Thirty-five years ago, a rising pop singer named Madonna Louise Ciccone opened the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Older generations may vividly recall the exact moment when they first saw Elvis twitch his pelvis on TV or when the Beatles first performed on Ed Sullivan, but for children of the ’80s, Madonna’s racy, underwear-flashing, floor-rolling “Like a Virgin” performance was their defining televised music moment.

No one had ever seen anything like it at the time — and Madonna’s stylist Maripol, who was responsible for the star’s Like a Virgin-era peekaboo bridal gown look, was there to see it in person.

Maripol tells Yahoo Entertainment she was worried that the scandalous performance might be an act of career suicide for her young client. “I was right there. I saw it happening. I saw what [MTV] did, and I can tell you that they tried to destroy her that day,” she says. “They went under her skirt with the camera; they were trying to intimidate her.”

Madonna at the first MTV Video Music Awards, in 1984. (Photo: David McGough/DMI)
Madonna at the first MTV Video Music Awards, in 1984. (Photo: David McGough/DMI)

But of course, the stunt instead catapulted the singer to superstar status.

“Madonna had to break through; I knew she was going to make it big, because I could see how ambitious she was, in a very genuine and sweet way. The wedding outfit did help. I knew that [VMAs] day that she had made it,” adds Maripol. “Every journalist was rushing, running, going, ‘Oh my God, who is this girl with the white outfit rolling and crawling on the floor, with crosses in her ears and her name is Madonna? And she’s singing about being like a virgin?’ They were shocked, yes.”

Maripol reveals that the 1984 VMAs telecast could have been much more Goth, and shocking in an entirely different way, had she not intervened during the cover shoot for Madonna’s breakthrough sophomore album, Like a Virgin. “The art director had this idea, which was to have the black Sabbath-type virgin. You know, like black lipstick, black this, black that,” Maripol chuckles. “And I kept saying to her, ‘We should go for the real thing. Come on!’”

Eventually Madonna heeded Maripol’s advice and donned a white wedding dress, and an MTV icon was born. It remains such a signature look that the pop queen referenced it in her controversial, wedding-themed performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs, and donned another bridal gown for her “Medellín” music video that premiered via MTV this year.

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