ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Costume Designer
A show called Project Runway burst on the scene. Finally a competition for designers. The biggest challenge was, I didn't know how to sew. I was taught to work with factories in China to produce my designs. I entered Columbus Ohio's renowned HighBall Halloween Costume Couture Contest. My design was inspired by none other than Madonna much due to the fact that I was going to see her perform for the first time a few weeks later. My dream wasn't to become a star, it was to create stars.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Founder & Creator
Five years ago my friends and I dressed up like Madonna for her 2012 MDNA tour in Cleveland, OH, a night we looked forward to since we were kids. I layered on the beaded necklaces and spiked bracelets over my fingerless gloves and rocked a tulle tutu but when we got to the merch table to go shopping all we saw were lousy t-shirts. Not even the Material Girl herself had anything Vogue worthy of my style. I wanted something to Cherish but I left Like a Virgin.
Something wasn't adding up. I was literally angry I couldn't spend my money. I really wanted to remember the experience but I wasn't going to buy something I didn't want. I had been to more than 200 concerts and hadn't bought anything from a merch table since the 90's. The Limited Brands (L Brands) Girl in me knew there was a giant market void for an industry with a massive amount of fans who crave new material.
I also knew the music business had been on a rapid decline since the digital age so I wanted to build a business model that would create a direct-to-consumer retail channel for artists & designers to collaborate. First I needed to learn more about the music merch business to understand why they were only selling t-shirts and not the clothing and accessories the artist was wearing.
I met with dozens of people in the music industry who all agreed that merch was not reflective of the artist's own brand image. While there was a market for developing a better line of graphic tees, I didn't believe this was another t-shirt business. I didn't go to Madonna's concert wearing a t-shirt, I spent weeks making the perfect "Madonna" outfit.
Everyone loved the idea but it was impossible to align the music and fashion industries. After a series of open doors began to lock me out of my dream, I woke up defeated and desperate. It was time to give up and go back to my side of the fence, the retail world. It hadn't even been two hours when the stars aligned for a friend of a friend to connect me to Michael Rosenblatt. It was as if the universe wasn't going to let me give up on finding my Lucky Star.
Michael seemed to get the concept right away with little need to explain the details. Perhaps it was because I was talking to the very person who paved the road for this concept thirty five years ago when he gave Madonna her big break. Was it truly possible that the same person was about to give me my big break? It's almost time to find out.
We hope you'll join us to rule the Material World by changing the way our merchandise is created, curated and consumed. Nothing is more important to us than our mission to generate revenue for artists and designers to create material in an environment that allows them to fully express their creative spirit. Dreams don't come easy but they do come true.
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: 1983 Sire Records A&R Guy:
Mark Kamins told me there was this girl who had a demo and was trying to get him to play it over the dance floor. And he was going to have none of that – he didn't play any demos. But he said she looked amazing, so I was trying to keep an eye peeled for her.
A friend of mine had just signed a group called Wham! They were about to put out their first single, but before they put it out, my friend wanted them to see the New York club scene. So I was taking them to clubs on a Saturday night – I'm at the Danceteria second-floor bar with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, and I see this girl walk across the dance floor and up to the DJ booth to talk to Mark. I figured she had to be the girl with the demo. So I walked up and introduced myself as an A&R guy, and we started talking.
She came by on that Monday and played me that demo. It wasn't amazing. But this girl sitting in my office was just radiating star power. I asked her, "What are you looking for in this?" I always ask that, and the wrong answer is "I want to get my art out," because this is a business. And Madonna's answer was, "I want to rule the world." The next step was getting her signed. I had to play [her demo] for Seymour Stein.
I didn't know she would become like Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, a cultural icon, but I did say to Seymour that she would be the biggest he'd ever work with. And he said, "So how big is she going to be?" I said, "Seymour, she's going to be bigger than Olivia Newton-John!" At the time Olivia Newton-John was the biggest selling female act in the world.
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: In the Studio
I remember telling Seymour, when he was giving me grief for being in the studio every day, that Madonna was going to be the biggest act he ever worked with. He laughed and said, how big is she going to be? My line was "Seymour, she's going to be bigger than Olivia Newton-John!"
SEYMOUR STEIN: President of Sire Records
I dared to believe this was going to be huge beyond belief, the biggest thing I'd ever had, after I heard "Borderline." The passion that she put into that song, I thought, there's no stopping this girl. All of her energy – my God, I never saw anybody work this hard in my life. And then make it look so easy.
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: She just had that look and that vibe
During the making of the album, we would walk down the street and people would just stop and gawk. This is before she was famous. She just had that look and that vibe; there was no stylist working with her. It was all her. We'd walk into a restaurant and people would stop eating and just stare.
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: Michael Jackson's "Beat It" Music Video
We finished the album, and I wanted another song. Something much more uptempo. I needed to get more money to finish the record. So Seymour said, "Take her down to L.A., have her meet the executives at Warner Brothers." Once Madonna went out to L.A., everybody started buzzing. I said to Lenny Waronker, "I need an up-tempo song; will you give me 10 grand?" He said yes.
That trip to L.A., Madonna didn't have a manager. We decided to get somebody based in L.A. to deal with Warner Brothers. So we met with Freddy DeMann. At the time, Freddy was managing Michael Jackson. So we go into Freddy's office and we're having this great meeting, his assistant comes in, and says, "Freddy, you have a call. Can you take it?" He says, "You guys stay here, watch this video, let me know what you think. It's premiering on MTV in about two weeks." Freddy puts in a video, presses play, shuts the door. Madonna and I watch the "Beat It" video. As soon as the video ends, I say, "This guy's your fucking manager." She says, "Yeah."
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: The Photo Shoot
We originally had a drawing of her. But it was a little too soft, so we decided to go with a photo shoot.
Carin Goldberg, art director:
When I heard the name Madonna, my eyes just sort of rolled back in my head. I thought, "Just what we need, another gimmicky one-name girl singer who will have one album."
We had a meeting, and she showed me her new loft. we talked a little bit. Even at that time, she was not warm and fuzzy, she was very focused, very clear about the parameters that this was business and not a friendship. There was no pretense or bullshit, and I really liked that. She knew what she wanted.
There was no discussion of what she would wear. On the day of the shoot, she showed up at the studio in her "Madonna outfit" and danced to her music while the photographer, Gary Heery, shot. I zeroed in on her bracelets, and borrowed more from Gary's girlfriend, added those to her wrists and told Gary to focus on them. They were clearly her unique trademark. The shoot took no time at all.
MICHAEL ROSENBLATT: MADONNA
As soon as we saw the proofs, that it was it. It was just perfect.
Sire Records released 'Madonna' on July 27th, 1983. It entered the Billboard 200 chart at Number 190 over a month later. The album has since been certified five times platinum.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Childhood Idols
I grew up idolizing Michael Jackson and Madonna. I remember digging through my parents wardrobe when I was in Kindergarten trying to put together an outfit that looked like Michael. I had a red vest and a page boy hat. It was reminiscent of the yellow vest he wore in the poster that hung on my wall, the red jacket from the Thriller video that was on my View Master disc, and the page boy hat he wore in the Paul McCartney Say, Say, Say video. After my Michael Jackson phase I became a Madonna Wannabe like every other girl in the world.
In high school I went to see my beloved Grunge Band, Bush. A band called No Doubt opened the show. I hated them. Said the girl was a Madonna Wannabe. Little did I know that Gwen Stefani would become a bigger fashion influence on me than Madonna. She earned her own style status in my book.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Creating the Name, Modern Material
I founded Modern Material in 2005 as a street team destination for music fans long before social media existed. They were looking for TV performances I had recorded on VHS tapes so I converted them to digital files and uploaded them to a website site I called Modern Material.
In 2008 I launched my first web store and collaborated with more than 40 indie bands to license music as a gift with purchase and artists promoted Modern Material at their merch booths on tour. Often times I referred to my own street team as Modern Material Girls. A couple of guys from my hometown band were the only unsigned band in the promotion. There was something about Twenty One Pilots music that resonated with me. While eating pizza with them in a showroom full of collegiate apparel, I knew Tyler and Josh were going to be rock stars one day.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Madonna's 2012 MDNA Tour
My friends and I dressed up for the nostalgic night, reminiscent of our favorite look. We all looked like teenagers and one of my friends brought her 13 year old daughter. We almost got kicked out of a restaurant because they ID'd my friend who was 40 and didn't believe her. Who wears tulle tutus and gloves to dinner? Me, that's who.
We arrived at the merch table ready to go shopping and found great disappointment. We stood there debating on which t-shirt was the least hideous, at least to buy for the 13 year old, but she didn't even want one. Not even the Material Girl herself had anything Vogue worthy of her style. We wanted something to Cherish but we left Like a Virgin.
Something wasn’t adding up. As the age old saying goes: It was the night of my life and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. There was clearly a market void.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Music & Style
My phone rang a month after the concert. It was a casting producer for Rihanna's design competition, Styled to Rock. I was stunned. I never applied for a reality show but it sounded like my dream. I desperately tried to learn how to sew so I could go on the show but I found myself screaming and crying every time I screwed up. There wasn't an undo button like there is in a computer program. Why should I spend days and weeks of my time working on one costume piece if it wasn't ever going to be produced and sold? Leave it to the Limited Brands girl who only knew how to work with factories in China to produce her designs by the thousands.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: Fashion Career
I took my collection to New York Fashion Week and moved to Los Angeles in 2014. More opportunities started coming along...Ariana Grande chose my designs for her AMA performance, E! producers wanted something for Elizabeth Hurley to wear on the Red Carpet, and Project Runway even contacted me. I either needed to work for free or pay them to have exposure for my brand. I thought that was total bullshit. I still couldn't afford to produce anything to sell.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: The Big Idea
I knew I needed a business plan but the last thing I wanted to be was another start-up fashion brand. Then I remembered how I never wanted to buy a t-shirt on tour. Why did I need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch my clothing line while the biggest fashion icons in the world were selling nothing but crappy t-shirts? I started talking to people in the music industry to begin to figure out why. It was a very simple answer, nobody knew all of the people needed to build it and nobody wanted to pay for it so they settled for the screen printing merch businesses that require zero upfront development costs and 3 week production calendars to order merch before a tour. Nobody understood my business requirements and there were so many complicated layers of red tape that I finally gave up.
ANNIE WEIHRAUCH: The Lucky Stars Aligned
I woke up on the morning of July 21, 2017 deflated, defeated and desperate. I told my neighbor I was going to apply for corporate jobs because I was sick of chasing down the licensed music business. He told me I should talk to his friend and she told me I should talk to her friend.
I called Michael Rosenblatt and told him about what I wanted to do. He said, "Yeah, you're right. Why are the artists just crappy t-shirts and not a lifestyle brand reflective of their image?" At first we began working on the "elevated" merch concept. Licensed logos, lyrics, an images that could be printed on a better t-shirt...
But then I realized I was talking to the guy who discovered Madonna and signed her because she looked like a star. That's when I said, "Michael, this was never a t-shirt business to me. I didn't go to Madonna's concert wearing a t-shirt. I dressed up like her in clothing and jewelry I made. That's what I believe is missing in the marketplace but nobody else seems to get it."
Michael was the very first person to fully understand the opportunity I saw 5 years ago when I left Madonna's concert disappointed and angry there wasn't anything I wanted to spend money on. All I can say is that the stars aligned to save my dream to introduce me to the very person who created it when I was just a young, impressionable girl inspired by Madonna's unique sense of style, independence and determination to rule the world.
© 2018 Modern Material LLC