It’s no secret that Rihanna marches to the beat of her own drum. At the pop-up store in Paris for a walk-through of Fenty, her debut ready-to-wear collection created in partnership with luxury conglomerate LVMH, she postponed the meeting by one hour, which then turned into a further two-hour delay before she eventually arrived more than three hours late. If this were any other designer, editors would be fuming, loudly staging a mass walk-out. Instead, they were happily shopping. When the fashion world’s harshest critics begin purchasing straight from the rails, it’s a sure sign that Rihanna has another hit on her hands.
The collection – two years in the making and priced from 200 Euros for a white, waist-cinched T-shirt up to around 1,100 Euros for a reversible parka – is a round-up of the kind of clothes Rihanna wanted to have in her own wardrobe but couldn’t find. “I often walk into stores and I’m like, ‘I love this, but I wish it was more like that, or in a different colour or in a different fabric’ – and now I get to do it,” she said, dressed in Fenty’s tailored white blazer-minidress hybrid. Highlights included strong-shouldered corseted trouser suits sold with matching bum-bags, men’s cotton shirting, and multi-pocketed oversized jackets in Japanese raw denim. “I love strong silhouettes, and for women to look confident, that’s what I want to achieve with this collection,” she said.
The debut extends, too, to accessories, from point-toe strappy sandals in zingy and neutral hues, to statement shield sunglasses, and bold architectural jewellery in polished gold with crystal pave. “I always had a love of fashion and style,” she explained, adding, “I loved everything my mum wore, from her make-up to her clothing…” I ask what her mum’s style was like. “Oh, she was bad ass. She wore a lot of oversized stuff but still very feminine, I just wanted to be her.”
Of course, this isn’t her first foray into fashion. The 31-year-old was creative director of women’s collections for Puma, and she has designed lingerie under the Savage x Fenty moniker. But this is her first experience of working in the luxury sector. “We’re using the best fabrics I’ve ever encountered; everything is so well made. We want the best quality and we want to make something that someone can have forever. I know what’s gone into the making of every single piece.” She’s tried and tested everything herself and says there is big emphasis on fit. “I’m a curvy girl, if I can’t wear my stuff then it just won’t work. I need to see how it looks on my hips, on my thighs, on my stomach – does it look good on me or only on a fit model? It’s important.”
She’s also re-writing the way things are done at LVMH. Fenty represents the first major fashion brand that the conglomerate has founded from scratch – not to mention comprising the first luxury fashion brand helmed by a black woman. And, by offering this collection as a direct-to-consumer retail model with new pieces arriving on a 6-8 week basis, she’s also changing up the fashion production schedule. The first instalment goes on sale on Fenty.com on May 29; the next instalment launches at the end of June.
“There is no six-month wait, you get it when you see it,” she said. “There’s no tease. You see it, love it, and want it and that’s because I’m like that, I want things right away – I see designers’ new season and I’m like, ‘Look 11, I need that!’” She laughed. “It’s frustrating when you can’t buy straight away.” The retail strategy is a first for the luxury conglomerate. “I really appreciate that LVMH is flexible enough to allow me to have a different perspective on how I want to release things,” she said adding, “Mr. Arnault [Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO, LVMH] is not an idiot, he’s a very smart man and he’s open.”
She hopes the customers will be open, too. “There is huge diversity in the collection, which you will see as the new pieces come out, because that’s my style,” she said. “I’m all over the place, in sweats one day and a dress the next.” She promises streetwear elements but executed in a luxurious way. Likewise, Rihanna hopes that men will shop from the collection, too. (British Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Edward Enninful, purchased the reversible brown and black parka for himself.) “I like to wear men’s clothes, I don’t like to say, ‘It’s a man’s thing or a woman’s thing.’ I hope men and women just wear it because they love it.”
With everything she’s achieved – eight critically acclaimed albums, 14 US No.1 singles, sell-out tours, nine Grammys, and the not so small matter of her ground-breaking, million-dollar Fenty Beauty line (and its 40 shades of foundation which literally turned the cosmetics world on its head) – does she still feel pressure to out-perform, to do better? “I feel pressure in everything, of course. I care to make it the best and present it in the best way, there is pressure every single second, I feel it… not like crumbling pressure,” she laughed, “but fearlessness is a façade.”
It’s clear Rihanna isn’t one to take stock of her successes and she doesn’t seem the reflective type. But you get the sense that she acknowledges the gravitas of this partnership with LVMH. Becoming the first black woman to run a major luxury fashion house surely demands a moment of reflection. “Personally, for me as an immigrant moving to America; that’s a big journey for me to even get here to Paris. And that’s something I celebrate and embrace,” she said. “I just want to make my boss proud,” she said, referring to Arnault. If the number of editors leaving here with Fenty purchases are any kind of signifier, that’s already a done deal.
See every look from the Fenty debut drop below, on sale at the pop-up until June 2, available online from May 29 at Fenty.com.