One of the most eagerly awaited presentations at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) this season was Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie collection. And just as she did when launching Fenty Beauty, Rihanna really shook shit up.
Taking place at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the presentation was more akin to performance art than a traditional runway show. There were no seating assignments, no front row packed with VIPs, instead attendees were treated equally and were encouraged to move throughout the space, exploring a range of installations inspired by the Garden of Eden.
The models, or ‘savages’ as they were referred to in the show notes, navigated the artificial spaces — a greenhouse, a hot spring and a lush garden — some laughing, some dancing, but all looking fiercely and unashamedly sexy.
Soft cup bras, high cut bikini briefs, long lace gloves, plunging body suits and thigh skimming stockings hugged curves. Electric hues, leopard prints and regal tones all vied for attention.
The frisson described by guests heralded an announcement: the future of lingerie had arrived.
Until recent years the lingerie market has traditionally peddled a very narrow ideal of beauty. We have been told that to appear attractive in lingerie we must be white, tall, thin (but with an hourglass figure), have full breasts and a flat stomach, and possess long cascading hair.
With their annual runway extravaganza and regular cast of ‘angels’, dominant lingerie force Victoria’s Secret has long traded on the woman as sex object, pushing lingerie arguably engineered for the male gaze rather than female empowerment.
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the hyper-sexualised image of women they portray have remained largely unchanged for over a decade. The company has become increasingly out of sync with what women actually want from their underwear today.
Enter Rianna and Savage x Fenty.
Two things in particular make this collection and presentation revolutionary and they are a commitment to racial and size diversity in casting and a celebration of female sexuality and how it is expressed.
Last September it was reported that NYFW runway shows featured 37 percent nonwhite models, up from 21 percent from 2015. According to The Fashion Spot only about 1 percent of NYFW models in the last two seasons were plus-size.
Unlike other shows, casting for Savage x Fenty didn’t appear tokenistic; diversity has been woven into the brand’s DNA. With sizes ranging from 32A to 40DDD in bras and XS to 3X in knickers and pajamas, Savage X Fenty is one of the most inclusive lingerie brands on the market.
Casting also included two pregnant women, a first for a NYFW runway. Once pregnant, women cease to be viewed as sexy or sexual, something that is reflected in the often frumpy design of maternity underwear. In counterpoint to this stereotype, Slick Woods wore pasties and a cut out body walking the runway while stroking her pregnant belly, appearing powerful as well as sexual.
‘Savage X means making your own rules and expressing your mood, character and style — for you, not someone else.’ – Rihanna
It’s not just Victoria’s Secret who needs to pay close attention to what Rihanna is doing, the broader fashion industry, just as the beauty industry has been forced to do before it, also have a lot to learn from her.
If the success of Savage x Fenty and Fenty Beauty proves anything, it is that diversity does not just make PR sense, it makes commercial sense. And even if a business doesn’t value the principal, they shouldn’t argue with the cold hard revenue that inclusivity generates.
In showcasing lingerie on all shapes, sizes and colours, Rihanna has signaled that all women have a right to feel sexy and empowered whenever and however they choose.