Madonna Uses Emoji and Other Discoveries at the WSJ Innovator Awards

“Don’t jinx it!” joked Kristina O’Neill. The editor of WSJ Magazine may have Riccardo Tisci and Pharrell on speed dial, but there’s one woman who still makes her nervous—Madonna—and she’s supposed to appear momentarily. “We’re here tonight to celebrate innovation in all its forms—it’s what drives us, creatively, economically, in life—and I can’t think of anyone who’s done that in the public eye better than Madonna.”

“She’ll be here,” Liberty Ross assures us moments later. “I’m lucky enough to have worked with her [on the pop queen’s 2011 film W.E.] and she’s incredibly focused, brilliant, and she does what she says.” Ross has done some innovating of her own, zooming from runway model to actress to brief tabloid fodder and now, designer of her own Genetic Denim line, but for the red carpet she chose vintage Versace. “I’m in town for three days, so I packed a fur, some shoes, and this dress—that’s it! I wrapped it in plastic, folded it a bunch of times, and put it in my suitcase. It was kind of risky, but I think,” she smiles, nodding to the wall of cameras behind us, “it worked out all right.”

Then came Doutzen Kroes, in a Mugler dress literally from their Paris fashion show. “Innovation is important for fashion,” says the Calvin Klein muse, “because if you can’t push the boundaries, why bother?” She considers what boundaries, exactly, could be pushed for her new daughter, Myllena Mae. “Don’t you think Alaia should make baby clothes?!” she laughs. “How great would that be? A little Alaia baby corset!”

And then there was Joan Smalls, the latest WSJ cover girl who arrived in a custom Chanel couture miniskirt—an innovation of her own design. “On the runway, it was much longer,” she explains, “But I just knew I wanted it very short. Chanel is very strict about couture, actually, so I’m honored they let me change it a bit!” Smalls was joined by her cover co-star, the dancer, Gap model, and YouTube star Lil Buck, who insists, “Joan taught me about dance on the shoot! She taught me how to dance to the camera, and how to dance for still photographs. Working with her was one of the best educations I’ve ever had! Plus, we had a great time.”

What about working with Madonna, who used the Memphis native on a recent tour? “She’s taught me so much about innovation, actually,” he says, “because innovation, and creativity, and fame, and even fun, they require perseverance and hard work. Really hard work. And she’s the ultimate example of that. Everything she does, she works to make it excel, and she makes everyone around her want to work just as hard. In my opinion, that’s what makes someone a star.”

Also, just in case you needed to know—and why wouldn’t you?—Madonna does indeed text her friends, and she likes to use a certain Emoji. “The winky face with the tongue sticking out,” Lil Buck confesses, “that one gets used a lot!”