In this op-ed, Teen Vogue fashion features editor Jessica Andrews explores the impact of Rihanna's Savage X Fenty lingerie show and its celebration of womanhood.
I walked into the venue for my last show at New York Fashion Week to find a man serving me beverages on a platter. Another handed me the program and kindly asked that I busy myself with mingling before it was time to move to another room, presumably where the show would take place. It was a welcomed departure from the previous shows; one where I had been yelled at by a man for accidentally stepping foot on the desert-inspired set, and another where I was shoved by a male security guard as I stood in line to make way for a celebrity entering the theater. Here, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Rihanna's first lingerie presentation at fashion week, males were kind, attentive, and helpful, and women and femmes were esteemed guests. I had entered into the world of Savage X Fenty.
There were no seating assignments or VIP sections, no arrangement tied to a ranking of which guests were considered more important or valuable. Celebrities like Selah Marley were standing around the event space like the rest of us. The only ask? We were told that Rihanna would like us to walk around the room to take in the whole experience — and an experience it was. The fall 2018 presentation of Savage X Fenty centered around an array of exotic installations designed to resemble the Garden of Eden. There was a botanical dome, a laboratory surrounded by plants and flowers, even a pool constructed to look like a natural hot spring.
The models, referred to in the notes as the "Savages," explored their idyllic surroundings in a stirring piece of performance art. They wandered through the maze of lush flora with dazed facial expressions and they laughed uncontrollably. Then, suddenly, an army of dancers would emerge, with moves so powerful and sharp that a fuccboi might run for cover. For the finale, the models held hands in solidarity as Rihanna walked out to Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" from the Wild at Heart soundtrack.
The experience was moving, empowering — spiritual even. It was conceived by Rihanna in collaboration with PRODJECT, a creative agency which also helped conceptualize last season's Fenty X Puma presentation, where Rihanna appeared on a set of pink mountains while perched on the backseat of a motorcycle.
This season of NYFW, I've sat at runway shows and watched brands incorporate less than a handful of black, Latinx, or Asian models or send a plus-size model down the catwalk, as if their curves are too offensive to be clearly defined by a specific type of garment. Chromat and Gypsy Sport were among the few brands that disrupted the status quo by dressing models to show off their bodies in a diverse selection of bold looks, not just demure ones.
But it wasn't until I went to Savage X Fenty and saw two models dancing, their hair in afro puffs, thighs rumpled and bellies on full display, that I truly felt seen. It was an admonishment of the narrow standard of beauty often imposed in the lingerie space by other mainstream brands. For so long, a single archetype for the lingerie model was shoved down our throats: white, thin, tall, long hair, hourglass figure, full breasts, flat stomach. My hair doesn't hang low in messy beach waves; it coils tight into a circle, framing my face like a halo. My thighs stick together, my butt sticks out, and they both have stretch marks. Instead of the abs some lingerie models obtain by extreme workouts and unhealthy diets, my belly is soft and I have love handles. Don't I deserve to wear lingerie as well? To feel attractive and alluring? I think of all the times I've been told — through ads and runway shows — that my skin, my body, my hair texture is wrong. And then here's Rihanna, affirming that this is a lingerie body, too.
Styled by Tom Van Dorpe of Management + Artists, Savage X Fenty models presented a show-stopping collection of lingerie that ranged from casual to romantic to racy. There were glow-in-the-dark garters, green leopard-print robes, fishnet bodysuits layered over black bras, criss-cross cage lingerie sets adorned with flowers, a bright blue bra set styled with a do-rag. The collection — ranging from $12.50 to $115 in price — was available for purchase immediately following the show.
With sizes spanning from 32A to 40DDD in bras and XS to 3X in undies and sleepwear, Savage X Fenty is one of the most inclusive lingerie brands on the market. But this isn't diversity the way many brands imagine it: the ticking of boxes with a single tokenized model. Rihanna is celebrating the very things society has taught us to be ashamed of: our curves, our skin tones, and our bodies as they change and grow — especially during pregnancy.
Just like with Fenty Beauty, Savage X Fenty celebrated various skin tones. That commitment to complexion diversity is important when you consider that within non-white spaces, dark skin is often deemed unattractive or rejected because of one's "preference." You don't have to search extensively on social media to see how dark-skinned women are particularly impacted by the plague of colorism. Model Leomie Anderson even shut down a troll on Twitter once who suggested that dark-skinned women who are "actually attractive" don't face colorism; she shared that she's one of the most sought-after models in the industry and even she's experienced it. In the world of Savage, however, deeper skin tones were celebrated. Leomie and Duckie Thot appeared to be totally covered in Fenty Beauty Diamond Bomb, their dark skin glowing in the light.
The casting also included two visibly pregnant models. Their presence in the show was groundbreaking, not because they're the first expectant mothers to walk a NYFW runway, but because of the way they were styled. Maternity lingerie is notoriously frumpy and unimaginative: the most alluring garment you'll probably find is a sheer babydoll set covered in bows. It perpetuates the myth that if you're pregnant, you can be adorable, but never sexy — as if a person loses their sexual appetite the minute they discover they're with child. Slick Woods hit the Savage runway wearing pasties and a cut-out bodysuit, rubbing her pregnant belly, reveling in her womanhood. Another pregnant model wore a thong one-piece that was totally see-through. In Rihanna's world, we have full permission to feel sexy when we're expecting.
Rihanna is more than just another celebrity peddling fashion items. She disrupts every industry she's in, whether music, beauty, or fashion.
With her makeup line, Fenty Beauty, she famously turned the cosmetics industry upside down, releasing 40 foundation shades and catering to the oft-neglected dark-skinned consumer. Makeup enthusiasts with dark skin once had to mix foundation shades together to create something that worked for their complexion; today, legacy beauty brands are hastily expanding their shade range to catch up with Rihanna. Now, with her focus set squarely on the intimates market, she's closing out fashion week with one of the most inclusive lingerie presentations we've ever seen.
Of all the myriad ways the Victoria's Secret runway disappoints, one of its biggest crimes is that it seems to endorse the idea that women exist to appeal to men. It's a heightened fantasy of what men want, packaged and sold to women. It reinforces the myth that we are ornamental, that the pinnacle of allure is when a man finds you attractive. Savage X Fenty, by contrast, was an unapologetic celebration of femininity.
It was a lingerie show that didn't cater to the male gaze. Whether men find your hair, skin, size, or shape attractive is totally irrelevant in Rihanna's world. The overlying message at Savage X Fenty is that women are powerful, women are transcendent, women are sexy — not for someone else's pleasure, but for our own.
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