PARIS — “I’m aggressive when it comes to style. I love being daring, I love pushing the envelope. I love every type of silhouette: I love strong silhouettes, I love women to look confident and badass, and so that’s exactly what I plan to bring.”
So declared Rihanna to a group of reporters at the press launch of her debut collection under the Fenty label, her joint venture with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, at a pop-up store in the Marais district here on Wednesday.
Wearing a white corset blazer with power shoulders and pointy sandals, and pendants including an Egyptian ankh symbol, the “Work” singer was the picture of a modern businesswoman: powerful yet feminine, with a strong sense of her own personality.
Indeed, with its emphasis on cinched waists and billowing sleeves, and masculine-feminine mix of tailoring and corsetry details, the clothes hanging on the racks in the venue, decked out in the Fenty brand’s signature electric blue, were very much a reflection of Rihanna’s personal style.
“Being the muse of a fashion maison that you’re also creating is pretty unique, but it’s the only thing that works for me,” she explained. “I’m kind of a little selfish like that. When it comes to designing, I have to love it, I have to feel passionate about it.”
The pop-up, which also carries shoes, jewelry and eyewear, will open to the public at 10 a.m. on Friday, and stay open for two weeks. While other pop-ups will follow, Rihanna said she opted to sell the collection mainly online, via fenty.com, because she doesn’t like to wait for clothes to become available months after a catwalk show.
“There’s no, ‘See you in the fall, but here’s a tease.’ You see it, you love it, you want it — I’m like that. I’m greedy. I’m calling designers, like ‘look 11, can I get that please?’ But this way, you can buy it as soon as you see it, so no waiting,” she said, adding it wasn’t hard to convince LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault to switch to the new sales model.
“Mr. Arnault is not an idiot, OK — he’s a very smart man and he’s open,” she said ruefully. And while the collection sits at a designer price point, she wants it to be inclusive, so many of the outfits are generously cut — the better to accommodate a range of body types, even though details on sizing were not immediately available.
“You know, I’m a curvy girl, so if I can’t wear my stuff, it’s not going to work,” the pop star said, adding that she tries on everything herself.
“I need to see it on my hips, I need to see it on my thighs, I need to see it on my stomach. Is it making me look snatch, or is it just good on a fit model?” she said. “We stress a lot on that, and there’s definitely a huge diversity in the style of who’s wearing it, as you’ll see as the collections continue to roll out.”
Similarly, the design team is open to outside influences. Matthew Adams Dolan, one of Rihanna’s favorite designers, worked on the first release, creating items like wide-legged Japanese denim pants with a deep inverted pleat. Conner Ives, a U.S. designer studying at Central Saint Martins, worked on the upcoming second release.
Rihanna said in addition to being open to young talents, the brand aims to capitalize on a broader wave of inclusivity in fashion.
“I feel like right now fashion in general has been stepping up a lot and being vocal about issues, whether it’s subtly or aggressively, like Pyer Moss, and I enjoy that. I love the message, I love that anger. We, too, have been lightly touching on that,” she said.
The collection will make its debut online on May 29 in 14 countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and a dozen European nations, said Jean-Baptiste Voisin, chief strategy officer at LVMH, who spearheaded the project.
After two years of utmost secrecy, Voisin lifted the lid on the genesis of the label and practical aspects such as price points, the frequency of drops — or “releases,” in Fenty parlance — and his expectations for the line, which breaks the mold in terms of LVMH’s prior experience of running brands including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi.
“It’s not a celebrity brand. It’s a brand that has to appeal to other women, too. There will be other muses, other people wearing the products. It’s not a brand that will depend solely on her image, that’s for sure,” he told WWD.
Product will drop roughly every four weeks, with the aim of selling out each run. Like Louis Vuitton, Fenty won’t offer discounts on its products.
Operating with a skeleton staff — a mix of veterans of LVMH brands such as Vuitton, Fendi, Berluti and Make Up For Ever, alongside outside recruits — and no permanent office, the label seeks to combine Europe’s luxury tradition with a U.S. approach to inclusivity. “It’s really a start-up garage mentality,” Voisin said.
The idea was born in April 2017, when he and his colleague Céline Sanzey met Rihanna and Jay Brown, ceo of entertainment company Roc Nation, at a restaurant in New York City. “We literally sketched out the idea there and then,” Voisin recalled.
At the time, Rihanna had already demonstrated a serious interest in, and influence on, fashion — along with formidable design chops and acute instincts — with her tenure as the creative director of Puma, energizing the German activewear brand with her Fenty by Puma project.
She was developing her Fenty Beauty line with LVMH-controlled Kendo, an incubator for products destined for LVMH’s Sephora perfumery chain and other outposts. Launched in late 2017, Fenty Beauty was hailed as a transformative brand, generating revenues of about 500 million euros in its first full year of activity.
By then, LVMH had already committed to expanding the brand into clothing. And while it sees Rihanna — and her 71 million Instagram followers — as a powerful conduit to a new Millennial demographic, the luxury group does not expect to pick up the same customers who buy her Pro Filt’r foundation and Killawatt highlighter.
“We’re not at the same level as Fenty Beauty in terms of price points — we’re 10 times more expensive, so by definition, we are targeting a customer base that is much smaller and different,” Voisin said.
Likewise, he does not expect to post the same sales figures, even though prices start at 200 euros for a tailored white T-shirt, 370 euros for colorful wraparound shades, 280 euros for oversized earrings and 550 euros for shoes.
“It’s not the same business model because for Fenty Beauty, you have 1,600 Sephora stores carrying the products. That’s physical retail with staff doing the sales. We only have the web site,” he pointed out.
“There is no example of a real brand with long-term ambitions that is 100 percent digital generating revenues of more than 50 million euros over a 12-month period. If we do more than 50 million in 12 months, we’ll be the first,” he added. “When you start out, no matter how well-known you are, doing more than 50 million is heroic.”
While Rihanna is ceo and creative director of the label, the managing director is another woman, Véronique Gebel, in charge of running the day-to-day business. Gebel teamed with Rihanna’s trusted stylist, Jahleel Weaver, to get the teams up and running.
Gebel said Weaver’s role was crucial in the early “getting-to-know-you” phase, helping to bridge cultural differences and provide insight into Rihanna’s creative process. “It was a sort of tango, a marvelous learning curve,” she recalled.
While Rihanna is well-known for her flexible approach to time-keeping — she arrived at the pop-up at 4:30 p.m., several hours behind schedule — Gebel said her work ethic was impressive.
“Once she’s there it’s so powerful, you forget about the wait. It’s no longer an issue, because the experience is so intense, present and terrific,” she enthused. “She is 300 percent concentrated — she can go for 10 hours at a time.”
Voisin was equally in awe of the performer. “She has a vision, and she knows how to pursue it with the determination, time and energy necessary to achieve it,” he said. “In everything she does, she is one step ahead.”
Rihanna admitted that she plays to win. “I care about what I do, and I care to make it the best and have it be presented in the best way. I’m passionate about what I do, so there’s pressure every single second. It’s not like crumbling pressure, it’s just like, ‘You better get it good, girl,” she said with a laugh.
Still, she tries not to think about the fact that she is the first woman of color to head an LVMH brand. “When I walk into the office I don’t think about those things, because what’s in front is exactly what’s at task and that’s the only thing that’s important — and making sure that I make my boss proud,” she said with a grin.
The singer sat down with WWD to share her thoughts on streetwear, being a role model and giving the “cool” kids a chance.
WWD: This project is a first on so many levels, including the fact that you are the first woman of color to head an LVMH brand. What aspect of this are you most proud of?
Robyn Rihanna Fenty: Really the same thing that I’ve been proud of from the beginning, which is the opportunity that I’ve been given, that someone believed in me enough to grant me this opportunity, and it’s a really big deal. It’s a really special, unique opportunity for me and for LVMH. We’re excited. It’s an exciting partnership, kind of an unexpected one in a way, but I love it. I love the marriage, I love what I can bring being plugged into LVMH’s incredible machine.
WWD: It’s not often that Bernard Arnault gives figures for individual brands during his financial press conferences. With Fenty Beauty, he’s been giving the figures from the get-go as an example of a highly successful start-up. Are you conscious of being a role model for young girls in terms of being an artist and an entrepreneur?
R.R.F.: I never thought about the entrepreneur side as much until recently, really, because my role as a role model has always been connected to Rihanna the artist, and so I always used to look at me as the businesswoman as the behind-the-scenes kind of role, and I guess now it’s really hitting me how special this is, and how many young women — and young men — are going to be motivated by this. They’re going to know that it’s possible, and all of a sudden this whole idea and dream that they never thought was possible, or that they could even have, they can.
WWD: So you’ve always been a savvy businesswoman, but before it was more in stealth mode. People were seeing the result of your hard work, but not the work itself. Now people can see you’re a hard worker.
R.R.F.: Thank you. Yeah, because I did endorsements before, and they were fun, but they don’t last. They’re not something that you get to take home with you, you just lend your face basically to a brand. This is so much more fulfilling. It feels right and I’m working with the best, so it couldn’t be any more special for me.
WWD: In your previous work with Puma, you were credited with kick-starting the ath-leisure trend for women. There is a lot of tailoring in this collection. Are you over the whole streetwear thing?
R.R.F.: Over it? Never. Never over it, but tailoring and corsetry, some of the details that we have used in the first drop, which is the release that you see here now, those are details that I wanted together, because that kind of really explains me in a dress. It’s like, I love to dress in men’s clothing, and clothing that’s inspired by men’s clothing, but I also love to put on a gown and a slip and a heel and an earring, and so I just like to put those two things together all the time. Every time I dress, it’s like a little bit of two things or three worlds together, and so it had to be reflected here.
WWD: You’re the main face of Fenty Beauty, even if the brand has a lot of other faces. Will you be wearing your own clothing line a lot? Will you be the main ambassador for it?
R.R.F.: Well listen, it’s mine, I love it! I love it, it’s in my closet, so I wear it. I wear it all the time. I can wear whatever I want, which is what I want my customer to know. It can be a part of your closet, you can wear it together — full look — or you can just mix it in with what you already have. You can feel free. Women are multifaceted, so it all depends on my mood.
WWD: It’s interesting that you have brought in young designers like Matthew Adams Dolan and Conner Ives to work on the collection. Why is it important to you to be democratic and open in the creation process?
R.R.F.: I think it’s very important. I think it’s wise to have young, new, fresh ideas be a part of the structure, because you don’t know everything. These kids are cool, they’re smart, they’re talented, and I want to give them the opportunity to come here and be a part of it, be involved, even if it’s for a year or six months. I welcome it.
WWD: This is an online brand mainly. Do you still shop, and if so, what makes it worth it for you to go to a store these days?
R.R.F.: I like either being emotionally connected to a brand because I love what they stand for, I love their story, I love the designer, I love the clothes. Those are the things that get you off your butt and into a store.
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