When asked about her penchant for risk-taking during a Vogue interview in 2016, Rihanna said, “I always believed that when you follow your heart or your gut, when you really follow the things that feel great to you, you can never lose, because settling is the worst feeling in the world.”
By the looks of Rihanna’s recent business deal, it’s clear that she isn’t planning on settling any time soon.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French luxury goods company that manages Fendi, Dior, Givenchy and dozens of other high-end brands, is reportedly teaming up with the entertainer-turned-businesswoman in a historic deal: Rihanna will reportedly be taken on as the conglomerate’s first female designer of color, according to The New York Times, marking a watershed moment in both the fashion and entertainment industries.
There’s no shortage of celebrity presence in the fashion industry. From Kanye West’s Adidas collaborations to Victoria Beckham’s eponymous label, celebrities have spent decades capitalizing on their fame in the form of clothing. But despite their efforts, it has remained impossible for celebrities to break into the world of luxury fashion while maintaining a career in the entertainment industry — until now.
So then, what made Rihanna the one to break into the high-fashion industry? The answer is simple: Rihanna knows who she is. She has created a clear personal brand that has translated into chart-topping music and several successful businesses such as Fenty Beauty, which was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2017.
Now, after an already long and successful career in music and other industries, she’s taking her talent to a new platform. As the fashion industry is undergoing major changes — streetwear is gaining traction as designers such as Virgil Abloh and Demna Gvasalia are occupying key roles at major fashion houses — it makes sense that a luxury company such as LVMH would solicit the help of a celebrity as influential, smart and undeniably cool as Rihanna. But while this deal seems obvious now, it’s worth noting that it is the result of more than a decade’s work on the singer’s part.
Before she was the most-streamed female artist of all time, Rihanna was a Barbadian teenager sending demo tapes of “Pon de Replay” to Def Jam. Soon after being invited to audition at the record label, it was clear that she was a star — Jay-Z refused to let her leave the building before she signed a six-album record deal. Her first album, Music of the Sun, was released in 2005 when the singer was only 17; soon after, it received a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. This was only the beginning of her long career of stardom.
The years to come were majorly successful for Rihanna — she sold 54 million albums between the six releases she made over the next seven years, accumulated 14 No. 1 singles and, arguably most impressively, successfully ventured into many fields other than music. Between co-owning the music streaming service Tidal, launching her immensely popular cosmetic company Fenty Beauty, and starting her inclusive lingerie brand Savage X Fenty, Rihanna proved herself to be a businesswoman to be reckoned with.
Very notable, in addition, is her persistent interest in fashion. Rihanna presented four collections for River Island at London Fashion Week in 2013, and it didn’t take long for her to break into other parts of the industry. In 2014, Rihanna was announced as the new creative director of Puma, the company through which she released multiple collections of ready-to-wear and footwear that were all met with critical and popular acclaim.
These collections were followed by a collaboration with Manolo Blahnik and a deal to be the face of Dior, making her the first Black woman to occupy such a position. She continued to develop her brand of fashion through social media and was recognized for her influence by the Council of Fashion Designers of America when she received the group’s Fashion Icon Award in 2014, joining the ranks of icons such as Kate Moss and Iman.
Clearly, Rihanna’s career is one of many “firsts.” But the LVMH deal may be one of the most notable, especially considering the current state of the fashion industry, which has become notorious for its lack of diversity. For example, historical data from London, New York, Milan and Paris fashion weeks demonstrates that models of color usually only make up about 20 percent of the runway, and Black designers helmed less than 3 percent of New York Fashion Week shows in 2015. But the public is fighting back against this Eurocentric narrative — and a major deal involving an impenitently Black and female superstar is the critical point that consumers have been waiting for.
With her reported LVMH deal, not only is Rihanna gaining influence and breaking barriers in fields outside of music, but she is creating change in an industry that has an undeniably exclusive history. Remarkably, she is able to do so as a result of her unique and unapologetic brand, rather than in spite of it. This deal has set the precedent: Women of color can, in fact, be proud of their identities and still triumph in entertainment and fashion. They can break out of the Eurocentric mold of beauty and talent and instead find success as themselves. In fact, with Rihanna’s new deal in mind, being relentlessly authentic seems to be the clearest path to the top.
Salem Sulaiman covers fashion. Contact him at [email protected].