Rihanna may have looked cool and collected next to the debut collection for her new fashion label, Fenty, donning a brilliant white tuxedo dress and a 1,000-watt smile. But on the inside it was another story.
“It’s all a facade,” said the Barbados-born star who has become the first black woman to launch a major Parisian fashion house.
“Pressure? Of course... I’m passionate about what I do, so there’s pressure every single second. It’s not like crumbling pressure, but it’s like: ‘You better get it good, girl.’”
News of the singer’s groundbreaking deal with LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group, shook up the fashion industry earlier this month. Rihanna is the first woman, and the first person of colour, to create a major brand under the luxury giant from scratch. At age 31, that’s no mean feat.
“This is a moment in history... It’s a big deal for me and my entire generation,” she said.
The collection is named after the singer-turned-designer’s last name: She was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty. The ready-to-wear, footwear, accessories, and eyewear are available for sale in Paris’ Le Marais area in a pop-up store and will debut online on May 29.
Speaking in the store amid snapping cameras, she said she felt the time was right to make a move like this. It comes one year after LVMH’s Louis Vuitton named its first ever African American designer for menswear, Virgil Abloh.
“Right now, fashion in general has been stepping up a lot and been vocal about issues — whether it’s subtly or aggressively,” she said.
While she said Fenty’s ambitions are not “political,” they’re infused with the story of “me as an immigrant moving to America. That was a big journey for me. And to even get here to Paris — it’s something to celebrate and embrace.”
The singer already has a track record for embracing diversity in the luxury industry after she featured some 40 shades of foundation in her hugely lucrative Fenty Beauty line in 2017. Many said that revolutionised the makeup industry and plugged a glaring gap in the market for women with diverse ethnic backgrounds.
That initiative was said to have caught the eye of Europe’s most powerful luxury CEO, Bernard Arnault of LVMH.
But the launch — steered by an outsider with no formal design training — has also been greeted with a dose of cynicism.
Fenty is a recognition that the fashion industry now formally considers a major popstar to have as much to say in design as established figures such as Nicolas Ghesquiere of Louis Vuitton, or even the lauded Alber Elbaz, formerly of Lanvin. He is currently out of work.
Some say Fenty is the first major house of the Instagram age.
The Parisian fashion industry — dominated by white males — is famously snooty, and Rihanna will have a lot to prove.
At the launch, top designers in attendance such as Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing and Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri studiously picked through the clothes on display.
The wearable designs channelled an oversize, street aesthetic, with garments like cross-over jackets in thick cotton canvas or a button-down shirt dress in stiff Japanese denim.
“It’s hardcore, but still chic. It’s that juxtaposition that I really enjoy,” Rihanna said, reeling out technical terms and fabric names she’s recently discovered.
“Knowing me, of course you’re going to have streetwear elements that are done in a luxury way,” she added.
Fenty — not to be confused with the storied LVMH brand Fendi — says it will be based in Paris but will operate online with a See-Now-Wear-Now model, forgoing the usual luxury fashion seasonal previewed designs.
“They were flexible enough to allow me to have a different perspective on the way I wanted to release things,” she said. “Coming from such a traditional background in fashion [as LVMH], you don’t think there’s another way that will work — but they allowed me to do that.”
The head of communication of LVMH, Bernard Arnault’s son, Antoine, admitted Rihanna was not a traditional kind of designer, but said the company had given her total creative freedom.
“Calling it an experiment is a little reductive, given the ambition we have for the project,” Antoine Arnault said.
“There are lots of firsts: It’s the first time we, in fashion, are collaborating so frankly with a popstar. But she’s so much more than that. She’s someone who has a bird’s eye view on fashion and pop culture, who is at the same time obsessed with details.”