Rihanna's Fenty Will End the Celebrity Fashion Curse
When whispers of a Rihanna x LVMH ready-to-wear collaboration reached fever pitch, cynics pondered if the project would plateau within a couple of years. After all, it’s easy to be skeptical about celebrity fashion ventures. Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez—two women with immense star power—have both launched lines that ultimately failed. Even Kanye West’s Yeezy has gone from talk of the town to a mere blip in the sartorial sphere. But it’s clear that Fenty Maison (the official name of Rihanna’s luxury brand) is different. For a start, it’s secured a bunch of firsts: It’s the first fashion house LVMH has started from scratch in over three decades. (Christian Lacroix was the last.) And Rihanna is the first black woman to helm a luxury brand, not to mention the youngest head in the conglomerate’s history.
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The timing of the announcement also demonstrated LVMH’s belief in the 31-year-old. Releasing the news on May 10, the world had to wait a mere two weeks to glimpse the first collection. (It launched online today.) Instead of relying on the arguably outdated runway format, Fenty will be dropping designs online every few weeks, a New York Times interview revealed. The intended effect? Continually building hype and freeing customers from the impatience (and boredom) that develops in the six-month period between show and sales.
Fenty is a disruptor; that much is clear. As a matter of fact, the brand name is already synonymous with breaking various industry molds. Fenty Beauty’s inclusive foundation shades forced other make-up brands to wake up and Savage x Fenty upended the lingerie market with its expansive sizing range. Fenty Maison is set to do the exact same. “I’m thick and curvy right now, and so if I can’t wear my own stuff then, I mean, that’s not gonna work, right?” Rihanna told the New York Times, proudly adding: “And my size is not the biggest size. It’s actually closer to the smallest size we have: We go up to a [French size] 46 [equivalent to a US size 14]. We’re saying we can meet you at any one drop that we put out.”
Size inclusivity—a necessity that the luxury industry has still not adopted—sits alongside Fenty’s idea that women don’t fit the stereotypes thrust upon them. Rihanna herself has certainly never stuck to one style trope, donning sportswear one day and a “girly” mini dress the next. Her house’s ethos gives women the chance to be visually multi-faceted. Each collection will focus on different wardrobe staples, negating the need for consumers to flit between brands. (The first drop mixes corseting with strong tailoring in neutral hues.) It’s a hugely clever decision that will build loyalty and a long-lasting presence.
Rihanna has made her survival intentions clear, choosing a name with only a tangential link to her identity. Such a tie can easily be broken when her replacement at the top is needed years down the line. So could Fenty be the first celebrity-run fashion house to compete with the Chanels and Diors of the industry? I’d wager a yes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Fenty’s strategy is laying the groundwork for eventual heritage status. In other words, if all goes well, Fenty Maison is destined to still be around in a century’s time.
Some celebrities-turned-designers may view such a statement as unfair. After all, Rihanna, unlike the Olsen twins or Victoria Beckham, isn’t dropping the rest of her career to focus on Fenty’s luxury strain. But the aforementioned trio’s willingness to fit squarely into fashion’s perimeters hasn’t led to outstanding financial success. Beckham’s label has struggled to make a profit, operating at a loss of almost $13 million in 2017. The Olsens’ vision for their contemporary line Elizabeth and James didn’t work, leading to a closure in 2018 and licensing deal with Kohl’s in April 2019. The Row, however, is still going although revenue figures remain secretive.
Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, on the other hand, made almost $560 million in its first year, reports the BBC. Resonating with a luxury audience may be slightly more difficult, but her savviness is likely to result in similarly impressive numbers. It’s a completely different story to, say, Yeezy. Although West worked to turn Yeezy into the antithesis of tradition, it was fundamentally his ego that led to the brand’s clothing falling flat.
“When people are really successful the way Kanye has been in music, they are expecting and hoping their notoriety and fame will just translate across a lot of products,” business reporter and author Teri Agins told Elle. “But you can't base a fashion business on just fans. Clothes have to make you look good, they have to make you look sexy, they have to fit, they have to be in the right price range. They have to look different from what's already out there. Clothes have to deliver a whole lot.”
This, Rihanna understands. From fashion lover to collaborator, she has steadily built her knowledge. As well as setting up a lingerie brand, she has designed for Puma, been an ambassador for Dior, and kickstarted the careers of many a young designer just by choosing to wear their clothes. She knows what works for a vast range of women’s bodies and has demonstrated a knack for pushing boundaries with her personal style. She described this journey as an evolution to the New York Times, saying that her goal was to “gain respect as a designer.”
Ultimately, Rihanna cares. She is open to learning; both from the old and the new. (She appointed an experienced individual, Louis Vuitton’s Véronique Gébel, to head up Fenty, simultaneously enlisting the help of emerging talents like Conner Ives.) She doesn’t ignorantly dictate, instead listening and reacting to expert and public opinion. She knows that luxury consumers won’t fawn over her celebrity status, so is focusing on cut, fit and fabrication. She even cares about reducing prices, opening the luxury world up to more people than ever before. Most importantly of all, she appears to be enjoying every minute of it.
In short: Fenty is a revolution. And Rihanna is the luxury mastermind guaranteed a place in the history books.