FOLLOWING in the footsteps of your idols is a tall order when the trail blazers in question are Whitney Houston and Madonna. That doesn’t seem to faze pop superstar Rihanna, who makes her move to the silver screen this month in the epic game-to-reel, ‘Battleship’. Since hitting the music scene in 2005, Rihanna has openly cited the pop divas as her inspirations, and their achievements as her aspirations.
To say that Rihanna is in a time of transition is an understatement. Her career is surrounded by a scaffolding frame of savvy PR moves aimed at diversifying her profile. The past week has seen the Barbadian princess of pop scoot around London and Tokyo promoting her new movie, in a style a world apart from her ripped denim and thigh-high boots of recent. After a string of fashion endorsements and public flirtations with high-end designers, Rihanna also announced in March that she has a fashion line in the works.
An established fashion shape-shifter, she once testified to wanting to become the ‘black Madonna’, which must have been a PR dream and nightmare all rolled up into one media-storm. RiRi’s early youthful street-inspired sexy-girl-next-door looks quickly gave way to an open relationship with couture and a foray into themed re-invention worthy of the Queen of Pop herself.
The title of her 2007 third studio album, ‘Girl Gone Bad’ harked the emergence of a edgier, sexier image intent on leaving ‘A Girl Like Me’ far behind. A short black angular bob and introduction of PVC fetish wear to her videos, red carpet appearances and stage costumes caught the attention of the fashion industry, with Italian fashion houses DSquared and Gucci employing her for a catwalk show and print campaign respectively in 2008.
The real break-out moment in terms of household-name status came with the domestic abuse case and resulting fashion and music rebellion in 2009. The hair went shorter, shaved and blonde, and Rihanna explored the hard-sexy ‘80s style of Grace Jones – big shoulders, masculine silhouettes, and trouser-less high knicker-lined leotards.
Her music wore a dark, sinister cloak, under which she no doubt dealt with the public scrutiny of the physical abuse and resulting court case. Her wardrobe went into ridiculous territory on many occasions in the name of high fashion, the kick off being her pointy shouldered Dolce & Gabanna fem-tux for the Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala.
After a couple of years when she had shaken the androgyny out of her system, more commercial success came with a new album, ‘Loud’, and a bona fide fashion stamp of approval would follow. What was first chided as a Ronald McDonald wig became the norm when Rihanna’s latest hair statement got the Jessica Rabbit treatment for her first US Vogue cover in April 2011. The pillar box red ‘do was accompanied by a new look consisting of all kinds of fantasy costume; including mouse ears, ‘50s pin-up girl, and peek-a-boo meets old- Hollywood on the red carpet.
Her transition back to a ‘normal’ hair colour for her new video ‘We Found Love’ from her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk’, was accompanied by a return to the street-style of her youth, but with a more risqué edge. Midriff baring t-shirts, cut-off denim shorts and ripped fishnet tights with biker boots dominated her stage wardrobe from late 2011.
A career girl in flux, the first half of 2012 would prove a busy one for Rihanna in love, image and work. In a seeming ‘up yours’ to fans and critics alike, she flaunted a musical and romantic reunion with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown and debuted yet another change of colour.
Calling to mind Heather Locklear at the height of her fame, RiRi gave us straight blonde with high contrast black roots – perhaps a tongue-in-cheek stab at staying true to where she comes from but doing whatever she wants. Red carpet appearances took flight with looks from her underwear and jeans endorsement partner, Armani, as well as Givenchy and Stella McCartney.
Her trip to the UK as Stella’s guest of honour at London Fashion Week, a BRIT Awards performance and a spell in the studio, not only showcased this more mature looking evening attitude but an odd off-duty alter ego.
Sticking with the cut-offs and fishnets, she mixed denim washes paired with baseball caps, heavy gold jewellery, loose sweatshirts and black leather thigh-high boots. The mixed messages of a chic fashion girl and a street music artist she appeared to be sending the public were indicative of a girl being pulled in opposite directions, albeit by her own choices.
Just when we thought she was fixed on a style, the promotional duties of ‘Battleship’ came a-knockin’. Kicking off in London, Rihanna was every bit the high fashion girl, sleek blonde in interesting outfits varying from a chic Alexander Wang cocktail dress, and two out-there Stella McCartney looks: a revealing oversized-jacket-only evening look, and lace print pyjamas by day.
The battle of the Rihannas moved on to Tokyo for the world movie premiere. In true ‘Rihannaisance’ style, she made a seam-full overnight passage from a sometimes slick, sometimes trashy gal, to a dark, gothic ninja. Early this week her Twitter account showcased long, black, side-shaved hair, and bizarre to-camera behaviour; including drinking, smoking and crotch-grabbing.
Jaws dropped at her ‘Goth teenager on a sleepover’ look for the press photo call for Battleship - a loose embellished Givenchy sweatshirt and harem pants with long leather gloves. She kept it long and loose at the movie premiere on Tuesday, in a Pucci top and pants reminiscent of ‘70s leisurewear – think ‘Mrs Roper’ with heavy ‘80s ghetto gold.
Rihanna is by no means the first to step to the left and right of music into fashion and movies. Her life and career thus far is a scary mash-up of Madonna’s and Whitney’s – a top selling female solo artist with designers banging down her door, movie roles, a tumultuous love-life and a penchant for image shape-shifting.
Her ‘Battleship’ director sings her praises and she will likely be the main reason most people see this movie. Her fashion line is rumoured to be with Topshop after Kate Moss’s departure, but given her close relationship with Stella, Givenchy and Armani she could be balancing the idea of a product her fans can afford, versus luxury apparel that could elevate her to a new level in fashion, à la Victoria Beckham.
At only 24, you have to hand it to Rihanna for breaking into fashion and movies ahead of the schedule set by her fore-mothers of pop culture. Today’s world is no hopeless place for a female artist, as a result of Madonna’s envelope pushing and Whitney’s movie career and mega-album sales, but the hope is that the ‘Girl Gone Bad’ finds fulfilment within herself and doesn’t end up in a life gone sour due to over-exposure and the trappings of fame.
Aisling tweets @ashinyoconnor