Atelier Fenty: Rihanna's Decade of Success
When Rihanna took to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the first Monday in May this year, she was our fashion pope. A role typically filled by Anna Wintour (who was more of a high priestess or a cardinal this year), the night saw her don a bedazzled Maison Margiela by John Galliano mitre as she played host to the Met Gala. The week would be ended by the star launching her Savage x Fenty intimates line, rounding out her fashion offerings which already include a multi-season collaboration with Puma and a beauty brand. This was the fashion papacy of Rihanna: Atelier Fenty, a decade in the making.
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In February 2008, Rihanna performed at Gucci’s annual UNICEF fundraiser at New York Fashion Week. The relationship, under then-creative director Frida Giannini, extended making the singer the face of Gucci’s first UNICEF ad campaign which debuted the following December. In a short documentary leading up to the release of the campaign, the award-winning musician said that Giannini had allowed her to collaborate on a few of the products for the campaign and that the opportunity, as well as her travels, would “help [her] in the future for [her] own line.” It was a prescient statement.
In the following four years, Rihanna’s foray into fashion included partnerships with Armani Jeans and Emporio Armani Underwear (two collections of denim and lingerie), half a dozen fragrances for both men and women, a MAC collaboration and a multi-season project with River Island that she completed in partnership with her frequent collaborator Adam Selman, the partner of her stylist Mel Ottenberg, and designer in his own right. When 2012 hit she launched Styled to Rock, a ten-week fashion competition show on television a la Project Runway but in the UK. The following year she would bring it to the US for a run on Bravo.
By March 2014, Rihanna was a must-have guest at numerous fashion events. She paid visits to the Miu Miu, Chanel, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Balmain, Lanvin, Comme Des Garcons, and Dior shows at Paris Fashion Week. In some cases she arrived late (Balmain) but for almost all, she wore a look either by the designer or in some way affiliated. It was quite the undertaking but seemed to prove invaluable as since then, Rih Rih has become the go-to face of celebrity for luxury fashion.
Shortly after the week of PaRih, the star was debuted as the face of a Balmain campaign and the creative director of Puma, owned by Kering. In 2015 she would be deemed the first black spokesperson for Dior and through that role would collaborate with the brand on a pair of shades (the first spokesperson to do so). 2016 would bring her a collaboration with Manolo Blahnik and in 2017, a link up with Chopard. She has managed to simultaneously work with fashion's biggest rivals and hopscotch through the industry's capitals, showing her own collections at London, Paris and New York Fashion Weeks. She became the first woman to win the Footwear News “Shoe of the Year” award for her work with Puma, and a spokesperson for representation and diversity through her Fenty Beauty range launched in 2017. It’s a prolific output only expanded by the recent size-inclusive, moderately-priced Savage lingerie line.
Through all of this, Rihanna has never sacrificed pulling a look just for the label. When she accepted her Fashion Icon award from Anna Wintour at the CFDA awards in 2014, she shared her lifelong her infatuation with fashion. It’s for this reason that she finds herself enamored by not only top-tier designers, but also designers off the beaten track. She has no issues picking up designer’s pieces before they graduate from school (she was honored at the 2017 Parsons Benefit for her work), giving them visibility and even bringing China’s couture designers stateside—outside of Asia, those who know Guo Pei know of her because of Rih.
Rihanna’s position in fashion as a celebrity that brands not only want to dress but collaborate with (and compete against) is quite novel. As of this moment, Rihanna could step out wearing her own brands down to her socks or a full glam-pope look and do no wrong—and as many of her projects are just getting started, it looks like we are only just settling into her reign.