How Rihanna is single-handedly changing the fashion and beauty game with Fenty
Rihanna is, above all else, a businesswoman.
Throughout her music career, she became the most streamed female artist on Spotfiy for three years in a row and she holds the title for most cumulative weeks on the UK singles chart by a female. She's the only female artist to have a number one song in the UK charts for seven consecutive years.
And now there is definitive proof her Midas touch extends beyond song.
When she launched Fenty Beauty, an inclusive makeup range which kicked off with 40 shades of foundation - a virtually unheard of feat for any beauty brand - she was met with widespread critical and consumer acclaim and it earned a media value of $72m within its first month of sales, surpassing established brands like NYX and Benefit.
The media value is an index which monitors the monetary value of buzz and Fenty got more coverage online through traditional and digital media than nearly of all her competitors; which is no easy feat.
Times, they are a changin', and for those brands who aren't as willing to adapt will not only be left behind, but forgotten entirely, left in the shadows of history books to forward-thinkers like Rihanna.
Like most prosperous entrepreneurs, you get the impression that she isn't exclusively reliant on metrics and marketing, but instinct: she knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to find quality fashion and beauty products when you don't fit a certain look and has both the means and motivation to improve on this at mass market levels.
Last Wednesday, she dropped a sneak peek of the first pieces, each with a distinctively Rihanna-twist. The ready-to-wear luxury line is being released through the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) fashion house, which also owns Dior, Marc Jacobs, Fendi and Sephora, among others.
Rihanna is not only the first woman to create an original brand, but but she is also the first woman of colour to achieve such a feat; and hers is the first new label created by the groups since Christian Lacroix in 1987. The nine-time Grammy winner said that particular accomplishment “made her feel proud” when she learned.
As of last week, Fenty was previewed to select fashion editors and later, to customers, at a pop-up store in Paris.
The launch strategy is one not about purposely withholding information, but strategically maximising coverage and building up interest through the slow release of details.
Last week, she dropped her 18-piece strong lookbook in a video on Instagram, shunning pricey ways shows during Fashion Month to debut collections and instead release them through social media, the Kylie Jenner-approved model of marketing success.
It not only connects directly with customers, but cuts out costly extras and maximises profits; a wise decision even with the backing of a multi-billion euro company.
In Ireland, Fenty will only be available online (from May 29) and it will not be available in brick and mortar stores unless a high-end department store like Brown Thomas decides to buy it in, which Fenty hasn’t indicated is part of the roll-out yet.
For now, it’s about creating buzz and intrigue, which Rihanna does better than anyone. She did it during her wildly successful music career and she’s applying the same principles to fashion.
Unlike Kanye West’s Yeezy range, she is creating wearable art and her vision is to empower women, not condemn them to a lifestyle of wearing flesh coloured bicycle shorts and oversized t-shirts with holes in them.
Her debut range is gender neutral, with boxy suits and denim mini-dresses, all of which need the Rihanna stamp of approval before going to production. She understands the importance of value for money, tailoring to the LVMH customer base without alienating her own loyal fans.
“It’s about creating a style for women that makes them feel strong yet beautiful,” she told the New York Times. “So in my case, and for this particular drop, that is making pieces that embrace my shape, but also make my waist look small.”
Prices start at $200 for a t-shirt and range into the thousands, the standard fare for a luxury fashion houses which Fenty now sit beside at LVMH.
“It has to be something more,” she said. “The lower priced pieces are in there, too, and that was so important to me, but so was building a business based on quality. And real quality costs.”
She recognises that her own early experiences in fashion came with lending her face and name to already established brands and the idea of launching a luxury fashion house was a realised dream, not one stemming from childhood.
Her collaborations date back to partnerships with River Island , but it was in 2015, when she first paired up with Puma to launch a limited edition range of runners, that retailers recognised her influence. The styles sold out in three hours.
What followed was a steady, but aggressive growth into the fashion market, with two more Puma collaborations before launching her own Savage x Fenty lingerie line last year and the rest is history.
Rewriting the rules is Ri-Ri's speciality and it's hard to think of a time when that strength has been more necessary in fashion.