Are Celebrity Brands Changing the Meaning of Luxury?

With the highly anticipated launch of Rihanna’s luxury fashion brand, Fenty, in partnership with the Parisian luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, Ri Ri is set to shake up the fashion industry. At PurseBop we want to know if Rihanna’s foray into luxury fashion signals a change in the industry. Has a culmination of the influencer age and Kardashian mania transformed the luxury industry into mere celebrity power play?

Looks from the collection Photo courtesy: Fenty

We know what you’re thinking, is there anything the Queen of Pop can’t do? Rihanna has topped the charts, redefined the entire beauty industry AND she has now partnered up with none other than the mastermind behind the likes of Louis Vuitton and Givenchy to start a luxury fashion label! According to a profile in Forbes, the singer is worth around $600 million, officially making her the world’s richest female musician at just 31 years old. The star’s success is undoubtedly at an all-time high but what does Rihanna’s Fenty brand mean for the luxury market? Do celebrities have a legitimate place in the industry? Moreover, what can they offer that experienced designers can’t? Fenty could be set to reconstruct the concept of celebrity brands and their place in the luxury industry. With fashion editors across the globe singing its praises, including the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, it looks like the brand may already have.

British Vogue Editor in Chief Edward Enninful at the Fenty launch in Paris Photo courtesy: @edward_enninful/Instagram

Luxury is defined as a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense. Notorious for being photographed draped in diamonds, I think it’s safe to say that Rihanna understands decadence more than most. The singer turned fashion and beauty mogul explained to Vogue the importance of exceptional quality, a fundamental doctrine of luxury. She affirmed, We want the best quality and we want to make something that someone can have forever.”

Photo courtesy: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com

It was not so long ago that celebrity fashion labels were associated with dwindling reality star careers and scandalous affairs (shout out to Monica Lewinsky, who used the buzz she received from her infamous presidential affair to launch a short-lived career as a handbag designer). But Rihanna’s luxury fashion brand could signal a move away from this less than desirable reputation. Fenty certainly isn’t the star’s first fashion endeavor. In 2017 she quite literally turned the cosmetics world on its head with the launch of Fenty Beauty. Boasting over 40 foundation shades, the brand was praised for its broad inclusivity across skin tones and named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of the year. Partaking in fashion ventures as early as 2011, Rihanna has certainly been laying the foundations for her Fenty brand for quite some time now. Arguably the most memorable of which was the debut of her lingerie brand Savage X Fenty at NYFW in September 2018 which celebrated size and colour diversity. 

Photo courtesy: Vikram Valluri/BFA/Shutterstock

The slow and steady rise of this star’s fashion empire doesn’t exactly scream fallen pop princess desperately trying to stay in the limelight – far from it. The singer’s move into fashion appears to have been meticulously planned. Each move has been strategically devised to move her one step closer towards a goal. Knowing our girl Ri Ri we can only assume that goal is world-wide style domination. The star told Vogue, “Everything that I’ve learnt in the past was to lead me up to this moment.” Each endeavour prioritises inclusivity and diversity, presenting these as staples that the star’s namesake will live by. In the same way luxury is defined by quality and lavishness, Rihanna’s fashion enterprises have become known for giving a voice to those long ignored by the fashion industry. Fenty, presented as a culmination of Rihanna’s work in the industry up until this point, looks to be no different. Fenty’s Style Director, Jahleel Weaver, spoke to Vogue about the brand’s ethos, stating, “it’s great to feel that you’re represented in a way that you didn’t feel before”.

The role of social media in promoting celebrity fashion brands certainly cannot be ignored. Boasting over 70 million followers on Instagram, @badgalriri has a huge following. Utilising this, like so many celebs do, makes for lucrative business. But while other celebrity profiles can often feel like an underhanded marketing ploy, Ri Ri’s appears more as a ode to the principles that Fenty has been founded on. Rihanna’s post of an underground fashion show held by a collective of Black artists that inspired her, the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), that pioneered the Black is Beautiful movement in early 1960s Harlem, shows this. The collective threw community fashion shows using dark-skinned models with natural-hair, promoting modern takes on African-inspired fashion. Speaking to Vogue about the influence AJASS had on her brand, Rihanna describes how the group’s mentality is relevant to what Fenty is doing right now.

A community fashion show held by AJASS Photo courtesy: @badgalriri/Instagram

The brand’s conception seems both planned and effortless. The Queen of Pop doesn’t need gimmicks and gizmos because a Rih ethos sells itself. Fenty is an extension of Rihanna herself, least of all because it’s named after her. Aside from the emphasis on size and colour diversity, the brand’s ready-to-wear collection personifies Rihanna. Turning up in Paris to showcase her collection rocking one of its signature pieces in front of industry heavyweights was a clear sign that Rihanna was there to sell an extension of herself, what’s not to love?

The unveiling of Rihanna’s collection in Paris seemed like an almost religious ceremony of the star being ordained into the high ranks of the holy fashion community. Nothing proved this more than when she arrived more than 3 hours (fashionably) late. Vogue’s Sarah Harris notes how if this were any other designer editors would have staged a mass walk-out. But for Ri Ri they didn’t seem to mind so much. Fashion has always oozed into all sections of pop culture but Rihanna seems to be capitalising on this in a different way to many of her predecessors. Securing a partnership with LVMH has validated Fenty as a luxury brand, distinguishing it from your typical celebrity collaboration. For an industry infamously hard to be accepted and taken seriously in, Rihanna has managed to score a spot in every fashion editor’s diary. This achievement cannot be overstated.

Rihanna is no stranger to the fashion crowd. Here with Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton menswear ss19 show in Paris Photo courtesy: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Vogue’s Osman Ahmed argues that Rihanna’s rise in fashion shows a wider shift in consumer demand for diversity and inclusivity. He writes how music stars are beginning to take ownership of their fan bases and create the product, rather than just advertising it. He argues that due to fashion becoming increasingly centred around direct-to-consumer ‘drops’, the streaming model that the music industry uses is well suited to the goals of many forward-thinking fashion brands. However, Rihanna is building on this business model by being the change she wants to see in the industry. She’s incorporating her core beliefs and values into her brand and using it to enact change.

Ri Ri’s emphasis on inclusivity presents a refreshing change to the typical model of luxury brands whereby there is an emphasis on desire through unattainability. The rewards of having a superstar at the helm of a fashion house are clear, just look at what Karl Lagerfeld’s popularity and showmanship did for Chanel. If Rihanna’s past endeavors are anything to go by, it’s safe to say that any industry she takes a shot at she redefines. Therefore, it seems only certain that where Rihanna has led, the luxury fashion industry is set to follow and what could be more luxurious than inclusivity?

View every look from the Fenty debut drop here. Available online from May 29 at Fenty.com.

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