When it was announced last week that Rihanna is working with French luxury fashion and lifestyle company LVMH on her very own fashion house, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the significance of this move. With the launch of Fenty later this month, a luxury brand that will produce ready-to-wear, shoes, sunglasses and jewellery, Rihanna will make history as not only the first woman to create a label with LVMH, but the first woman of colour to receive this highly coveted honour. Fenty will also be the first new house developed by LVMH since the establishment of Christian Lacroix in 1987. This announcement has sparked a wider conversation within the industry about fashion diversity as well as about what factors contributed to this groundbreaking collaboration and what this new venture could mean for the future of luxury fashion.
Understanding Rihanna’s impact on the consumer industry over the last few years is an important factor in determining how this LVMH partnership formed. Rihanna’s recent success with her beauty company Fenty Beauty, which according to WWD made 500 million euros last year, and lingerie brand Savage X Fenty catapulted her out of a class of rich celebrities lending their names and influence to promote established brands, and introduced her into a league of powerful fashion and beauty moguls. Her success, which can be greatly credited to her inclusive business model, product lines and branding that caters to diverse and underrepresented groups, sent a ripple effect through the fashion and beauty industry forcing many competitors to alter their own brands to accommodate this new normal.
LVMH is also not afraid to shake up the industry and has been doing so for quite a while now. Over its 32-year history, the company has rebranded 70-plus-year-old European fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Fendi to accommodate a new contemporary luxury market that has a shifting aesthetic and buying pattern. LVMH has helped these legacy brands maintain market share and stay relevant by sourcing new talents for their creative and business teams. Just last year LVMH tapped Off-White Creative Director Virgil Abloh to become Louis Vuitton’s new Men’s Artistic Director. Virgil’s origins as a high-end streetwear designer made this a somewhat unconventional move, but one that could seemingly pay off big during a time when men are spending less time in suits and more time in fine denim and knitwear.
Adding Fenty to its roster of luxury houses is a move that has the potential to shift the tide within the luxury fashion industry for good. Unlike modernising distinguished and ageing brands, LVMH is now tasked with developing a reverse formula in order to provide this new-age brand with the chance to build a lasting legacy that can compete with its current roster. In a luxury industry that has been working to keep up with fast fashion retailers by producing more and more collections every year, Rihanna and LVMH have taken up the challenge of solidifying Fenty Maison as a household name. In order to do so, they will have to figure out a way to establish a consistent brand image while producing at a level that will allow them to keep up with the surplus of fashion houses that have developed due to designers now having greater access to consumers through e-commerce and social media platforms.
The company is also faced with the unusual task of separating the celebrity from the brand, which for stars like Kanye West, whose own luxury label is entirely reliant on his personal star status, has been a difficult thing to do. Fenty Beauty and Fenty x Savage, as much as their success has depended on Rihanna’s reach and image in all of the branding materials, has a different audience than Fenty Maison will have. When it comes to higher priced goods, Rihanna’s name and influence can only take her so far. The styles produced by the brand are going to have to connect with a luxury audience and their desires for fine quality fabrics, forward-thinking design and the uniqueness of ready-to-wear. The combination of beautiful clothes and proper branding could assist LVMH and Rihanna with keeping the brand’s image and name relevant decades after Rihanna steps away from the spotlight.
Aside from Fenty’s potential to shake up the luxury retail business, Rihanna’s presence as the first woman of colour to head a fashion house under the company has been championed as a major stride in fashion diversity. Although, according to the LVMH website 73% of people employed by the company are women, never in its long history have they granted a woman of colour such a high-level opportunity in the design sector, and only twice have they appointed black designers to head design positions –– Virgil for Louis Vuitton in 2018 and Ozwald Boateng for Givenchy’s menswear from 2003 to 2007.
With all of the recent social media backlash targeting companies for their almost exclusively white design and creative teams and racially insensitive products and ads, LVMH’s move may have come at the perfect time, when luxury brands are being forced to diversify their content and staff or risk losing money. Even the language used in the official press announcements indicates a shifting tide among fashion executives in the way that they speak about diversity and the frequency with which it is discussed. Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, revealed on Friday that the company has “built a talented and multicultural team supported by the group resources” to help back the Fenty brand.
So far, LVMH has only announced the addition of one Fenty team member, former ready-to-wear director at Louis Vuitton Veronique Gebel. However, based off of Rihanna’s history of building diverse teams to accommodate the diverse demands of a wide consumer base, her hands-on participation in the formation of this company could be an opportunity for really meaningful and consistent change to surface within these luxury spaces.
Despite being weeks away from the debut of Fenty Maison, the brand has already made an impact on the fashion industry. Between Rihanna’s star power, recent business success, and the barriers she’s breaking, the brand stands as a symbol for a new type of luxury brand that can enter the market without being headed by a highly educated, well connected and highly privileged white male designer. But Rihanna’s title, though impressive, still does not indicate that luxury companies believe in the creative capabilities and subsequent bankability of designers of colour or women. In order for Rihanna to receive this opportunity, she had to build a billion dollar empire and sell millions of records, a benchmark that her white male counterparts were never expected to follow in order to gain their positions.
However, the brand is providing hope that with someone like Rihanna in boardrooms, diversity and a new image of luxury will not become yet another short-lived trend. Although her fans have made it clear that what they want right now is new music, with Fenty Maison Rihanna is providing the world with something crucial, she’s giving the fashion industry what it ne.