One could say Rihanna has been having a pretty good week. On Monday, the Met Gala cohost proclaimed her fashion status in a papal-inspired Maison Margiela ensemble and tonight, she’s set to unveil her new lingerie line, Savage x Fenty.
The line, a partnership with El Segundo, Calif.-based TechStyle Fashion Group, represents the third pillar in her lucrative Fenty empire, which has included the Fenty for Puma collection, launched for fall 2016, and the ongoing deal with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for Fenty Beauty, launched in September.
Her deal with Puma is understood to be finished, but during that time, the Rihanna ath-leisure collection has mounted four buzzy runway shows and the footwear styles were huge sellers (as well as the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit against Forever 21). Rihanna elected not to stage a show this season, instead wearing the newest styles at a Puma x Fenty pool party during Coachella Weekend 1 last month.
Fenty Beauty, which launched in September and is sold exclusively through Sephora, is known to be a several-hundred-million-dollar business annualized at retail, according to analyst Steph Wissink, managing director at Jefferies LLC. “We’ve written about its success predicated on inclusivity, i.e., shade range; star power from someone who talks authentically about makeup in social/digital, and vertical distribution via Sephora,” she said.
In January, Slice Intelligence told WWD that Fenty Beauty is on track to beat out Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Beauty and Kim Kardashian’s KKW.
The online research firm found that while Kylie Cosmetics, which is coming up on a two-year anniversary, had the highest annual sales, Fenty Beauty sales in its first month of operation were five times those of Kylie Cosmetics and 34 percent higher the following month. To put it in perspective, in August, Jenner revealed to WWD that her brand had sold $420 million in products.
With her entry into the lingerie and intimates space, Rihanna is poised to grab market share in a sector where the leading retailer, L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret, has seen sales drag.
“Intimates presents a very large opportunity for Rihanna from my perspective because the category has been concentrated among a single retailer for a very long time,” said Randy Konik, a managing director at Jefferies who analyzes the intimates and activewear sectors.
“I gave an ‘underperform’ rating for L Brands from a seller’s perspective because we’ve talked about Victoria’s Secret’s issues not changing its marketing message in 20 years, which has not resonated with a younger consumer set, which causes lack of pricing power and fragmentation to start to occur. Victoria’s Secret is a $7 billion business that these problems make easy market share to grab for Rihanna.”
Konik said RiRi’s sheer star power and brand awareness are what will propel her ascent in a ripe category like intimates, as well as give her legs in a crowded one like athleticwear.
While partnering with Puma for now has given Rihanna a toehold in a field dominated by Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Lululemon, she does have the potential to launch her own brand given her celebrity and audience engagement. “The initial success of brands like Outdoor Voices or A Day provide an opportunity for her in that particular category,” noted Konik.
For the most successful personality-driven brands, the old licensing model has been supplanted by one in which celebrities are taking ownership stakes — Jessica Alba and The Honest Co., Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, Drew Barrymore and Flower Beauty and Kate Hudson and Fabletics, which is also a partnership with TechStyle.
TechStyle, whose brands include JustFab, ShoeDazzle and FabKids, has honed the subscription and membership model in the personality-driven, direct-to-consumer space.
JustFab started with Kimora Lee Simmons, ShoeDazzle was cofounded by Kim Kardashian before it was acquired by TechStyle, and Hudson is the first actress the company partnered with at Fabletics’ launch in 2013. The latter is the fastest-growing brand in the stable, and the addition of Savage x Fenty is seen as the push that TechStyle needs to mount an initial public offering.
Its cumulative data-driven learnings have allowed it to tweak the membership model further with Savage, which launches on Friday with 90 pieces of lingerie, sleepwear and accessories priced from $14.50 to $99, according to Vogue, which also featured Rihanna in its June cover story describing the line.
As with other TechStyle brands, the line is comprised of four “personality types” or style groupings — from a range of skin-tone nude basics, to cute girly pieces to sexy lingerie and more risqué gear. But it’s expanding the offering to include accessories in line with RiRi’s alluring brand image, as well as her hit “S&M.” Handcuffs are among them, according to Vogue, but one imagines that could also grow to include the “whips and chains” she sings about. In other words, a more accessible version of Agent Provocateur. These items will be available “à la carte” but the membership option, costing $50 a year, will allow shoppers early access to launches, exclusive access to limited-edition items, and free shipping and returns.
While Fabletics has expanded into brick-and-mortar retail, where items in its 24 stores cost about 25 percent more than if purchased via an online membership, it remains to be seen whether retail shops will become a reality for Savage x Fenty.
Georg Richter, former chief operating officer of direct-to-consumer beauty giant Guthy-Renker and the ceo and founder of OceanX, a subscription commerce platform that provides e-commerce, fulfillment, customer care, and business intelligence for brands and retailers looking to execute large-scale subscription programs, thinks stores aren’t the end-all, be-all, and that Rihanna will excel in the online-only space.
“Membership brands are so hot right now and Rihanna can certainly create something special where people feel like they belong and want to buy from her. A person like her has it easy in this business because people are already looking for her, she’s a modern influencer. It’s hard to start something if you don’t have that reach,” he said.
With skin in the game, it becomes even more personal. And for Rihanna, a pop star who is still at the top of her game, the music factor provides more synergies and more currency with which to trade online. “She can do things others cannot by offering access to concerts or previews of her music. With that many angles to play with, it becomes a frenzy,” said Richter.
The data piece, of course, is king in a direct-to-consumer business, and offers insight and control on consumers’ shopping habits.
“She can see who her customers are, understand who they are, where they are, and how to retarget them. It’s very different if the merchandise just sits there in a store,” he said.
Richter, who also has clients in the membership lingerie space, noted that often customers feel more comfortable trying on the product at home rather than in a store, which could also lead to them buying more.
“Everyone wants to be like Kylie Jenner and her lipstick, but the key is understanding the brand and understanding their audience,” he said.
While lingerie doesn’t have the built-in replenishment factor of beauty products or the relative ease in manufacturing a product that isn’t fit- or size-dependent, it does have the potential to become an item that women will buy over and over again – from the right person, i.e., someone whom they admire and feel a connectivity with.
The metric by which such quality is most often measured, Instagram followers, shows that Rihanna is among the elite, with @badgalriri tallying 62.5 million followers (her beauty cohort @kimkrdashian has 111 million and @kyliejenner has 108.5 million).
As for her pop-star cohorts, @beyonce has 115 million, @taylorswift has 107.8 million and @katyperry has 69.6 million, but so far none of them has had the impact Rihanna has in a fashion- or beauty-driven business. Yes, there have been licensed fragrances and beauty spokeswoman deals (Rihanna herself was a Dior Beauty ambassador), but Katy Perry’s shoe collection or Beyonce’s Ivy Park activewear for Topshop haven’t been as buzzy as Fenty for Puma.
“When you have a celebrity operating on all cylinders like Rihanna is, with many programs working, it brings a lot of momentum,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser of The NPD Group Inc.
“This is the type of business where you have to strike while the iron is hot, and she has shown the ability to do it at the right moment, picking the right place to make the moves. She got into sportswear when the active influence was coming up, and the same with beauty and now lingerie. And she’s found eager partners that make sense. That keeps the legitimacy and her integrity with the consumer.”
While Cohen predicts success for Savage x Fenty, he does’t necessarily think it spells the end for traditional lingerie retailers. “Does it erode regular brick and mortar? It impacts it but does not destroy it,” he said, also noting that some subscription-based fashion brands, unless their product is compelling enough to retain repeat customers, “can see their membership drop to 25 percent past six months.”
Like Jefferies analyst Konik, who said, “Rihanna exudes sexiness, but there’s nothing off-the-wall about her. She’s not like Johnny Depp falling off the deep end; she’s not over-the-top like Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress. She’s maintained a classy image,” Cohen believes that Rihanna has struck the perfect balance to spur, not scare, aspirational customers.
He noted, “She’s not too avant garde but she’s not shy about selling trends. She’s the right mix of personality and good business sense.”