The impractical shoes, the resolute gait, the single mindedness, you can spot a Black fashion girl from a mile away. They march annually straight from the halls of FIT, LIM, and the school of life into an industry that is at its best indifferent and begrudgingly democratic and at its worst deeply racist and openly hostile. Black fashion girls grew up eyeing the fantasies erected in the hallowed pages of W, Elle, and Vogue. They learned terminology from The Hills, they searched for internships on Media Bistro, they scoured Women’s Wear Daily for an edge that would allow them to join the few non-melaninated people at the top rung of the traveling circus.
As they envision the change they will enact when they finally claim their seats at those exclusive tables, Black fashion girls rarely consider how their power can be limited by not only their skin color but also their job title. Sadly, when Black women reach their coveted jobs at fashion companies, it’s as an intern on entry level employee. The few that make it higher than this, retention then becomes the issue as microaggressions infiltrate the day.
Change is not created by mere presence alone. It happens when the voices in the room are empowered to speak up, and no one is more empowered than Rihanna.
Meticulous about her image from the very beginning (she notoriously sued a British retailer for using her image without her permission), her place at one of the world’s most powerful companies is one of unprecedented control.
Rihanna converting her influence as a pop star turned style icon into tangible results has the potential to create a shift in culture that could upend the pervasion of offensive key chains and bubble coats. Her celebrity has taken her somewhere that apprenticeships and assistant gigs have not yet been able to go and she leaves the door so much as slightly cracked it will change many lives.
Provocative ad campaigns and reactionary diversity councils aside, leadership in the fashion industry is still overwhelmingly white and male. The height of perceived luxury is governed by stakeholders who do not include island girls from Barbados with the balls to rock doobies on the red carpet, pilfer wine glasses, and flip off the paparazzi.
That is why what Rihanna has done with Fenty matters even if she has done it with the support of a major conglomerate.
Using an inclusive strategy that rejects ageism and mommy shaming while embracing sex and body positivity she has already set standards in the beauty and lingerie spaces that are spurning growing investment into black models, executives, and designers.
Rihanna is forcing companies to invest and expand in what they don’t have. Her partnership with LVMH for Fenty Beauty proved to be a success, utilizing new selling models and turning the industry on their head. Naturally, fashion is next. Rihanna will now force the industry to support what they haven’t for a long time: Black women (whether in size or color). For a (undisclosed) price, Rihanna is using her influence and changing how we know the fashion game. One can hope, in this moment, she’ll use her profits to invest in other Black women or this moment to give Black women a seat at the table.
LVMH is a company that controls the trends you’ll be wearing all summer, the bottles you cling to at brunch, and the endless selfies you snapped at Liberty State Park this weekend. Their autocratic leadership being destabilized by Rihanna will have a ripple effect throughout the entire industry.
It is easy to dismiss her accomplishments because she has done it by partnering with LVMH but to do so would be to ignore the potential of her impact. If her expressing her agency as a designer means clients, contracts, and steps forward for even one Black woman then it is a win for our community.
And that should matter, to the gatekeepers, to the ambitious newcomers, to us all because it’s one small step for a multinational corporate giant but it’s a leap for Black fashion girls.