Rihanna, the singer, philanthropist, makeup mogul, part-time actress and fashion designer has added one more feather to her very accomplished cap: fashion show producer.
The 31-year-old unveiled her latest line of lingerie at New York Fashion Week on September 10, and tonight, the Savage X Fenty show, which, judging by the trailer alone, looks to be a hot melange of singers, models, music, dancing and god knows what else, will be available to stream on Amazon Prime as a televised special event across 200 countries and territories. The lingerie is currently being sold on Amazon.
It’s being hailed as the new Victoria’s Secret, but VS, with its puritanical angel wings and galloping parade of Size 0, (almost uniformly) white supermodels, was never this diverse.
Rihanna may have plucked the usual players, Cara Delevigne, Joan Smalls, the sisters Hadid, to showcase her vibrant lingerie collection – which has been dubbed “Coachella for Underwear” - but she also featured Laverne Cox, curve models, Paloma Elsesser and Ashley Graham, Slick Woods, non-binary models, pregnant models and activist Lauren Wasser, a model who uses two gold prosthetic legs after having both amputated.
Performers Halsey, DJ Kaled, Migos, among other are also featured, singing, not at the models, the way they used to at the Victoria’s Secret shows, like some sort of musical cat caller, but beside them.
Also present: fat rolls, saggy boobs, uneven skin tones and a vibe that felt celebratory and authentic. The latter is probably the hardest to concoct at fashion shows, where any sort of deviation from the 5’9 skeletal norm can appear like a gimmick or stunt to attract publicity.
But in Rihanna’s case, the absence of publicity stunts is surely down to one thing: the woman behind the brand is herself a person of colour; a self-professed proud immigrant who has enjoyed her body – and worldwide admiration - at every dress size.
Rihanna has experiential knowledge of her customer base, because she’s designing for herself. She doesn’t need to follow some outdated construction of what old men, raised on soft core images of hairless, white bodies and breast implants, think females should want to be.
Rihanna understands women, the people who are now buying the stuff, no longer have a desire to dress sexy for some man. As she has been quoted saying at this show and the one before it, “I buy lingerie for my own damn self.”
Rihanna understands women, the people who are now buying the stuff, no longer have a desire to dress sexy for some man.
This is a crucial fact that Victoria’s Secret appear blind to. While only the naïve would call the male gaze obsolete, it has nevertheless been dislodged as the defining viewpoint, or spire, to which every female consumer strives to cling to.
Victoria’s Secret, with its bright undies, and scanty bras, is, in all honesty, not that far removed from the Savage X Fenty aesthetic. They have similar price points and are aimed at the same demographic. The key difference is that Rihanna, now in partnership with LVMH, among the world’s the largest luxury goods conglomerate, has presented such lurid confections in a knowing, almost ironic way. Her designs have a raw, DIY edge, and perhaps that’s the point: these are the outfits you wear alone at home, checking yourself out in the wardrobe mirror.
Victoria’s Secret, stumbling as it is, behind the current mood of inclusivity, body positivity and empowerment has promised to return to a fully televised show next year. But with falling sales, a recently departed CEO and a now irreparably tarnished reputation, due in no small part to its associations with serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, should VS even consider returning to the televised catwalk? Maybe they won’t have to. Maybe they’ll take their combusted concoction of a mid-80s male gaze fantasy and call it a day. If they do plan on making a return they had better seek the advice of someone other than an old white man. Rihanna, who also happens to be the richest singer on Earth, is proof that if you want to stay successful as a lingerie brand, you need to have a woman with taste at the helm.
Natalie Reilly is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @thatnatreilly.