Over the years, Madonna has evolved both in music and fashion. As the controversial pop star has matured, so has her taste in clothes.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the second year of her collaboration with H&M;, a clothing line called M by Madonna.
Last year, the hip chain of cheap chic clothing sold a Madonna track suit and reported that the sporty ensemble was a success with its younger shoppers.
This year, the partnership between the two continues with a more mature, sophisticated and fashion-forward line of clothing and accessories: soft and slinky dresses, stylish trench coats, clutch bags, leather belts and the must-have of any good collection, Hollywood glam-girl sunglasses.
Most of the line represents Madonna now -- in her late 40s, with three kids and a husband.
And it's the first time Madonna has lent her name to a full line of clothing, which is curious, since for more than two decades the singer has been known as quite the fashion legend.
"Everybody was always profiting from the look of Madonna," says Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director at Us Weekly magazine. "But she never merchandised herself. I mean, New Kids [on the Block] had their own doll. ... Gwen Stefani has a line. She's the only one who hasn't done any of this."
Which made me wonder: By jumping in the celebrity clothing line fray 20-some years after her prime, is Madonna a day late and a kimono dress short? How "vogue" is Madge these days? So I went to a local H&M; to check out the line.
H&M;'s fashion spokeswoman, Jennifer Uglialoro, said Madonna and the clothing chain's head of design went through Madonna's closet, choosing items the singer considered must-haves to replicate for the collection.
"It's all these pieces that really represented her style through the years," Uglialoro says.
I'm old enough to remember Madonna when she first hit the scene. "Lucky Star" and "Holiday" blared from the radio on my way to school, and all the stores in the mall that catered to teenage girls carried something Madonna-esque: sleeveless, stonewashed jean jackets, clingy tops in black lace, or a selection of big silver crosses on black chains.
So I admit that nostalgia encouraged me to anticipate a line of clothing at H&M; that was more Madonna-in-costume than a real collection of fashionable apparel.
But to my chagrin, there are no fingerless gloves in the line.
Uglialoro called M by Madonna "glamorous, feminine and elegant," and -- save a few pieces, such as a black bodysuit accented with rhinestones -- she's right.
M by Madonna has several pieces I would buy, and, true to H&M;'s philosophy that style is not a matter of price, I can afford.
The collection's colors are muted, for the most part, in creams and whites, blacks and grays -- just right for a working woman, and perfectly suited for after-work cocktails. I'm not a huge fan of the "M" logo that hangs from the purses or embellishes ankle zippers on pants and the frames of the sunglasses, but younger girls and logo-lovers will appreciate that calling card.
And it seems Madonna is right on time with the collection. Teenagers and more mature women alike scanned the racks at H&M; when I was there, pulling out pieces to admire that fit their respective age groups.
Younger women tended to gravitate toward the skinny pants, the sunglasses, the track jackets and skinny belts. Career women cooed over the trench coats and figure-flattering jersey dresses.
I have no idea who will buy that bodysuit. Or the turban.
But those are small criticisms.
Most of the line is not just wearable, but really quite stylish.
H&M; shopper Maria Maier, 40, had been waiting for Madonna to come out with a clothing line. And now that the pop star has released M by Madonna, Maier is slowly buying up the collection piece by piece.
"Oh, I have so many things," says Maier, an interior designer from Ellicott City, ticking off her purchases -- the cotton poplin trench coat, a black-and-white patterned dress and a brown dress. "I just love it. It's so beautiful. It's modern and it fits well."
Maier's one complaint is that local H&M; stores don't carry all the pieces she wants, such as the trench coat in leather or the wide, black corset belt, which Madonna wears in many promotional ads.
"You have to go to New York or these other big cities to get it," Maier says.
And Maier says she most likely will make the trip to New York to find those items -- which is a testament either to the stylishness of the line or to the pull Madonna still has on women.
"Celebrity designer lines have a tendency to shout things out that say 'circa 2007' or something. And even at the end of 2007, you don't want to look at it," says Charnin Morrison of Us Weekly. "The thing that's nice about [M by Madonna] is that it's very modern, but it's not flashy, it's very classic. It'll probably last forever, and how often can you say that about anything?"