F For Fenty Fashion?

LVMH is not continuing with Rihanna’s clothing line. Are you surprised? Is Fenty a flop?

The higher-ups at LVMH were hoping she’d be the Virgil Abloh of womenswear. But Rihanna’s Fenty, two years since its debut in 2019, is now in a mutually-agreed arrangement to halt the design, manufacture, and retail of the born-in-hype fashion line. The news that have emerged these past two days have mostly stated that LVMH and Rihanna have “paused” the Fenty line. The New York Times reported that both are “taking a break”. A hiatus may not lead to resumption. All have been careful not to use the four-letter F-word: Fail. As many wise sages have said, “there’s nothing wrong in failure”, but Rihanna, one of the biggest stars of her generation, has not known failure. According to an LVMH statement quoted in the press, the conglomerate and singer will “put on hold the RTW activity, based in Europe, pending better conditions.”

Does “better conditions” mean when COVID-19 is over or better controlled? Or, is it referring to improved economic conditions, post-pandemic? Or, do they mean when Rihanna becomes a better designer? For now, we can only hazard a guess. Talk and speculation suggest that Fenty has not been doing as well as the brand owners thought they would. Fenty launched to much much fanfare, but was there consensus that it was a ground-shifting (breaking is asking too much!) collection that would rewrite the aesthetical direction of womenswear or move the mountains of luxury retail? Was it just another singer/celebrity line, riding on hype than design? Did Rihanna’s “megawatt style” translate to a megawatt luxury line?

Fenty is conceived with one pop star’s idea of fashion, independent of retail reality and creative innovation

The fashion critic Suzy Menkes, on Instagram, quoted Rihanna to have said, “I’m a curvy girl” and “If I can’t wear it myself, it’s not going to work”. It appears that Badgirlriri has fashioned Fenty too much after herself for the line to be able to realise its potential, even if fancied. These are clothes imagined, rather than designed, for a woman leading a very particular life and adopting a very particular style. Rihanna gets away with wearing practically anything. No one has called her out for even questionable looks. Fenty is conceived with one pop star’s idea of fashion, independent of retail reality and creative innovation. It may look “stunning” on Rihanna, but on those who want to emulate her style, it’d look, at best, wannabe. She told Ms Menkes, “I am very much a red carpet girl and I am going to design something for that.” She did not say how that will fit into LVMH’s family of highly commercial brands, or how that will make the world’s largest luxury-brand conglomerate even bigger or the chairman Bernard Arnault, already the richest man in France, even wealthier.

The business minds at Fenty priced the collection to qualify it as a luxury line (minus the other family members’ inherently marketable French quality), but one that did not sit shoulder to shoulder with LVMH’s star brand Dior. ‘Traditionally’, pop/movie stars’ fashion brands are priced to appeal to whatever is opposite of high-end. Think Ivy Park. Or, Jessica Simpson. But Fenty is, for many, expensive (e.g., USD940 for a denim jacket). To be sure, Rihanna is aware of her line’s high prices and had expressed concern that they might not appeal to her budget-conscious fans, used to the far more accessible Fenty Beauty. If, however, the designs were worth paying for, there could be encouraging take up, though no market share. As it turned out, LVMH could not bank on two firsts of Fenty—the first woman to conceive an LVMH brand and the first woman of colour to lead her own house with the company. In the end, taste, voice, and originality matter. And, whether LVMH or Rihanna is aware, flair too.

Illustration by Just So