Even Madonna agrees that there is, indeed, 'a great sense of mystery' about Meisel - so much so that after all these years she feels she still doesn't really know him very well. 'I know that I love him,' she says. 'You get sucked into his aura. He knows things.'
She learned this from one of their first collaborations, which was for the cover of Like a Virgin. 'Before I worked with Steven,' says Madonna, 'I just showed up in the clothes I was wearing, stood in front of the lights, and got my picture taken. With Steven, a team of people descended on me, started to undress me. Someone grabbed my hair, another grabbed my face, another started helping me try on various bits of clothes, and they all seemed to be speaking a language I didn't understand - the language of Steven Meisel.'
To hear Madonna talk about working with Meisel is like being let in on a long-held secret. She goes on, 'Steven had a vision. He had done his research. He had very specific references. I really respected the care that he took with his work, how seriously he approached it, but at the same time he has a great sense of irony. He made me feel like I was part of something important. He treated each photo shoot like it was a small film and insisted that we create a character each time we worked but then would make fun of the archetypes we created. He was the first person to introduce me to the idea of reinvention.'
Who knew that Madonna, the goddess of reinvention, learned it from Steven Meisel.