RiRi is poised to be the next LV of lust-worthy monograms.
Friday’s announcement that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton will launch a new Paris-based Fenty maison “centered on Rihanna, developed by her, and taking shape with her vision in terms of ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, including commerciality and communication of the brand” marks the first time the luxury conglomerate has launched a fashion brand from scratch since it set a couture house for Christian Lacroix in 1987. Only this time, it’s with a celebrity — who will also be the first black woman to head an LVMH brand — and the development could change the future of Hollywood dealmaking in the fashion space.
“Instead of having celebrity faces like Natalie Portman at Dior or Nicole Kidman at Chanel, it’s now about how a celebrity can own a brand,” said Stacy Jones, chief executive officer of entertainment marketing firm Hollywood Branded Inc., who credits the groundbreaking LVMH deal on Rihanna’s demonstrated success as a singer, actress and marketer who is able to move Fenty beauty products with an Instagram post. She also touted the legacy of the Kardashians and celebrity-businessmen including George Clooney, whose tequila company Casamigos sold for $1 billion last year (which in turn sparked a slew of other actors, including Ryan Reynolds, jumping into the alcohol sector).
Rihanna on the runway at Fenty Puma by Rihanna Spring 2018 in New York.
“In the past, celebs have become brand ambassadors, and they have had partnerships that involved this many days of PR, event attendances, this many photo shoots, video shoots and usage rights. The celeb didn’t really participate in the creative process,” said Jones. “But with the advent of social media, people started seeing they could take more control, because they could start seeing the impact they were having on the brand.
“The Kardashians have created a global monopoly of beauty lines, and have realized how much they can make if they have ownership. Rihanna is the same model,” she added. “She wants to own something and partnering with a leading luxury brand offers a massive opportunity to work across categories.”
Proving the power of the pop star’s following, only hours after LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton officially confirmed the establishment of her new Paris-based fashion house, more than 150,000 joined the brand’s Instagram account, which has no posts yet. As of Sunday afternoon, the following swelled to 240,000.
To be sure, the project significantly raises the bar for celebrity-led fashion brands, given LVMH’s mighty finances, access to prime retail space, expertise across an array of luxury goods, and penchant for directly controlling production and distribution.
And Rihanna gives LVMH access to a new demographic, said Jones. “Luxury conglomerates are having major issues reaching Millennials…This new luxury brand will allow them to open the floodgates to Millennial customers.”
But it’s not every talent who can command such a deal, which some insiders are comparing to Beyoncé’s recently revealed partnership with Adidas, which allows her to retain full ownership and control of her Ivy Park brand, which will be relaunched by the athletic wear giant.
“This paves the way for other people, sure,” said Victoria Brynner, founder of L.A.-based consultancy Stardust Brands, which connects fashion and luxury brands with talent. “But people who warrant a big investment from a brand like LVMH, there are not hundreds of them. It has to be someone who has shown their sustainability. Someone like Selena Gomez, she did a capsule with Coach and investors see that she has 100 million Instagram followers. But is it in her wheelhouse to have a music career and focus on a full brand? Rihanna has shown her capability to do it all with beauty and her capsule [fashion] collections and she has music, and acts. It’s the house with the remodeled kitchen and bathrooms, it has everything in it and it’s less risky.”
Lady Gaga is another multi-talent whose influence is big enough to translate into a brand in the the fashion space, insiders suggest, though future deals will depend on the success of the Rihanna one.
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“These are deals for the most influential women in the world, and the market is just opening up to realize the value of partnering with women who have more influence than the brands themselves do,” said Christian Carino, a talent agent at Creative Artists Agency, which represents Beyoncé, Johnny Depp and Margot Robbie, among others. “This level of partnership requires brands to give up control they normally wouldn’t give up to anyone. You’re not telling these women what to do, which is amazing.”
According to the LVMH announcement, the new Fenty collection will debut for spring 2019. It is understood the products will become available for sale later this month, mainly via digital channels. The statement included a web domain — http://www.fenty.com — and revealed a two-part logo with Fenty spelled out in a maze-like block or with with a backwards N.
On her @Badgirlriri Instagram account Friday, the singer ran a photo of herself next to the logo, declaring it “a big day for the culture. Thank you Mr. Arnault for believing in this little girl from the left side of an island, and for giving me this opportunity to grow with you at @LVMH. This is proof that nothing is impossible. Glory be to God.”
She also pointed out that she is the first woman of color at the helm of an LVMH maison.
Rihanna boasts more than 70 million followers on Instagram, and is expected to release new music some time this year. A Hollywood multihyphenate, she is also an actress, who appeared in last year’s “Ocean’s Eight.”
“Everybody knows Rihanna as a wonderful singer, but through our partnership at Fenty Beauty, I discovered a true entrepreneur, a real ceo and a terrific leader. She naturally finds her full place within LVMH. To support Rihanna to start up the Fenty Maison, we have built a talented and multicultural team supported by the group resources. I am proud that LVMH is leading this venture and wish it will be a great success,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH.
For her part, Rihanna said, “Designing a line like this with LVMH is an incredibly special moment for us. Mr. Arnault has given me a unique opportunity to develop a fashion house in the luxury sector, with no artistic limits. I couldn’t imagine a better partner both creatively and business-wise, and I’m ready for the world to see what we have built together.”
Sources told WWD Rihanna has been extremely hands-on with the new Fenty project, working closely with teams in London and in Paris.
WWD broke the news on Jan. 17 that the high-profile project was in the works, as LVMH had already hand-picked a clutch of employees from within, including some from Louis Vuitton and Celine, to work in tandem with Rihanna and some of her key associates. Among them are Veronique Gebel, previously ready-to-wear director at Louis Vuitton, according to market sources.
Already, the high-profile project is a quantum leap from celebrity fashion forays of yore, typically done via licensing, dependent on wholesale and positioned in mass channels.
Filings with the commercial court in Paris suggest substantial initial investments in the Fenty Maison, registered under the company name Loud. It details equity of 60 million euros. For comparison’s sake, that compares to equity of 10 million for Patou, the heritage fashion house LVMH acquired and is relaunching with former Nina Ricci designer Guillaume Henry.
Court documents dated at the end of 2018 list LVMH’s chief strategy officer and executive board member Jean-Baptiste Voisin as president of Loud, a position that is valid for three years. According to sources, the final management configuration has yet to be decided.
Company statutes suggest a broad range of possible merchandise for the new label, with a detailed list including clothing and accessories for men, women and children, as well as tableware, objects for the house and garden, as well as sports and high-tech goods, jewelry and watches made of precious metals.
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Rihanna’s relationship with LVMH stretches back to at least 2015. After attending shows for Christian Dior, one of Arnault’s most treasured fashion properties, she appeared in “Secret Garden IV,” a campaign and short film shot by Steven Klein inside Versailles. It featured her in Dior sunglasses, carrying the brand’s bags and wearing looks from the Esprit Dior collection.
A year later, she created a range of futuristic sunglasses in collaboration with Dior as part of her brand ambassadorship. Earlier this year, she test-drove a pair with her Fenty brand splashed across the temples, dropping a colossal hint about the upcoming project with LVMH.
Rihanna and models backstage at Fenty Puma by Rihanna ready-to-wear spring 2017 in Paris.
Rihanna has demonstrated a serious interest in, and influence on, fashion — along with formidable design chops and acute instincts — with her tenure as the creative director of Puma, energizing the German activewear brand with her Fenty by Puma project, and following it up with successful forays into beauty and lingerie — the former with LVMH-controlled Kendo; the latter with California-based TechStyle Fashion Group.
Kendo, which functions as an incubator making products that end up being retailed by LVMH’s Sephora beauty chain and other outposts, signed Rihanna in 2016. Racking up sales north of $100 million in a matter of weeks, Fenty Beauty was hailed as a transformative brand. It generated revenues of about 500 million euros last year, LVMH said during a recent conference call.
Rihanna’s talent, charisma and beauty have made her a favorite of fashion designers worldwide. The Barbados native has previously modeled for Gucci, Emporio Armani and Balmain, and has made Internet-breaking red carpet appearances in Adam Selman’s nearly nude crystal dress at the 2014 CFDA awards, in an egg-yolk colored Guo Pei cape at the 2015 Met Gala, and a daring Comme des Garçons look at the 2017 Met Gala, always with the guidance of longtime stylist Mel Ottenberg.
Through collaborations, she has already worked across several fashion categories. In 2011, Rihanna teamed with Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans to create a capsule collection of T-shirts, biker jackets, denim and lingerie. In 2013, she presented her first women’s collection for British high-street retailer River Island, collaborating with American designer Selman. “Launching at London Fashion Week is a dream come true for me,” she told WWD at the time. In 2017, she collaborated with Chopard on a luxury jewelry collection she flaunted on red carpets around the world.
For LVMH — whose forte is modernizing legacy brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Bulgari and Dom Pérignon — the Rihanna line signals a further move outside its comfort zone as it continues to diversify its holdings. It recently invested $2.6 billion in luxury travel operator Belmond Ltd., owner of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train and hotels including the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro.
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