As Rihanna's Savage x Fenty line reaches $1 billion milestone, a look at how it made inclusivity more than a buzzword
Rihanna's stated philosophy when launching the Fenty Beauty line was seemingly simple, and yet groundbreaking. She wanted all women to be able to walk up to a makeup counter and find the products they needed.
A Forbes report dated 16 February notes that Rihanna's Savage x Fenty lingerie line has now reached a $1 billion valuation. The popstar and entrepreneur (born Robyn Rihanna Fenty) posted a photo of herself to Instagram, flashing her trademark bling, sass, and a shimmery pair of S x F shorts.
That the brand has reached this milestone just three-and-a-half years since Rihanna launched her Fenty cosmetics line, is significant. Equally noteworthy is how much the Fenty brand (which includes Fenty Beauty; Fenty Skin; the Savage x Fenty lingerie line; and the Fenty label which LVMH recently ended amid widespread fashion industry losses during the coronavirus crisis) has foregrounded inclusivity and acceptance since its inception in September 2017.
Rihanna's stated philosophy when launching the Fenty Beauty line was seemingly simple, and yet groundbreaking. She wanted all women to be able to walk up to a makeup counter and find the products they needed. So Fenty offered foundation in 40 shades, a move that other brands have since tried to emulate with varying levels of success. Next up was Stunna, a red lip tint to suit all skin tones, that inspired feminist odes for its embracing of a colour that comes with its own burden of moral judgement and censure. As the brand clocked up both commercial sales and goodwill, TIME magazine named Fenty Beauty among the best inventions of 2017.
Funmi Fetto writes in a 2020 Vogue column of just why Fenty was such a pioneer when it launched: "From unrealistic beauty ideals to the blatant lack of representation reflected in campaigns and product offerings, the beauty industry’s relationship with diversity was problematic at best. The messaging – essentially that 'if you don’t fit an age-old Eurocentric ideal of beauty, you are not welcome' – was the white elephant in the room of a tone-deaf business. Fenty Beauty didn’t just address this, it blew the conversation wide open."
The Savage x Fenty lingerie line further cemented Rihanna's status as inclusivity champion. Perhaps what made the label so revolutionary was what it stood in contrast to: lingerie giant Victoria's Secret, which had struggled in recent years to stay relevant. While the older brand saw interest in its Victoria's Secret Angels show decline, Savage x Fenty benefitted from its perceived authenticity. For its first-ever ramp show in late 2019, models and dancers who identified as female/women displayed S x F designs in a celebration of independence, agency and diversity. On the other hand, Victoria's Secret had to put its Angels show on hold indefinitely, as it combated perceptions that it catered to the male gaze and wasn't committed to busting harmful ideas of beauty – norms it had helped cement in the first place.
Writing about the Savage x Fenty show in BuzzFeed, Scaachi Koul observed:
"They’re not size 8s — these are women who likely wouldn’t be able to find clothes that fit at Victoria’s Secret, who are often punished for their bodies and can rarely find something sexy, comfortable, and affordable. In the Savage x Fenty show, they wear skimpy lingerie that celebrates their curves and rolls. As they walk and their thighs rub together, the camera treats them with the same gaze thin women have enjoyed for a lifetime: with desire and awe. You lust after them, or you want to be them, or you want both. Savage actually makes you feel like the aspirational is attainable. After all, a lot of these girls look like just you."
On the Savage x Fenty website, a rolling gallery shares customers' photos in the brand's designs, and there's a wide variety of bodies on display. It's a space for them to be seen, perhaps in the ways in which they want to be seen. The gallery is a personification of Rihanna's intent to embrace individuality, to support her consumers in being unapologetically themselves. As the news of the brand's valuation comes in, it seems that intent has paid off.
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