One of the biggest fashion icons makes one of the biggest
fashion brands of the century. Explore the fashion story of the
phenomenal Rihanna with Ashutosh Kukreja
To describe Rihanna as merely a famous music artist would not just be perhaps the understatement of the century but a grossly inadequate definition of the absolute icon that is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. The Barbadian singer–songwriter – actor – philanthropist – activist – fashion icon – beauty mogul – businesswoman is indeed no less than a global powerhouse. Judging by her job title (titles?), she has etched her name in the mind of almost every breathing soul on this planet (and a thousand others, if we’re considering Valerian!).
Then again, her seemingly endless hyphenated title affirms the fact that Rihanna truly is a modern megastar, always pushing boundaries and making her mark in whatever she does. She has managed to make herself a household name in the 21st century, which, by the way, is no mean feat in an era of countless reality TV stars, famous-for-being- famous celebrities and influencers, and I think it’s safe to say that Rihanna. Is. Here. To. Last.
From her journey as a young teen artist auditioning for Jay-Z in 2005 to a fashion force starting her own brand with LVMH in 2019, Rihanna has become one of the most influential figures in pop culture, the entertainment industries, the fashion universe, and the rest of the world! So what is it, really, that has driven a young, hopeful girl from the Caribbean to become the modern day mogul the world knows as Rihanna?
Well, there’s no denying the fact that Rihanna is talented in more ways than one, and that she has worked for every bit of the success she has earned today, starting from scratch. But here’s the thing: Rihanna has never been the typical picture perfect, poised and polished image of a female in the entertainment industry, and she’s never tried to pass herself as one.
Even since her early years as a teen star, Rihanna has never been one to fall into any stereotype of how a young, female celebrity like herself should behave: what she should be wearing (or shouldn’t) and how she should craft her public image. She has been the ultimate free-spirit in this manner of speaking, never having bent under pressure to come off as something she’s not, and that is the sheer essence of Rihanna that has gotten her to where she is – that essence of raw, unapologetic authenticity – and the world is here for it.
She has never claimed to be the perfect role model, but a role model should never be a perfect one (or a perfect image to be precise). Rihanna does what she wants, speaks what she feels and wears what she likes, unfazed by skeptics or haters from the very beginning, powered by her ability to simply not give a fuck – and that is what’s inspiring.
As a woman of colour, not only has Rihanna advocated for diversity in the industry, she has very much acted as a driving force when it comes to inclusivity – be it the 50 shades-wide foundation palette of her makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, catering to every skin colour, or the wide range of sizes showcased for her lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty, which is an issue that’s extremely important to people in this day and age.
She is a ‘badass rebel’ in every aspect of modern society – independent, empowering, living by her own rules and not conforming to society – and this very attitude is reflective in her fashion choices as an icon – experimenting, taking risks and possessing the confidence to rock the most extra outfits.
Her evolution as an artist is backed by her fashion evolution; she shows her personality through her bold clothing choices, and yet, there’s an undeniable element of effortlessness, or better put, an element of fun to them! And, that’s what fashion has always been for Rihanna, a platform to have fun, a stage to go crazy and a canvas to express her personality – and THAT has remained a constant throughout her career, even though her personal style has changed.
Back in 2005 when Rihanna had just introduced herself to the world with her debut single ‘Pon de Replay’, no one could’ve imagined the momentum this young, fresh-faced- teen star would possess. Rihanna had only begun playing the fashion game in the public eye, and her style reflected this new-on-the-block ‘teen star’ everyone was talking about.
Her go-to look would be a funky crop top paired with baggy jeans (much like the hit single that made her so famous!). Her style was a playful- casual aesthetic: she played around with clothes, layered knitwear and wore light and bright colours – true to the island girl who had just made it big in Hollywood (and would make much bigger!) and was just having fun in the spotlight, evident by the expressions on her face!
She dressed to the trends of the time – the exposed belly, the Ashley- Tisdalesque-leggings-under-skirt, but she glammed up for the red carpet and her performances, wearing sophisticated outfits and designer dresses, embracing the ‘glam fashion’ aesthetic.
Past her early days in Hollywood, Rihanna had adopted an edgier, more personalised aesthetic, much in tune with the direction of her growth as an artist. She was rocking a shorter, darker do, as she added dark, cool elements to her outfits. Now a frequent invitee at the annual Met, A.K.A. the fashion party of the year, Rihanna chose to go with subtle elements reflective of her effortless, dark, chic and cool sense of style (subtle, that is, compared to her recent appearances at the same event), opting to go with a Georges Chakra light-embellished white gown with black gloves in 2007, and a puffy-sleeved black Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo in 2009.
This new girl had fully embraced the Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R era, and gone were the girly dresses as she now dared to bare in risqué ensembles and stage outfits like her white striped jumpsuit at the 2009 AMAs.
A growing music sensation and a star known just as much for her talent as she was for stirring conversations among her viewers, Rihanna released the music video for S&M in 2010. It caused an immediate strong reaction from the public, and was banned in 11 countries.
Just months after, she landed her first Vogue cover in April 2011. Her true fashionista spirit screamed through her outfits in coming years, as she adopted a more fashion- aware, avant-garde style on the red carpet, determined to make a statement wherever she’d go.
She experimented with interesting hair and beauty looks and was now a designers’ muse, as she donned the eccentric (yet chic) looks from big industry names like Elie Saab, Marchesa and Viktor and Rolf.
Rihanna evolved from the previous quirky outfits to sleek and chic ensembles, yet just as bold and risky as before (if not more). During this period, she was the one to choose for Armani (Grammys 2012), Jean Paul Gaultier (AMAs 2013) and other designers, like Stella McCartney and Altuzarra. She went for more demure colours and strong beauty looks while still leaving room to play around and keep them wanting more.
Her exquisite fashion sense was finally recognized in 2014, when she was awarded the Fashion Icon of the Year by the CFDA, and the only thing that got people talked more about was the fashion choice of the icon for the same event. Rihanna broke the internet with her completely sheer Adam Selman custom-made gown embellished with over 200,000 Swarovski crystals, and her daring fashion forward behavior only made it clearer why she deserved that award. Looking back, her only regret about that night was not wearing an equally bedazzled thong. A true fashion icon indeed!
Rihanna’s more recent years have been marked by a surge of varied, experimental outfits (super dope nonetheless). She has pulled off hugely insane outfits on the red carpet, like when she left onlookers awestruck with her yellow outfit from Gou Pei with a massive train at the Met 2015, or when she channeled the spirit of the papacy itself in her Margiela outfit for Met 2018.
But as a confident and established fashion icon, Rihanna’s style shouts “go hard or go home”, but that is not to say you can’t look just as amazing when you’re home, or in your home- wear, to be precise.
With paparazzi pictures of Rihanna out on the town reaching millions, it was proved that Rihanna’s fashion sense wasn’t just limited to parties and the red carpet, but it was also present on the street. Rihanna’s cool, effortless street style looks now played a whole different dynamic serving as OOTD inspirations for millions, and she has taken this opportunity to deliver athleisure looks, underwear as outerwear and loungewear as evening wear.
FENTY – A new chapter in fashion history written by none other than Robyn Rihanna Fenty herself. Considering Rihanna’s relationship with fashion since the beginning of her career, it seems only fitting that she officially makes a career in the world of fashion as well – which is exactly what she did, in a big way. Rihanna has broken down barriers once again, as the first woman and person of colour to start a brand from scratch under the global luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH, joining the ranks of Dior and Givenchy.
As the ultimate fashion rebel, Rihanna has once again proved her place in the fashion dynamic, and she is here to stay. She has transformed into a true business mogul and dresses like a badass fashion business woman as well in her dresses from her line, which features welltailored outfits, simple yet chic and subtle yet sexy; in other words, they capture the essence of Rihanna.
Though Rihanna has carved her name in the heart of luxury fashion, it would be stupid to assume she will stop there. If one has learned anything about Rihanna, it is to expect the unexpected and be prepared for the unimaginable.
And just like that, the fashion industry has suddenly become a more inclusive, diverse space that represents more people than ever before, with a strong black woman now heading a luxury brand, and signaling a brighter fashion tomorrow.
You can read more of Ashutosh’s work in upcoming issues of London Runway.