Music artist and cultural icon Rihanna debuted the second fashion show of her Savage x Fenty line on Oct. 2, featuring performers like Travis Scott, Rosalía and Mustard. The show was streamed on Amazon Prime. It featured guest stars (like Willow Smith and Lizzo), dance numbers and a traditional runway (featuring female, male and nonbinary models), as well as interview clips and documentary footage about the creation of the fashion line.
This year has marked the addition of a menswear collection to the Savage x Fenty line, in response to requests by fans of the brand. Eight new styles were added to the brand’s website, one of them being modeled by a plus size model. The menswear line is a collaboration with rapper and model Christian Combs.
Scrolling through the Savage x Fenty website will show the brand’s lingerie collection being modeled by women of all ethnicities and body types. A 2018 fashion show of the brand even featured two pregnant women.
Rihanna explained in an interview with E! News that she prefers to focus on women who don’t usually get to be seen as sexy in normal media.
“They’re sexy,” she said, “and they need to know that, and they need to be validated about that no matter what size they are. I’m so focused on that and making women, not just anyone but everyone feeling invited, welcomed. Savage is a home, it’s a hub and it’s a safe space for everyone.”
In the interviews shown throughout the fashion show, several people, including Rihanna, talk about their experiences and philosophies regarding sexuality and self-expression. Rihanna in particular presents sexuality as a gray area between exploitation and empowerment, saying that sometimes sexuality is “tainted because you’ve had horrible experiences or been robbed of your own power.” The message presented in this section is that confidence comes from within a person, not from their clothes — an unorthodox one for a fashion brand, but a message that is inclusive of all experiences with sexuality, good and bad.
In an interview with People, Rihanna said that “inclusivity has always been a part of our brand. That’s not a ‘right now’ thing. It’s sad that it’s right now for most brands. But that’s always been who I am…I feel great that there are women that are feeling like they see themselves on the stage for the first time.”
When it comes to the lack of inclusivity in other brands, Rihanna has a point.
An article by Vogue Business points out that several fashion companies have struggled to practice diversity due to the big names being made up of teams with similar worldviews. While companies like Ralph Lauren have had diversity councils since 2003, others, such as Prada and Gucci, only began instituting diversity councils in 2019, after their companies faced scandals over products that were racially insensitive.
The article also notes that in April of 2019, fellow music artist and cultural icon Beyoncé considered a fashion collaboration with Reebok, but stepped away from the deal after meeting with her potential team.
“Nobody in this room reflects my background, my skin color, and where I’m from and what I want to do,” she said.
Gucci’s particular racially insensitive fashion item was a black balaclava sweater, with a turtleneck meant to be pulled over the lower half of the face like a face mask. The sweater included a hole for the mouth, surrounded by bright red lips. Unintentionally or not, this invoked the image of blackface.
While Gucci’s official statement claimed that they “consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision” they make, many Twitter users disagreed.
Twitter user @KayMogul asked, “So how many people did this get past before someone realized it maybe wasn’t a good idea. It’s funny the companies are always apologizing after the decision makers think something so obviously wrong to the world is okay. Is it safe to say there are zero American Black people staffed?”
Another, @AnikaKarinaa, asked, “Why do companies always say ‘we love diversity in fact we diverse so hard’ as if that convinces anybody after said (company) puts out something that clearly evokes the imagery of something that’s not only not diverse but is in fact racist?”
Companies like Gucci should take a look at the Savage x Fenty line as an example of a fashion line that is truly diverse. Rather than simply claiming to be diverse, they should strive to practice real diversity, the kind that celebrates not just white people, but everyone, for who they are.
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