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How Rihanna became one of the most influential people in fashion

Rihanna is set to make history with her own luxury fashion house.

Rihanna’s Fenty-branded sunglasses have sparked speculation about her future in fashion.
Rihanna’s Fenty-branded sunglasses have sparked speculation about her next step in fashion.
Jackson Lee/GC Images

Rumors swirled this week that Rihanna was launching her own line of sunglasses after she was spotted in a pair of shades bearing the Fenty logo. The pop star has introduced both a lingerie line and a makeup range under the Fenty name (her own surname) over the past two years.

But reports in WWD and the New York Times suggest that Rihanna has her sights on a venture far more ambitious than sunglasses. The singer-turned-entrepreneur will reportedly team up with luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH to start her own high-end fashion brand.

If the reports are true, Rihanna stands to become the first black woman designer at LVMH. From Kanye West to Jessica Simpson — fashion is rife with rappers, singers, actors, and reality stars with their own lines at department stores and the like. But having a luxury fashion house in one’s honor has been off limits to most celebrities. Rihanna would be the rare celebrity to break this barrier in the high-fashion world.

Rihanna’s rise in the industry began with her 2013 clothing collection for the British brand River Island. But the success of her more recent undertakings, Fenty Beauty and lingerie line Savage x Fenty, has made Rihanna one of the brightest stars in an industry contending with Instagram influencers, the success of “street” brands, and one PR scandal after another. In Rihanna, LVMH has found a woman of color with influence, street cred, and a love for inclusion; she represents the way forward for fashion.

Rihanna has put in the work

To those unfamiliar with her trajectory in the industry, Rihanna might seem like an overnight success story. In 2017, she launched the makeup brand Fenty Beauty, named one of Time’s 25 best inventions that year.

The makeup brand’s 40-shade foundation range appealed to Rihanna fans of all races, but the women of color traditionally overlooked by the cosmetics industry flocked to the brand. The month after its launch, Fenty Beauty’s sales quintupled the sales of Kylie Cosmetics, WWD reported. Savage x Fenty, the lingerie line she launched in 2018, also sold well while making inclusion a priority. The underwear comes in a range of “nude” shades and in some plus sizes.

But even before these groundbreaking brands debuted, Rihanna became a certified fashion influencer. She won the 2014 fashion icon of the year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. That year, she also partnered with Puma on a sportswear line. As creative director, she put on dazzling fashion shows for the athletic company and her influence as a pop star led to the shoes and slides she designed selling out.

Rihanna at her River Island launch in London in 2013.
Rihanna at the launch of her River Island collection in 2013.
Samir Hussein/Getty Images

The next year, 2015, Rihanna became the first black brand ambassador for Dior’s Secret Garden perfume. And in 2012, long before her lingerie brand was a thought, Rihanna sang at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. She’d previously performed at a 2008 Gucci fundraiser.

But the 2013 debut of her River Island collection at London Fashion Week was perhaps the first concrete sign she was serious about carving out a name for herself in fashion. She called the collaboration a dream come true.

“I have wanted to design my own collection for a long time and to present my collection for River Island alongside all of the other great design talent at LFW is a real privilege,” she said.

How the reported LVMH partnership came to be

If the River Island debut was a dream come true for Rihanna, having her own luxury fashion house may have been beyond her wildest dreams six years ago. But a partnership between the singer and LVMH, the world’s largest luxury fashion conglomerate, according to the Times, makes sense.

Rihanna collaborated with LVMH on Fenty Beauty through the conglomerate’s Kendo division. The success of the beauty line reportedly spurred LVMH’s CEO Bernard Arnault to consider even loftier ventures for the superstar. Forming a new brand marks a departure for LVMH, its first since the debut of Christian Lacroix in 1987, the Times reported. But Rihanna, apparently, was worth the risk.

She not only has nearly 70 million Instagram followers and a series of Top 10 hits, Rihanna has also used her brands to let the public know that both inclusion and representation matter to her. In addition, Rihanna has sent the message that she’s fully involved with her brands rather than just a detached celebrity lending her name to a business venture.

When Fenty Beauty debuted, Rihanna told Time: “I have 100 percent involvement in this process, which is what makes this so special and very fun. I have so much creative freedom from products to packaging, and that’s really the only way this brand will stay true to my vision for it.”

That vision, which has endeared Rihanna to even non-music fans, is why LVMH is likely counting on her luxury fashion brand being just as successful as her other enterprises.

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