Rihanna is undeniably one of the most recognizable names around the world, not to mention one of the most notable millennial women of color. She entered the public eye as a young teenage musician from Barbados in 2005. Over the last 15 years her music has exposed the general public to Caribbean culture, which previously had not garnered much media attention. Yet, her accolades go beyond music. In fact, Forbes named the nine-time Grammy winner the richest female musician as of June 2019, largely due to the development of her makeup brand Fenty Beauty and now the release of her first ready-to-wear collection through her LVMH fashion house, Fenty.
Since her early years as a singer, Rihanna has torn through sociocultural barriers through her music and business ventures. Within the first 15 months of Fenty Beauty’s launch, it made $570 million in sales, mostly in part to its revolutionary range of shades and tones revealed in its 40-shade foundation line. Although it seems like common sense that a business would thrive by appealing to a larger audience, the majority of mainstream drugstore and department makeup brands focus their products on the western standard of beauty, composed mainly of light and medium skin tones, excluding many people of color from being represented. Yet after the launch of Fenty Beauty and its extreme success, consumers have become more vocal about wanting to feel included by other established brands. Within the last two years, dozens of makeup brands from Maybelline to Marc Jacobs launched foundations with a wider spectrum of shades to compete with Fenty. Whether it was Rihanna’s intention to bring awareness and dynamic change to the cosmetic industry or not, it rings true that she was able to create dramatic positive change through the release of her brand.
Rihanna has extended her line of products to include lingerie and clothes. Fenty has just released its first ready-to-wear collection as an LVMH house, the pioneering luxury conglomerate that owns the likes of Louis Vuitton and Givenchy. As the first woman of color to oversee an LVMH fashion house, this launch is historic.
From the initial launch on May 19th, Fenty’s ready-to-wear line showed an inclusive group of women of all skin tones and presented a complete collection of clothing that spanned pantsuits, t-shirts, dresses, heels, sunglasses, and more. Similar to current movements in other high fashion houses, the designs embrace urban style. Rihanna has also made a point to mention that her collection would only be comprised of pieces that would look good on her curvier body type. The dresses and skirts have flexible lines, especially around the chest, that are made to outline curves and get tighter as they approach the waist. The pieces are offered in multiple colors that can be made to complement any skin tone, especially darker skin tones.
There also seems to be Japanese influences running throughout the collection with many Great Wave motifs. This plays into the autobiographical theme that she was born and raised on an island and the entire line looks either very island-inspired with wave motifs on dresses and t-shirts or appropriate for the islands with light, flowing dresses. The only other brand motif that can be slightly compared to this is Versace’s Greco motif that creates brand recognition and pays homage to the designer’s influences. Fenty also launched a series of coats and jackets which seem to be a blend of Saint Laurent’s frontier designs and Balmain’s gaudy gravitas. These oversized jackets, accessorized with the newly popular fanny-pack, come in neutrals and denim but carry a presence because of the wide shoulders and arms.
Surprisingly, these pieces do not seem to be styled well with the other pieces in the collection. Yet, this may be indicative of the fact that Rihanna wants her brand to be multifaceted and to represent her own individual style, which has been known to vary largely. Contrary to most ready-to-wear collections, Fenty’s initial launch is extremely practical and would not look out of place in anyone’s everyday wardrobe, yet it still pushes artistic boundaries with the representation of diverse motifs and fabrics.
Aside from her practical, urban-influenced designs, Rihanna’s line has the opportunity to open many more doors for marginalized people. Haute couture is a white-dominated industry, but like her influence in the makeup industry, Fenty may be able to change how high fashion is seen. Although there has been a trend of luxury brands gaining a larger consumer base through logo-mania, these sales have primarily influenced accessories, like bags, sunglasses, shoes, and belts. Ready-to-wear has remained relatively homogeneous in terms of the models and clientele. As one of the only people of color leading a fashion house, Rihanna can drive couture in a divergent direction, opening doors for people of color and different sizes in the luxury market. Although this may seem radical to an industry where the average model is 5’ 11” and 120 pounds, who would have imagined that within 2 years of launching her brand Rihanna would indirectly influence the likes of YSL and Tom Ford to create a full-spectrum, inclusive foundation line? Rihanna is a force to be reckoned with.
Fenty’s SOHO NYC pop-up opened from June 19-30 in The Webster.