By joining forces with LVMH, the powerhouse French conglomerate behind the world’s biggest labels, Rihanna is blessing high fashion with an inclusivity that Europe’s exclusive fashion houses have never seen before.
Rihanna is the first woman for whom Bernard Arnault, the mega-company’s chairman and chief executive, built a label from scratch. She’s only the second designer who can claim that honor. The first was Christian Lacroix in 1987. Rihanna is also the first woman of color to lead an LVMH maison. According to the Business of Fashion
“Rihanna has always been bold. Never afraid. And now she’s a pioneer,” said Tuesday Gordon, longtime manager of Center City boutique Joan Shepp. “This is a special moment in fashion for black women.”
It’s also a win for young fashionistas. And that has the potential to make an even greater impact on the industry.
Fenty — which debuted Friday at a Paris pop-up and which will launch online on Wednesday — speaks to those younguns who wouldn’t think twice about pairing a Fenty Japanese denim blazer with a pair of fast-fashion Fashion Nova
And this makes me wonder: When it comes to cachet, does Rihanna need LVMH as much as LVMH needs her?
Ten years ago, I would have been on the side of LVMH. People were shopping for sport. Labels mattered more than a brand’s story. And although Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s the Row
Brands founded by black celebrities, from Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat — which she plans to relaunch this summer — to Jay-Z’s Rocawear, were pigeonholed as streetwear. Sean “Diddy” Combs broke the mold with the success of Sean John
I suspect this lack of respect for celebrity brands driven by hip-hop artists in fashion’s most rarefied houses is why rapper/designer Kanye West was once obsessed with pleasing Hedi Slimane, the former creative director of Yves Saint Laurent for whom he wrote his 2013 single “I Am a God.”
But without these “streetwear” brands fronted by black celebrities, this Fenty-LVMH lovefest wouldn’t exist. Rihanna is still under Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, and its CEO, Jay Brown, helped broker the deal for Ri Ri. Simmons, Jay, and Combs made inroads in an industry in which LVMH wants Rihanna to be a boss.
My, how the script flips.
So what does Rihanna get out of the deal? Under the LVMH umbrella, Fenty will enjoy the manufacturing and distribution resources only a monster brand can offer. That’s a luxury for any designer, said Kevan Hall, former creative director of Halston and who dressed Katherine Heigl and Vanessa Williams on the red carpet and whose pieces are sold locally at Gabrielle
Rihanna has the influencers’ ultimate design gig. She can speak directly to her 71.1 million Instagram followers, and the concept of the collection is based on who she is, rather than what the brand wants her to be. She’s dictating to LVMH what her style is, rather than LVMH telling her what’s going to sell. LVMH is in her house now.
And this is why: Rihanna’s style has been an important part of her persona from the moment she launched her singing career. In 2014, the Council of Fashion Designers of America named her its style icon
In 2017, Rihanna and LVMH launched Fenty Beauty. Its tagline is “Beauty for all,” and it has been applauded for offering 40 shades of foundation, helping a myriad of women appear flawless. Last May came Savage X Fenty
No wonder Rihanna can be disruptive. I can already see how her influence at Fenty is impacting fashion’s greater good.
Fenty’s double-breasted blazers — complete with built-in fanny packs — roomy trousers, puff-sleeve shirts, and corset shirt dresses in neutral blushes, khaki browns, blacks, and whites are proof the label’s nude palette goes way beyond customary peaches and ivories. Also, the collection’s pieces go up to an American size 14. That’s remarkable when most French fashion houses tend to make a hard stop between sizes 10 and 12.
And Rihanna is completely ignoring the fashion calendar. Fashion collections are traditionally revealed on runways in September and February. But Rihanna is releasing her inaugural grouping now. And it will be available to buy within days, not in six months.
There is no doubt this foray is promising, says Teri Agins, author of “The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever
“If they figure this thing out and it works,” Agins said, “that’s when we will really be talking unparalleled.”
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