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The Rihanna Empire: a $600m star

By Katia Dansoko Touré
Posted on Saturday, 16 November 2019 17:08

Singer Rihanna at the Guggenheim Museum, October 11, 2019. Evan Agostini/AP/SIPA

At 31, Rihanna is the richest singer in the world, according to a Forbes ranking. Over the past fifteen years, the mogul has sold $280 million worth of albums and singles, amassed over 75 million Instagram followers, and has become an entrepreneur, beauty muse, TV star, and fashion icon.

Think back to 2005… Motorola cellphones, chunky highlights, and Rihanna’s Pon De Replay blasting on every radio station imaginable.

Who could’ve imagined that a seventeen-year-old, music industry newcomer would one day be the head of a $600m fashion empire?

Over the past fifteen years, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has sold $280m worth of albums, become the face of countless fashion brands, and graced the covers of some of the biggest magazines in the world. At 31, she is now the richest singer in the world, according to Forbes Magazine.

Now as the head of Fenty, a booming fashion and beauty brand under her last name, Rihanna takes on a new title: entrepreneur.

The adventure began in 2008 when Rihanna signed a leather goods line for Gucci. This move was then followed by collaborations with Giorgio Armani, River Island, Manolo Blahnik, and Puma, the latter of which she registered her family name, Fenty, as a brand.

Now, the days are long gone when Rihanna made headlines simply for changing her hair or the tragic moment when her ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown, laid his hand on her. On the music side, her fans are excited for her next release as her last album “Anti” premiered over three years ago.

Shock association

Rihanna in Paris, May 22, 2019. Francois Mori/AP/SIPA

On May 10, the world’s leading luxury goods company led by Bernard Arnault, LVMH, announced that it had “joined forces with Robyn Rihanna Fenty to create a new luxury house”. To both the fashion and music industries, the name of the new brand was simple yet explosive: Fenty. Named after Rihanna’s surname, Fenty is the first brand to be created by LVMH – which holds 50% of the shares since Christian Lacroix in 1987.

Fenty, whose pop-up store opened for the first time at the end of May in Paris, offers sophisticated, ready-to-wear, clothing, shoes and accessories. The brand is different from other fashion companies in that it has no permanent shops, no stock, no discounts, and rarely hosts fashion shows. Instead, the brand releases new collections on its website every month, similar to the release of a new single.

Even more, Rihanna explained to Style Magazine in the New York Times that Fenty’s capsule collections are all signed by different designers and are suitable for a wide range of silhouettes.

Most items on the website range from 350 to 1100 euros. The turnover expected by LVMH after one year of sales is just over 20 million euros which, by industry standards, is modest. Still, alongside other LVMH brands like Dior and Louis Givenchy, Fenty hits the target. Rihanna is the first black woman CEO of a luxury house in a group worth €6.35bn.

Style ambassador

The singer was shot by Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. Balmain via Bestimage

Through her many fashion phases the years, usually characterized by daring clothes and hairstyles, “Badgalriri” has become the international “It Girl.” For many Africans, we fondly remember her colorful, short wig phase, that was all the rage on the continent in the late 2000s.

Since the early days of her career, the Barbadian has been admired and styled by big names in the fashion industry, like Anna Wintour, the fashion priestess who heads American Vogue, the late Karl Lagerfield, and Olivier Rousteing, the artistic director of Beilman.

The artist has also graced the magazine covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Allure, and many others. Always eagerly awaited during the famous MET Gala, Rihanna can also boast being a style muse of Armani Jeans, Dior, and Balmain.

Muses of charm

For her lingerie show, Rihanna called on the model Slick Woods (pictured here)… while she was pregnant. Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock/BEIMAGES/MAXPPP

Since amassing 76 million followers on Instagram, the thirty-one-year-old has surrounded herself with a tight circle of models and tastemakers. Among them are Slick Woods, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles, who was raised by her grandmother while her mother was in prison.

Often recognized by her shaved head and wide smile, the Ivorian model left her mark last year when she catwalked for Savage x Fenty while pregnant. More icons in Rihanna’s inner circle include the top models, Duckie Thot, Selena Forrest, Hamila Aden, and Huan Zhou. Moreover, the mogul considers her associates and staff her family, even nicknaming them #TheCorp.

Cosmetics and lingerie

In May 2018, Rihanna launched her line of “inclusive” lingerie, called Savage x Fenty, aimed at women of all shapes, sizes, and skin colours. A few months later on September 20, she presented a new collection from her lingerie line at New York Fashion Week. The show featured live performances from musicians like Big Sean and Tierra Whack and is available for viewing on the American streaming platform Amazon Prime. The televised version is complemented by a backstage incursion.

Savage x Fenty is not the first brand that Rihanna has centered around inclusivity. In September 2017, just a year before launching the lingerie line, Rihanna created a cosmetic line called Fenty Beauty with LVMH as a co-owner.

Fenty Beauty offers products in fifty different skin tones which is a first in the cosmetic industry. When it first launched, the beauty brand was an immediate success. In 2018, after only fifteen months of activity, Fenty Beauty had already generated an estimated turnover of 570 million dollars.

According to Forbes Magazine, Fenty Beauty is worth more than $3 billion. Recently, the beauty brand has become available in Asia, with the most product circulating in China. To think that it all started with seven perfumes and a line of umbrellas (inspired by her hit single “Umbrella”) in 2006!

What about the music?

“The Navy”, a nickname given to Rihanna’s devoted fanbase (most likely in reference to one of her first films “Battleship”), has been growing impatient since her latest album “Anti” was released over three years ago. When will Rihanna release new music? Many of Rihanna’s 94 million Twitter followers have been asking her this question.

While she announced that her next release would be a reggae album, it was at the New York Times that the performer of “Work” unveiled a possible album title inspired by a hashtag “R9”. “R” for Rihanna and “9” for her ninth album.

The hashtag is inspired by the fact that over fifteen years, Rihanna has released eight albums, won 9 Grammy Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, 7 MTV Video Music Awards and 13 American Music Awards. Her best-selling album, Good Girl Gone Bad, featuring the hits “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop The Music”, sold 9 million copies.

Small and large screens

Rihanna’s first film appearance was in 2006 with Solange Knowles in a film called American Girls 3. This debut was soon followed by compositional roles in movies such as Battleship (2012), Annie (2014), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), and Ocean’s 8 (2018).

She also appeared in the Bates Motel series in 2017 and has appeared as herself in several television programs. In 2018, Rihanna played a lead role in the film Guava Island, directed by Hiro Murai based on a screenplay by Donald Glover.

Commitment

Rihanna has performed at countless charity concerts throughout the years. Her leather goods collection in collaboration with Gucci was also part of a campaign with UNICEF and she was appointed as an ambassador by Barbados.

In 2017, Rihanna was also received by Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron in her capacity as founder of the Believe association, which aims to help children around the world with education or medical support. In addition, the philanthropist does not hesitate to call out heads of state on social media.

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