Savage X: The Latest Addition to Rihanna's Empire
On May 12th, 2018 at 12:00am, Robyn Rihanna Fenty, otherwise known as Rihanna, released her most recent creative venture to the masses–an intimate apparel brand with products ranging from t-shirt bras to lace corsets that are purportedly designed for “every body.” The heavily anticipated lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, was expected to be as disruptive and iconic as its predecessor, Fenty Beauty–the makeup line whose premiere challenged the entire beauty industry to reconsider their ability and incentive to cater to a broader consumer base. On her first try, Rihanna launched a brand that boasted 40 shades of foundation, notably dedicating a large number of those shades to darker skin tones and paying careful attention to the variety among those hues. “As a black woman, I could not live with myself if I didn’t do that,” she explained in her June 2018 cover story for Vogue. In the days following Fenty Beauty’s launch, the darker colors sold out in record numbers despite Sephora’s attempts to restock daily in largely populated areas. Alongside these foundations came highlighters, contour sticks, powders, and lipsticks, all of which were under $40 and accessible to the average makeup lover. Within months, the rookie brand has raised the standards for an industry with a long standing practice of excluding dark-skinned women from not only their actual offerings but also their marketing campaigns. Fenty Beauty makes any brand that doesn’t have a diverse range of shades appear incompetent and thoughtless, and since its launch, subsequent makeup lines have been ruthlessly criticized for their meager selections of darker tones.
Savage x Fenty marks another frontier that Rihanna has set out to conquer– the inclusion of more body types in mainstream intimate wear. Body shapes and skin tones that deviate from what media and society dictate as “neutral,” “beautiful,” or “sexy” are often relegated to the dark corners of malls or online specialty stores; they are woefully underrepresented in popular intimate apparel brands such as Victoria’s Secret. Options are slim for many women who want to find flattering lingerie for their size or even for their skin tone. But, from the first campaigns that trickled into social media, the message was clear: Savage X would not be your average lingerie company.
As a Black woman who has been publicly scrutinized for her fluctuating weight and has struggled to find truly “nude” underwear, this project has been personal for her. For Vogue, Rihanna formally commented on becoming the butt of fat-shaming jokes due to weight gain in early 2018. “I know when I’m having a fat day and when I’ve lost weight. I accept all of the bodies,” she says. “I’m not built like a Victoria’s Secret girl, and I still feel very beautiful and confident in my lingerie.” Having sizes from XS to 3XL, Savage X acknowledges the existence of many types of bodies, small and large, and affirms everyone’s right to feel beautiful in their own skin.
When I finally got onto the Savage X website on the night of its release after waiting about 20 minutes in an online queue, I was at first pleasantly disoriented by the sheer variety in models displayed. Bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors stood next to each other. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model with her skin color on any fashion website,” my friend said as she noticed the presence of darker skinned models throughout the front pages.
Once the glow of representation faded, however, the catalog became more confusing. Scattered among wardrobe basics such as t-shirt bras and seamless underwear are more provocative lingerie, reminiscent of stores such as Yandy, featuring crotchless underwear and shelf bras. Sultry corsets are placed next to cutesy, frilled bodysuits with polka dots. The creative direction seems rushed and uncertain–I wasn’t sure who this was for.
I was not the only one who struggled to make sense of Savage X’s reveal. When I went on Twitter the next morning, my timeline was inundated with people’s thoughts and initial reactions to the collection. While some comments were on the size options still being quite limited (the biggest bra size in the collection is a 44DD), much of the emerging criticism was inspired by the actual creative vision –or rather, the lack thereof. Many were disappointed that the apparel did not reflect Rihanna’s own style, which is known to be bold, sleek, and avant-garde. Her previous collaboration with PUMA seemed to take directly from her personal flair, and perhaps some were expecting Savage X to be an extension of this.
Challenging the dialogue, others have pointed out that Rihanna may have been forced to negotiate between aesthetic and affordability in order to create for such a large market. Rihanna has made it clear that her forthcoming brands are not like typical celebrity-brand collaborations, which usually offer merchandise that is expensive and not widely accessible. Savage X’s prices are competitive with the likes of Victoria’s Secret, the most expensive item on the site being $109. Rihanna is building this brand from the ground up while simultaneously trying to create a new standard for intimate wear in an industry that is much more difficult to break into than beauty and cosmetics.
Despite its mixed reviews, Savage X has, more or less, accomplished what it set out to do in its first launch: provide a large selection of intimate wear that includes previously marginalized bodies so that more women can feel confident during their shopping experiences and as they’re wearing the items.
“I feel like the Savage X line was created with my body in mind, and I can’t tell you how much that means after feeling excluded all these years.” -Adriana Acosta, Vogue
As Rihanna continues to embrace her reputation as a renaissance woman within the creative field, she has come to embody one of the most central archetypes of this generation: the side-hustler. Multi-passionate millennials and Gen X’ers have begun to take up side-hustles–creative hobbies that are turned into part-time businesses–in order to satisfy natural curiosity and ambition. These side-hustles work in tandem with day jobs but can eventually turn into sustainable, full-time businesses. Today, creatives are often jacks of many trades–few can afford or have the desire to obsessively work to perfect and refine one talent. Perhaps, this is a side-effect of being fully immersed in the Age of Information and having more opportunity than ever to access the tools and knowledge required to pursue latent passions. Marked by economic instability, this generation understands that nothing is guaranteed. We carry with us a widespread discontentment with the prospect of having to work unfulfilling 9-5 jobs that can be pulled from under us at any moment. Instead, we have embraced the call to feed our desires to create and maintain agency over our lives. Instagram and Twitter bios are a testament to this. Young social media users have an affinity for rattling off self-imposed titles like a virtual trophy case, and everyone is trying to sell something.
Although her options look very different than that of the average 20-something-year-old, Rihanna has demonstrated a need to stretch herself and explore her own depths in the same ways we do. Like many her age, Rihanna is deeply tuned to the pulse of the world and is constantly dreaming of ways to creatively solve its problems. Although her fans eagerly and publicly await for new music, it has become clear that her career as a creative entrepreneur is non-negotiable. Riri’s goals, whatever they may be, will not take the backseat for anyone.