over I am reclycling!!
MT: So you think digital is something like the new Polaroid now?
Maripol: Yes, unfortunately that is why Polaroid is going out of business, digital world is invading.
MT: But you’re still doing Polaroids…
Maripol: Yes I do large ones now 20 x 24″. I want people to know that I don’t only dwell with the past, I have a life in the present. I produce films, documentaries short and I do photographies, and travel with them all around the world.
MT: Speaking about documentaries you worked for more that 20 years on the “Downtown 81” project…
Maripol: Edo Bertoglio directed it, Glenn O’brien wrote it and I produced it in 1979 and it was shot in 1980.
MT: Then 20 years passed before you could show it to audiences…
Maripol: Well that’s because people who should give us the money to complete it went bankrupt and everything went dead. Before he died Jean Michel Basquiat wanted to give me the money to finish it. He really wanted the movie to be finished!
MT: Edo has also completed two new documentary films…
Maripol: Yes one is “Face Addict” and it was selected by the Locarno film festival and touring now in Europe. We went there and it was very well received by the press. There were a lot of articles in the press about it. The other one is about a famous old Bike racer as Edo’s love for motorcycle never stops!
MT: Well yes the Locarno film festival is a very nice one indeed and the audience is great. Speaking about the present are you still in touch with Madonna? Did you meet her through the years?
Maripol: Yes, we saw each other through the years. She filmed me for Truth of Dare but then it was cut but the cameraman said it was one of the most truthful moments filmed. She always invites me to her shows.
I saw one in Summer 2004 and the one last Sumer in Paris: incredible. But since she now lives in England we are not that close. I do miss her!
MT: Well she still loves New York, she had a song on her Confessions On A Dance Floor album called “I Love New York”…
Maripol: Well she’s entitled to still love New York.
MT: What are you working on right now? Would you style Madonna again today?
Maripol: Well Madonna went a long way, look at all the fashion statements she did. And I don’t do styling anymore today. Sometimes. I am a producer now. I produced Edo’s film “Face Addict” and “Downtown 81” took a lot of my time. I’m now writing some features and fictions. I’m always busy. I also do a lot of photo shows. We organized a great show in Paris called “FOB DOWNTOWN 81” at the Agnes B gallery, at rue Quincampoix 44. And it went to London, Tokio, LA now and Hong Kong.
MT: Do you have a feeling of when did you love for photography start?
Maripol: Well it must run in the family. I just discovered that my grandfather, who was in the army during the first world war, was a photographer on the war. I saw the pictures he took. My uncle was a doctor in the second world war same he took genuine pictures of soldiers , they were so sexy ! And my father always took film of us, and photos. He had the Super8 camera and had always the latest gadgets. My brother is a documentary producer.
MT: You spent a lot of time with Madonna, do you have a fondest memory you would like to share with our readers?
Maripol: I remember I invited Madonna to Paris in 1983 for a party we did and she was very lonely from Jellybean back then. Madonna was always truthful to me about the sadness of the loss of her mom in her life and the difficulties of wanting to be an actress and a singer at the same time. And the horror of seeing all our friends getting destroyed with drugs. And I told her if she wanted to be great she had to be “straight”. I said that because I was involved with so many people using drugs all the times. But she was always “straight”, I never saw her doing drugs. That’s what makes people very successful, when they have strenght of their own.
MT: Looking at the past and then looking at the present in what way or aspect Maripol is still the same?
Maripol: I am completely the same. I haven’t changed, more bitchy haha, learned from the toughest city in the world I’m still living in that same loft of 1979. The only difference is that I have a teenage boy Lino. Now I see myself through my son. He is 17 years old and I have the difficulty of raising him alone in New York, with all the problems of the big city, and I can only show him the danger because I lived the danger and because so many friends of ours died. So I want to spend some times in good old Europe!!
MT: What does you son say about your past and present career?
Maripol: He doesn’t understand why I’m not richer (laughs). He sees everybody I worked with on the top of the world and I’m still me. And he goes: “I can’t believe it mummy”. And I say: “Don’t worry honey, you’re the one who’s gonna make it big”.
Well I believe that the value in life is not only about money. My kid was raised religious . He goes to a French School, so he knows the good of being French as well as American. He is an international kid and he speaks three languages. He wants to be an actor or a director He is the most incredible thing I have achieved so I don’t care about anything else. There is a picture of Madonna and my kid in the book and that makes me so happy. She was there for me and she was there for him a lot. He still has the bicycle she gave him when he was 7 years old.
MT: Maripol thanks a lot for sharing your past memories and you present project with us. It was really a honour to have you here on MadonnaTribe.
Maripol: Thank you.