Rihanna debuted the term ‘sexy’ last month on technicolor runways of the Savage X Fenty show – an extravaganza with lingerie, hip-hop and spicy models. Presented live for the elite if you were lucky enough to attend (or anybody with an Amazon Prime account if your invite got lost in the mail) the show redefined inclusivity beyond tokenism and inspired an updated version of ‘sexy’- one that is valid in 2019.
“Rihanna doesn’t do anything that’s already out there,” stated Jennifer Rosales, the Senior VP at Fenty Corp, in the 50-minute film that began with a 6-week countdown to the show. After following the singer through conference calls, model fittings and brainstorm sessions, we concurred. The “fashion show”, if it could even be called that, was to be a massive performance art party that would revolutionize the way we looked at the female body.
Consequently, Rihanna set the stage. An ordinary runway was clearly out of the question. Instead, a theatrical white city of arches was erected, with stairways donning models distorted into dramatic poses. Decked in diamonds and an all-black ensemble, RiRi emerged to bring the show to life. Electronically charged music ensued, along with highly choreographed dances, neon bras and elastic moves. It could have almost been mistaken for a concert by the Barbadian singer, but artists like Big Sean, Migos, Halsey and Tierra Whack soon joined forces with the dancers/models to grab the spotlight.
The models themselves were distinctive. No model looked like the other, and it wasn’t a coincidence. “I’m looking for unique characteristics in people that aren’t usually highlighted in the world of fashion,” Rihanna said, summing up her mission statement for the brand. “We are sexy; we are multifaceted, and I want women to embrace that to the fullest,” she said.
As evidence, the models strutted in, displaying everything she had worked for since the launch of the brand last year. They were plus-sized and petite, abled and disabled, of all races and ethnicities; all they had in common was sultry underwear. They were also fantastical, sexy and glamorous, invalidating decades of conditioning done by Victoria’s Secret.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is the only multimillion-dollar budget lingerie event comparable to the Savage X Fenty show, and it isn’t faring well. The VS fashion show was a PG-13 version of a porn fantasy – complete with leggy models, push-up bras and bedazzled crotches; defended endlessly by the white men who created it. Ultimately, it saw its demise this year, ironically, because of the same white men.
One of them, Ed Razek, was the chief marketing officer of L Brands (Victoria’s Secret’s parent company). He firmly believed that his army of Angels were the epitome of fantasy (read: male fantasy), and that casting models who did not fit that ideal would result in the brand ‘pandering’ to the apparent trend of women accepting their bodies for what they are. The result: The VS ramp models were cut from the same long, lean, body type with a few hairstyle variations, depending on the hairspray they used; Razek didn’t plan on changing that.
On casting transgender models, Razek told Vogue: “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should…Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.” While this may have been in the realm of not-too-scandalous in the early aughts, Razek needed a 21st century intervention to unlearn objectification, one that he refused to attend. However, his stubborn nonacceptance of 2019 and its ever-changing acceptance of a new body ideal alienated the brand from its customers.
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In contrast, Rihanna’s models represented an entire spectrum of buyers, seemingly nonexistent to Victoria’s Secret. “Every woman deserves to feel sexy,” she said, and women did.
The Savage X Fenty show was more than a lingerie event that replaced the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It represented the ethos of 2019. It highlighted issues of representation and finding femininity in all forms of the female body, with arguably more sensuality and “sexiness” than the repetitive walks and kisses from the VS archetypes. Essentially, it empowered women in lingerie to be powerful, talented and sensationalized beyond the male gaze. This fashion-forward Amazon Prime special may have fundamentally been about a lingerie brand, but it definitely spoke to an entire generation of women. We declare: 2019 just found its brand ambassador. Unsurprisingly, it’s Rihanna.