Naked Ambition

updated 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

MOST OF THE 800 GUESTS AWAITING MADONNA'S ARRIVAL AT THE siren"s Sex party in Manhattan on Oct. 15 had heard the same rumor: "Madonna," they whispered, "is going to appear nude."

Well, she did and she didn't. The without-a-stitch-of-material girl was seen everywhere at the lascivious bash, which featured grainy film loops of her enacting some of the erotic fantasies that make up her controversial book of photos, Sex, which hit stores Oct. 21. But the guest of honor, alighting from a limo with Sex photographer Steven Meisel and flanked by bodyguards, kept her clothes on, unusual though they were. Clutching a toy lamb and looking like Heidi in heal in a Little Bo Peep—show dress. Madonna quickly disappeared into the party space a-hid in near a downtown meal and hooker district that had been themed up as a dungeon worthy of the Marquis de Sade.

Among the spectacles that made this a book party unlike any other were live tableaux featuring models in leather and mesh, acting out fantasies with whips, handcuffs and heavy-duty chains—the latter provided by Harold Rosenberg, a Long Island chain manufacturer who happens to be the father of Madonna's publicist. Though some of the scenes shocked viewers, most seemed to bore or, at best, amuse. An actress in lacy underwear reclined in a tub filled with caramel popcorn. Makeup artist Scott Weinstein lay on his stomach as Madonna's likeness was tattooed onto his derriere. "Madonna said she was very flattered," he reported. "She also said I was nuts."

Some may say the same of Ms. Ciccone, whose steamy book (retailing for $49.95) may provoke more hostility than sales and whose $16.98 companion CD, Erotica, has received mixed reviews. Still, fellow artistes like filmmaker Spike Lee hailed Madonna's "courage." while comic pal Rosie O'Donnell got to the heart of things. "She's a genius at marketing herself," she said.

As for the party itself, rocker David Lee Roth found it "sensational." Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun pronounced it "very imaginative, very erotic and very exciting," while celebrity Boswell Robin Leach (who had undoubtedly passed the transvestite streetwalkers who work nearby) deemed it "quite tame." Said Leach: "Within five blocks of here, there" are spectacles 100 times more shocking."

Maybe Madonna was feeling a bit jaded herself. She departed after two hours, leaving guests to ponder what she might do for an encore, for Madonna. O'Donnell suggested, there is only one thing left after Sex: "Motherhood."

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