But the music artist, designer and megastar immediately drew praise — and sales — for her size-and color-inclusive offerings that had been notably missing at the mass lingerie company.
After her NYFW extravaganza Tuesday night in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, there no longer seems to be a question of her ascension. With a blowout show that included performances by Big Sean, A$AP Ferg, Migos, Halsey, DJ Khaled and Fat Joe, runway appearances from Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Cara Delevingne, Joan Smalls and Laverne Cox, and dancer-models of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and more, Rihanna seized the long-revered Victoria’s Secret show model and reclaimed it for all women.
And with a new Amazon partnership, Fenty sales are sure to follow. The runway show will be streamed on Amazon Prime on Sept. 20, but the collection is already available on the site now.
The major buzz around Savage x Fenty comes at a time when Victoria’s Secret has been struggling. Its tone-deaf messaging in the #MeToo era has sent sales plummeting — and that’s just the start of its woes.
On Tuesday, the day of Rihanna’s show, VS parent company L Brands hosted investors and analysts at a conference at its Columbus, Ohio, headquarters, where CEO Leslie Wexner gave his first public comments on his connection to Jeffrey Epstein. “More than a decade ago, I severed relationships with a personal financial adviser,” said Wexner, without naming Epstein, though he alluded to the secret life of the deceased financier and accused rapist, who had his own social ties to Victoria’s Secret models. “At some point in your life, we are all betrayed by friends, and if we haven’t, we’re really fortunate to have lived a perfectly sheltered life,” Wexner added. “Being taken advantage of by someone who was so sick, so cunning, so depraved is something that I’m embarrassed that I was even close to, but that is in the past.”
Wexner has also faced questions about why Tory Burch alum John Mehas was appointed CEO of the lingerie division of Victoria’s Secret earlier this year, instead of a woman (Mehas is the first man to hold that position). Later on at the conference, Mehas furthered the conversation on the brand’s #MeToo conundrum, pointing out that its customers have been “very vocal about what she’d like to see from us, whether it’s inclusivity, whether it’s #MeToo, whether it’s a different profile of models, whether it’s rethinking the show — and we’re essentially in agreement,” he said.
But with the damage of brand image already done and its 2019 show already canceled, can Victoria’s Secret ever make a comeback, especially pitted against Rihanna’s spotlight? The music star has already made more money from her makeup sales than all of her tour and record sales combined. And with the new Amazon alliance, Savage x Fenty is poised to catapult sales to a new stratosphere with a combination of diversity-and-inclusivity messaging and the convenience of the e-commerce site — not to mention a beyond-loyal following that’s convinced that no one is sexier, or makes others feel sexier, than Rihanna.
Inside the Barclays Center, show attendees (which included press, designers, industry execs and Fenty-approved influencers) were required to lock their phones in a pouch upon arrival, as no outside photography or social media was permitted. Only a section of the arena was used, and the stage revealed an elaborate set that included a series of steps and platforms, plus a giant window box.
The show began with a spotlight on Rihanna herself as the master of ceremonies (wearing a pair of her Fenty heels), surrounded by dancers dressed in bodywear and legwear from the collection. It progressed to the performances, which were executed with the level of quality and precision of a Grammy Awards or MTV VMAs production. Big Sean rapped with A$AP Ferg, Migos performed as Laverne Cox walked the stage in lingerie, DJ Khaled and Fat Joe got the crowd out of their seats, and Halsey had a tête-à-tête with a dancer while dressed in hosiery and a silk robe.
The collection itself focused on the bodywear and shapewear modeled by the dancers, and though most wore black and white sneakers, there were some guest shoe appearances: A model wore a body stocking with Teva-like sandals in what was probably the sport shoe’s sexiest appearance. And designer and stylist Ada Kokosar was in the audience to watch her Midnight 00 PVC-wrapped mules strut their stuff. (Brother Vellies designer Aurora James was also in attendance — her marabou shoes were on the Savage x Fenty models at last season’s NYFW show, though not this time around).
While the crowd cheered the appearances of the Hadid sisters, Delevingne, Smalls and, especially, Cox, who held her own against the supermodels, what was most exciting about the show was the sheer talent of the dancer-models, whose killer moves showed off the lingerie and bodywear in ways that a Victoria’s Secret show never has.
See images of the Savage x Fenty spring 2020 NYFW runway show.