Rihanna rewrites lingerie language and launches a fashion empire
Rihanna staged a ladies' underwear show for Savage X Fenty in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. And, at the risk of being accused of gross hyperbole, it turned out to be the fashion equivalent of Napoleon’s generalship at Austerlitz; chess master Garry Kasparov’s Sicilian Defense or Metternich’s performance at the Congress of Vienna. Meaning, this mega show incorporating live performances, athletic dance, very pretty lingerie and a massive set worthy of De Chirico was a brilliant game changer in one of fashion’s key industries. An outrageously clever maneuver that, in just 40 minutes presages a fashion revolution.
Staged inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the evening did not begin well. The audience forced to stand around without water or a drink. Fashionistas and scores of beauties from Brooklyn required to mingle with appallingly dressed Amazon executives. Casting one’s mind back through the annals of fashion history, they were worst attired group of guys at a runway show since Riga in 2005 or Tbilisi in 2009. Jeff Bezos, who looks pretty natty in Brunello Cuccinelli, should have a word with them.
Moreover, every guest was forced to hand over the cell phones, anathema to fashion editors with social media demands. The last two times senior editors' iPhones were impounded was to events inside 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
Despite that whiff of hubris and pretension, however, this turned out to be a game-changing event. It opened with Rihanna at the center of 10 dancers in all-black body-stockings and underwear, in a dramatic dance display before an enormous set whose four-story façade recalled the Fendi headquarters, Palazzo della Civiltà in Rome.
Immediately, the action shifted to the façade, where models danced inside its faux limestone arches. Crews of steadycam operators scrambling around the set as Gigi Hadid appeared in a full femme fatale outfit – her head bedecked in jewelry.
Where Victoria's Secret had supermodels in outrageous fantasy feathered looks, objectifying them; Rihanna surrounded her runway stars with all sorts of different-shaped gals, creating a unifying inclusive moment. Transgender models; some with amputated legs; others chubby and massively rotund, since everyone was welcome at this party.
All sorts of hip-hop stars and singers appeared from the Migos trio dancing in metallic outfits inside a pool, to Halsey singing lustily, to Big Sean, A$ap Ferg and Fabolous in great voice. The action never letting up in a web special that was a blend of uber hip variety show and Broadway spectacle.
With top catwalk stars occasionally appearing, like Alek Wek, Cara Delevingne, Joan Smalls and Bella Hadid in particular moody sullen form.
The lingerie was sportier, with hints of athleticism, and made in a optimistic palette of dark sherbets. However, the mood was very aggressive. This was no graceful Jane Austen moment or romantic Swan Lake scene. Tough femininity ruled.
After nearly 100 skimpily clad gals performed a masse dance, Rihanna took her bow, without saying or singing a word, the audience of 850 on its feet. They knew they had witnessed a historic fashion moment. They may have just spent their evening watching hundreds of knickers and bras but they also knew in their gut that they were present at the creation.
And a perfectly timed display, seeing as the lead story in The New York Times, Friday, Sept. 6 business section was entitled: “Victoria’s Secret Had Troubles, Even Before Jeffrey Epstein.”
After dominating lingerie for nearly two decades, Victoria’s Secret – which still had sales of $7.4 billion last year in just the USA and Canada – is now under threat. Its culturally offensive model of display shows; its links to America’s greatest sex scandal. Epstein was the longtime financial consultant to the brand’s key executive Leslie H. Wexner. Epstein was accused of pitching himself as a scout of Victoria’s Secret back in the mid '90s in order to sexually exploit their models.
Well, nobody is exploiting the ladies in this show, which rewrote the rules on fashion spectaculars, and will be shown on Amazon Prime Time on September 20. Savage X Fenty looks poised for explosive growth and a new feminist paradigm.
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