In many ways, shoes are like songs. There are the greatest hits, perennial tunes like combat boots and strappy sandals. There are golden oldies, throwbacks of penny loafers or kitten heels. Earworms come in the shape of flip- flops and those shapeless shearling boots.
Then there are the massive chart toppers, the songs (or shoes) that define the look, the trends, the mood, the movers and shakers of the year and of certain eras.
That’s all to say that a Fenty shoe was destined to be a pop-fashion hit. In fashion as in music, everything Rihanna touches turns to gold. And the powerhouse artist and entrepreneur knows the value of a well-executed collaboration in both of her industries.
For her year-and-a-half-old, LVMH- backed brand, that meant linking up with footwear’s hottest luxury women’s designer, Amina Muaddi, to develop footwear. The line, which comprises dramatic heels with sexy lace-ups and edgy silhouettes, first debuted in July and has since seen a second drop of sparkly party heels that just might convince a few people to pull themselves out of sweatpants for the pandemic holidays and wear real shoes again.
“I think it’s important to collaborate when you truly believe in someone else’s brand or point of view,” Muaddi told FN. “For me it was very important to take the elements that characterized Fenty and Rihanna’s personality and style and filter my own feminine aesthetic through it.”
The collection is a group effort from Rihanna, Muaddi and Jahleel Weaver, Fenty’s deputy creative director and the star’s primary stylist since 2015. And while the high-profile nature of the partnership suggests it was cooked up in a marketing meeting, the truth is both Rihanna and Weaver were true-blue Muaddi fans before they started working together.
As Muaddi told FN last year, following the announcement of the collaboration (and her own Designer of the Year win), the connection began in 2018, when Weaver sent a direct message over Instagram congratulating her on the launch of her namesake brand and shared some exciting news.
“He said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I bought a few pairs for Rih,’” Muaddi recalled. “He didn’t ask me for shoes, he just communicated that he had bought them for her.” After that, Rihanna was spotted wearing the heels just about everywhere, from award shows to nights out at home in Barbados.
The megastar is not alone in the Muaddi-mania. In February, Lyst reported that the designer’s Gilda heel (a crystal-embellished two-strap backless sandal with the signature martini shape, named after friend and fellow designer Gilda Ambrosio of The Attico) was the most searched shoe in Q4 2019, second only to Gucci in women’s products.
When the trio of Rihanna, Muaddi and Weaver first sat down to work on the collaboration, it was early 2020, months before the pandemic’s global lockdowns would change the way fashion was made, from design, production and merchandising to marketing and retail. Footage of their meetings reveals group sit-downs spent leafing through books of sketches and fittings held in hotel rooms.
“(Collaboration) has to come with this respect and trust of allowing someone to take you to places that you might not have necessarily thought of going before, I think that is the foundation for really any good collaboration,” Weaver told FN. “It’s the ability to respect someone for opinions and ideas and ideals that might be different from your own thinking.”
In the new pandemic world, the creatives have — like everyone else — worked mostly remotely. Muaddi and Weaver have both been in Paris for the majority of the year, while Rihanna has appeared to stay put mostly in L.A. She and Weaver reunited IRL in September at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the filming of the “Savage x Fenty Show Vol. 2,” an Amazon extravaganza that featured Paris Hilton, Normani, Irina Shayk and Bella Hadid clad in Rihanna’s lingerie and Muaddi’s namesake designs.
Of course, anyone working behind the curtain at a fashion brand knows that hype doesn’t always equal sales. Though the Muaddi collab has held a high sell-out rate (new styles from the Nov. 12 drop were gone in a matter of days), its success is relative outlier for the Fenty brand’s fashion and apparel, which hasn’t yet taken off in the way that Fenty Beauty or the lingerie line Savage X Fenty have.
“On Fenty fashion, we are obviously still in a launching phase, and we have to figure out exactly what is the right offer,” LVMH CFO Jean-Jacques Guiony told analysts after the conglomerate posted its Q3 sales this year. In September, the brand hired managing director Bastien Renard, whose 19-year experience with Nike and Converse in both Europe and the U.S. could suggest an even bigger focus on footwear for the brand.
Fenty joins just about every other fashion brand trying to find its footing in the pandemic’s new world order. Old-world assumptions on retail partnerships — and even the market for high heels and high-end fashion price points — have been set aside. It would not be surprising to see a Rihanna sneaker sometime in the near future.
One thing is for sure: Whether it’s an album drop or a shoe, the world will wait for Rihanna, and whomever she brings along with her.