NEW YORK—Last year Hamish Bowles, a writer for Vogue, asked Rihanna in an interview about her big-picture plans for her fashion brand. “I know where I’m going next,” she said. “But I can’t tell you that. What’s the fun in that?”
After her Savage x Fenty spring 2019 lingerie show in September, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Rihanna’s strategy seemed clear: She plans to broaden the fashion community while also disorienting it.
She wants to entertain herself, too. “I get bored. I get very bored,” Rihanna said backstage after the show. “It’s like a pair of shoes, you know. They’re only good until tomorrow.”
Already, the singer and designer has shown that restless daring with her personal style, turning an ever-present wineglass into an accessory and wearing a dress by a young designer fresh out of Pratt Institute in a music video.
With Fenty Beauty, the makeup line she introduced last year, she created a truly diverse makeup brand, offering products in dozens of shades across the color spectrum.
Now, perhaps in a riposte to Victoria’s Secret, Rihanna is doing the same with lingerie. Yes, supermodels including Gigi and Bella Hadid made an appearance. But the collection was much more about presenting women of all sizes and ethnicities, including two visibly pregnant models.
Raisa Thomas, a 26-year-old makeup artist and plus-size model, said she “got hit up by a casting director in a DM” and wound up in the show. She appreciates how Rihanna is diversifying the fashion industry, she said.
“She’s putting it on the map for people to be inclusive,” Thomas said. “Plus size, white, black. It’s good for young women to see different types of people in a fashion show.”
The crowd, too, felt more diverse than the typical celebrities and fashion regulars, many of whom were on their way to the airport to catch flights to Europe for the shows there. As for the disorientation, the presentation paid little attention to fashion show protocol. Models emerged unannounced in dim light until the milling crowd took notice that the show had actually started; cell phones were then whipped out. The elevated stage was more built installation than runway, with a pond, a “growing station” and tropical-plant-filled botanical domes that blocked sightlines. Unless you moved around the room (there was no seating), you missed half the looks. The vibe was less lingerie-show gawkfest than performance art piece, with models moving in slow motion, crawling on all fours, executing fierce choreographed dance moves.
Backstage, Rihanna said the concept was about mixing the organic with the futuristic, “or what we hope to see in the future. Women being celebrated in all forms and all body types and all races and cultures.” She added: “It’s a shame that women have to feel insecure or self-conscious about how their bodies look.” Though her sportswear line with Puma was a success, the clothing brand didn’t show a collection this year. And her shows during New York Fashion Week have seemed more an outgrowth of convenient scheduling, coming during the same week as her Diamond Ball fund-raising gala. One wonders where she will go from here.
Asked about her move into lingerie, Rihanna said, “I wanted to do it, I wanted to get it right and I wanted it to be something that was respected. So I took my time.” She was still “shocked,” she said, that the industry takes her seriously as a designer. “I know where I’m at. I’m brand-new. I’m learning still and growing. I love to create. I love the process.”
Rihanna was less enthusiastic about the promotional part of brand building, especially through social media. She has called Instagram “the death of trends,” and her prolific use of Snapchat has cooled recently. “I get that it helps the brand and it’s a way of communicating your events and your new products to your fans and to the world,” Rihanna said, before adding, “there’s a battle between what you genuinely want to share and what people care to know.”
She laughed. “I respect it. But, you know, I’m not going to put my every meal” on it.
Image credits: Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times News Service