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Rihanna unveiled the second collection of Fenty, the fashion line she designs in collaboration with Puma, within the chandeliered interiors of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, in Paris, on Tuesday night. She launched the first collection in New York in February, but whereas that was dark and urban and monochrome this second season was as pink and sugary as fondant icing, and frequently very frilly.
Like Kanye West, the 28-year-old singer songwriter has realised a massive market opportunity by developing her own brand of “swag”. West’s early collaboration with Adidas gave rise to the phenomenally successful (and now independent) Yeezy brand. Yeezy now dominates the fashion seasons, not for the clothes — pleasantly anodyne khaki T-shirts, flesh-coloured bodysuits and street-savvy sweats — but for the sheer weight of its presence. Yeezy has become the biggest, the most searched, the most followed fashion show in the world. Few can contend with it. But Rihanna can.
Rihanna is a world-famous star with 44.4m Instagram followers and 66m on Twitter. (Puma, incidentally has 1.5m Twitter followers, which pitches it alongside Dannii Minogue in terms of popular influence.) She already has a highly lucrative brand contract with Dior but her off-duty look is deliberately inelegant. As a fashion presence, Rihanna occupies the street as the wild-child populist — all expletives, sneaker wearing, middle-finger stabbing rebellion — while still maintaining a comfortable tenancy in the penthouse suite of privilege; she’s appeared on two Vogue covers already this year. This collaboration may not yet be on the level of Yeezy’s but if the crowds thronging around the crash barriers outside the venue, or the excitability of those inside the building, were anything to go by, he’d better watch out. The price points are also considerably sweeter.
Fenty’s look is certainly more directional than Yeezy’s. Rihanna was never going to offer up an ordinary tee. The looks were a hybrid of sweatshirting, lingerie, army fatigues and baroque detailing; a brocade boiler suit was unzipped and slung around the waist; T-shirts were cinched with lace-up corset belts, khaki overalls were severed and strapped together with suspended ties at the thigh, and many of the looks were shrouded in enormous, lightweight nylon parkas that billowed around the models like monks’ robes.
Sexier details were tempered to seem more street: a slip dress grafted on to a sweatshirt; a garter hidden under the hem of an oversized hoodie. The models included men and women, though the gender delineations were moot: men wore lacy cami tops with their tracksuits and everyone wore jewellery: faux pearls were slung around the neck, pierced through the lower lip or stuffed inside the ear. They pinched paste diamond rings between their teeth, to look like metal grilles. There were caps and lace bandannas, too. Rihanna’s look is partly to dissemble — now everyone can hide under her hats and hoodies and act like a persecuted rap star.
At so many luxury houses the conversation is now focused on attitude and storytelling: inhabiting a persona, being who you want to be. A lot of people want to be Rihanna. Now they can be. The singer took to the stage in a swath of brown sweatshirting — looking like a Capuchin punk. At an earlier show she wore pink Marie Antoinette laces and carried a fan. The audience roared. It wasn’t chic. It wasn’t sophisticated. You may not like it: but this is most likely the future of fashion.