The queen of pop celebrated her 60th birthday in Marrakech, and chose a traditional riad as the palatial setting for the party.

Madonna, has always embraced all that is bold and powerful. Conical bras and corsets were her trademark look in the 1990’s, so it is no surprise that she chose a powerful and iconic piece of adornment from Morocco which incorporates the conical elements to wear at her birthday party.

The style of headdress which Madonna has made an internet sensation comes from Tarjicht in the Anti Atlas region of Morocco. Famously recorded by French photographer Jean Besancenot in 1939 the ‘horned’ headdress design is particular to the culture and customs of the Ait Herbil people. The word ‘Ait’ meaning ‘Tribe of’. Morocco is populated largely by Amazigh people who have very different styles of adornment from one region to another, and these visual identities are incredibly important to the women of Morocco and their perception of self expression and identity.

The headdress would have been gifted to the bride by the family of her husband along with many other jewels, clothes, sweets, spices and textiles. This dowry showed her worth and her marital status and pride in her origins.  There are likely connections to early goddess iconography, in particular to Isis who was depicted as a horned goddess. Isis is connected to the concept of divine femininity.

The elements within the headdress would also be of great significance:
Coral was worn for protection as the colour red was believed to be powerfully linked to safety.
Amber was worn for it’s healing attributions,.
The central ring of silver worn to repel the evil eye.
The embroidery on the fabric headband would also contain symbols and designs which would identify and protect the wearer.

The piece worn by Madonna is a reconstructed ‘fantasy’ jewel likely from a dealer in Marrakech or further afield. Original pieces are rare and costly, and mostly exist within Museum or private collections.

The other jewellery worn by Madonna in her birthday outfit are from diverse, both Moroccan and other origins.

The queen of pop is certainly not dressed to represent a woman of the Ait Herbil tribe, yet her choice to wear this iconic headdress has sparked an interest in the rich cultural material of this fascinating country.

Sarah Corbett is a consultant for the Michael Backman Gallery in London. Her specialism is the Material culture of Southern Morocco. Sarah also runs specialist tours in Morocco for those who wish to learn more about the history and culture of adornment in Morocco.