Fact: Rihanna has successfully built an empire — a few, even — outside of her musical one.
Throughout 2019, Rihanna revealed the true force of Fenty, her last name that has now become synonymous with a history-making luxury house with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, an international beauty brand and a lingerie line that put Victoria’s Secret to shame. As fashion and beauty brands stumbled over one another in search of the pulse of culture, Rihanna set a new pulse this year, welcoming all to her party.
But it would be remiss to say she hadn’t already been doing so for the past several years. In some ways, it’s surprising her reign didn’t come sooner.
If “Good Girl Gone Bad” was the album that marked Rihanna’s musical transformation, her role as a creative director for Puma is what set her up for global fashion domination. Having already been named a style icon in 2014 by the CFDA, Rihanna joined Puma later that year, going above and beyond the normal standards of a celebrity ambassadorship. Her Puma Creeper style sold out in three hours — countless copies (and lawsuits) of that and other designs from her Puma tenure followed — and she eventually brought Puma to the runway with four ready-to-wear collections that helped propel the ath-leisure movement.
Fenty Makes Fashion History With LVMH
WWD broke the news that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton would create a fashion brand from scratch, the first time it has done so since Christian Lacroix in 1987, with Rihanna, making her the first black woman to lead an LVMH brand. LVMH handpicked employees from within, including some from Louis Vuitton and Céline, to work with Rihanna and her team. Veronique Gebel, formerly ready-to-wear director at Louis Vuitton, was named managing director of the Fenty label.
In a statement, Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, called Rihanna “a true entrepreneur, a real ceo and a terrific leader,” all characteristics he said he discovered through LVMH’s partnership with Fenty Beauty.
Fenty eschewed tradition from the start, choosing to forego a fashion week debut in favor of a pop-up store in Paris. The first collection dropped in May and was characterized by monochromatic suiting: strong shoulders complemented by tailored waists, oversize jackets and equally oversize trousers, short skirts and fanny packs designed to accessorize and accentuate. There were toe-y shoes, large hoops and sunglasses that are cause enough for an outfit.
That collection and the ones that followed were unmistakably Rihanna, emitting the moods and vibes of a woman known to wear sweatpants with diamonds one day and a Dior ballgown with impractically small sunglasses the next.
“She’s always been a trendsetter, but now people are really copying her style,” said Sheena Ward, who has been documenting and finding fashion credits for all of Rihanna’s outfits on the popular Instagram account @hausofrihanna for eight years. “You wanna dress like Rihanna, then you need to be in Fenty. People are really waking up to it.”
Mere months after launch, the Fenty label was given the Urban Luxe award at the British Fashion Awards.
Savage X Storms the Scene
As if her beauty line and collaboration with LVMH weren’t enough, Rihanna had Savage X Fenty, her lingerie company, to keep her busy. The brand actually launched in 2018, a partnership with TechStyle Fashion Group, but it wasn’t until this year that it fully sunk into the fashion consciousness.
That’s in part because of Rihanna’s second lingerie fashion show, which took place in New York’s Barclay Center this past September. The show, which was under tight surveillance — spectators had to turn in their phones pre-show to avoid leaking clips on social media — until its premiere on Amazon a few weeks later, was hailed for its diversity and message of inclusion.
Models in various shapes, sizes, skin tones and physical characteristics — including Slick Woods, transgender model and actress Laverne Cox and Lauren Wasser, who showed off a pair of gold-colored prosthetic legs — walked the runway alongside models like the Hadid sisters. Savage was also recognized for its extensive range of sizes (in A through H cups).
Former Fifth Harmony member-turned-soloist Normani, who danced in the show, was later selected as Savage X’s first brand ambassador.
Rihanna, meanwhile, only appeared on the stage for a few minutes at the beginning of the show. But that was enough for fans and fellow competitors in the world of innerwear to take note.
It also didn’t hurt that the show occurred right around the time when Victoria’s Secret’s annual fashion extravaganza would have taken place. (Victoria’s Secret first indicated that its show was on the rocks last spring, amid declining sales and continued consumer backlash for its outdated marketing.)
But consumers didn’t have to fret too much about missing out on ladies modeling the latest trends in intimates on the world’s highest catwalk. That’s because Rihanna quite literally stole the show from the lingerie giant, repackaging it with her own style and charm.
Whether it was sheer luck or a more strategic move by the megastar to host her show during Victoria’s Secret’s low point, fans didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Rihanna was praised for it.
Ironically, she used many of the same elements that Victoria’s Secret used, like musician Halsey, who performed in both shows this year. And, the models. In addition to Gigi and Bella Hadid, former Angels Cara Delevingne, Alek Wek and Joan Smalls also walked Rihanna’s show.
Also interesting is that Rihanna’s formula for inclusion has been done before.
Brands like Wacoal, ThirdLove, America Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie, Adore Me and Playful Promises are just a handful of the names that have endorsed inclusion, using models of different shapes and ages and offering a wide range of sizes, for some time. Many of them even have a greater size range than the Savage X Fenty line. But those brands don’t have Rihanna.
Also noteworthy is that while other brands have indeed been screaming diversity to anyone who will listen, Rihanna is the first woman of color to run a major lingerie company — at least as the face of the brand. (TechStyle Fashion Group was cofounded by two men.) That’s because being a woman-dominated company means everything to consumers today — and why Savage X Fenty continues to grow.
The Savage X brand, however, is still only a fraction of the overall intimates apparel market. Ayako Homma, fashion and luxury consultant at Euromonitor International, a market research firm, said the brand is too small to track, but estimates Savage X has about half a percent of the U.S. market. In comparison, Victoria’s Secret has 24 percent of the same market.
Even so, Rihanna controls the majority of the mindshare in the intimates market and her influence can’t be ignored. Models that were once vying for spots in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are now eager to walk in Rihanna’s show.
“Women today want to feel like they’re good enough,” said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist. “Rihanna’s probably done a better job of communicating that than other companies.”
Album-less, Rihanna Drops a Book
“The Rihanna Book” — named so as to prevent potential confusion with any other Rihanna book out there — is a 504-page Phaidon tome with 1,050 images of Rihanna. Weighing more than a newborn, it is a hefty visual autobiography that comes supported by three different Haas Brothers-designed stands. One stand takes the form of Rihanna’s tattooed hands: Rihanna supports Rihanna.
Rihanna’s team first approached Phaidon about collaborating on a book back in 2017, said Deb Aaronson, vice president, group publisher at Phaidon. The tome, she said, is “by far our best-selling book this season” and is already in Phaidon’s “top 10 bestseller list in the history of Phaidon,” which also includes “The Art Book” and “Silver Spoon,” of which Phaidon has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Still, Rihanna was expected to deliver an album in 2019. All year, rumors swirled of an elusive reggae album, the followup to 2016’s “Anti.” “Where’s the album?” became an inside joke within Rihanna’s fanbase, the Navy. Even Rihanna poked fun at it.
Despite a dry year music-wise, Rihanna remained in the pop culture zeitgeist, inking a number of deals with Amazon, including the Savage X fashion show, the “Guava Island” musical film with Childish Gambino and a yet-to-be-released $25 million documentary about her life.
“This year has been quite an overwhelming one,” Rihanna wrote on Instagram in November.
That explains why, with all her business ventures, Forbes estimates the superstar is worth about $600 million, outranking the likes of Madonna and Beyoncé.
Fenty Beauty Continues Expansion
In the midst of makeup’s U.S. slowdown, Fenty Beauty turned its sights to Asia. The two-year-old LVMH brand, which reportedly rang up 500 million euros in sales in 2018, expanded to Hong Kong, Macau, Seoul and Jeju Island.
Fenty Beauty’s Asia play came just a few months after the brand caught heat for what was deemed a culturally offensive product name, Geisha Chic. Fenty Beauty swiftly responded by pulling the product.
The brand continued to roll out new products, including Pro Filt’r Longwear Hydrating Foundation, which comes in 50 shades, Brow MVP, a two-in-one brow pencil and brush, and Snap Shadows, a set of six-pan mini eyeshadow palettes.