“When you keep yourself up at night thinking about how you’re going to make history, you’re not going to make history,” Rihanna says, during a flashback of the first Savage X Fenty brand conversations. Two years down the line, the musician-turned-mogul has changed the lingerie game. Not content with Fentifying the underwear drawers of a “woke” generation, she has reinvented how smalls are presented on the runway, too. The Savage X Fenty autumn/winter 2019 show – which aired on Amazon Prime on 20 September – left the outdated model of Victoria’s Secret in the dust with a multi-layered performance piece that Rihanna herself called a “fashion musical”.
“I’m literally seeing bodies as pieces of art and we can make visual impact with that,” the performer says in an ideas meeting with director Alex Rudzinski. Enter choreographer Parris Goebel, whose New Zealand-based dance crew, The Royal Family, formed the foundation of the show, framing models with their moves. “The thing that makes me connect with Parris’s choreography the most is the strength,” explains Rihanna. “There’s nothing delicate about it, there’s nothing fragile about it. It’s in your face.” When Goebel presents the popstar with the opening section via a video link from Auckland to New York, Rihanna is gobsmacked. “Can I do that?” she asks. “Can I actually start my show on that much?” The answer, of course, is yes, she can.
“If the world is going to go right, then we’re going to go left,” Jennifer Rosales, Fenty senior vice president, says of the direction. “That’s how Rihanna functions.” With regards to the casting of models, which RiRi oversaw along with Samuel Ellis Scheinman and Piergiorgio Del Moro, the Fenty founder says, “I’m looking for unique characteristics of people [who] aren’t usually highlighted in the world of fashion and lingerie.” When Laverne Cox whips her hair back and forth wearing a red lace body – while “Oops (Oh My)” by Tweet (featuring Missy Elliot) blasts from the speakers of house DJ Pedro Cavaliere – it suddenly seems ridiculous that no one has done this before. Likewise, when Normani gyrates to “Shake That Thing” by Sean Paul wearing a patterned cotton two-piece set surrounded by dancers dripping in coloured lace. It’s thrilling.
“You can be introverted and extroverted in fashion and in any creative outlet,” muses Rihanna. “You can hide behind art and yet you’re screaming through it.” From the empowering overtures of the show to every tiny detail – including the nail art by Young Nails, the gelled hair waves by Y Hair, and jewels dripping off gloves courtesy of Jacob K’s style direction – it’s every inch Rihanna. She has made history by being herself and collaborating with like-minded people not content with society’s perception of “sexy”. “[Fashion], music, make-up and lingerie are all just different ways that I can express my [creativity],” she continues. “It’s all me as the muse, it’s all me behind everything.” Here’s hoping audiences watching all over the world process it. As creative director Willo Perron urges, Perron urges, “The Savage X Fenty show is how fashion should approach its messaging moving forward.”