If in doubt, just follow the eternal command of WWRD: What Would Rihanna Do?
It’s almost impossible to write about Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty without getting overwhelmingly sycophantic. Musician, fashion icon, owner of a pioneering beauty empire, two different clothing lines and now adding luxury designer to her list. How could we not fawn?
In a new interview for the New York Times, following the first sneak peek of her first LVMH-backed Fenty collection, the 31-year-old powerhouse offers a rare glimpse behind the curtain. Rihanna might be one of the most famous faces on the planet but she’s not ascended to that position without retaining some mystery – which is why we can’t get enough of the morsels she chooses to drip feed us.
Speaking about candidly about her blackness, the calculations that go into her business decisions and the odd flash of fear she feels, there’s plenty to glean from Rihanna’s movements – even if it won’t see you sell over 280 million albums and songs.
Here’s the seven lessons from Ms Fenty that we can all learn something from:
Separate your side-hustle from your main gig
When launching her make-up line, Rihanna worried that if she used her established moniker, it could lead to oversaturation and dilute her personal brand (as examples, she cites Hannah Montana and Hilary Duff who are… not the first people I’d have selected. Rihanna stans the Disney Channel! Who knew!)
“Every collaboration I did outside of music, I used Fenty so you didn’t have to hear the word “Rihanna” every time you saw something that I did,” she explains. “So Rihanna stayed the music, the person. But these other brands are called Fenty.”
Don’t let people reduce you to one facet of your identity
With identity politics raging, often our takes on the people we look up to can be reductive, even as well celebrate them. And while it’s important to note someone’s wins – like the fact Rihanna is the first black female designer to launch a house at LVMH – it’s equally vital to not limit them to being less than the sum of their parts. It’s something Rihanna seems well aware of.
“I love being black,” says Rihanna, adding:
“But the reason I’m here is not because I’m black. It’s because of what I have to offer. That’s what they’re invested in. And the fact that I’m black is just that: a fact.”
Breaking with tradition is good – don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and experience
“I want to be as disruptive as possible,” Rihanna exclaims during the interview. “The brand is not traditional.”
Her decision to take Fenty to a space that LVMH has never occupied – that of instantly available items, with no runway showings – is directly influenced by her own shopping habits as a paid-up member of Generation Y.
“I’m a millennial you know?” she says. “As a consumer, I hate seeing something on the runway and then having to wait six months for it.”
And it was Rihanna’s early experiences of diversity that made it a no-brainer to launch a beauty range that actually catered for a full spectrum of skin tones – a beauty brand now on track to be worth a billion dollars before long.
“I was seeing diversity [from childhood],” the singer comments. “That’s all I knew. Making makeup, it wasn’t even a thing I had to think about. I didn’t even really know how bad it was, the void in the market for dark foundation, because all I’d seen was black women put make up on.”
Find a motivation more personal than money
Securing that money bag is a popular ambition, especially if you don’t have it. But the problem with centring your goals around money is that it’s not what will keep you going when your willpower fails or you come up against a particularly insurmountable obstacle. That’s where passion for your work or project is integral.
“I’m not being driven by money right now,” Rihanna says, although admittedly that’s quite easy when you’re a multi-millionaire. But the point stands.
“Money is happening along the way but I’m working out of what I love to do, what I’m passionate about[…]. The world can make you believe that the wrong things are priority and it makes you really miss the core of life, what it means to be alive. It could literally be walking outside in the sun. That makes me happy.”
Trust your gut feelings; fear is a warning sign
Shock: Rihanna is fallible and feels human emotions like the rest of us. For her, the red flag that a situation isn’t as it should be, is a feeling of fear.
“I’m afraid of being afraid,” she confesses. “I know that means it’s wrong. If I feel fear, it’s not wring. I got fear one time in my life, I can’t remember exactly what about [but] I remember my mom saying “I can see something in your eyes I’ve never seen before […] fear.”
“Any time I get that anxiety feeling [now] I try and show it right back down to nothing.”
But making mistakes is all part of the process
Rihanna has a tattoo – no that’s not the mistake, although the matching shark ink on her ankle that she shares with ex Drake is a viable candidate – that reads ‘Never a failure, always a lesson.’ This, she says, is a mantra.
“How you gonna learn without making mistakes?” she demands to know.
The biggest inspiration comes from discovering and embracing yourself
Rihanna might be a muse for a host of headline fashion designers and houses, including Oliver Rousteing and Dior, but when it comes to her own lines she looks to herself.
“I use myself as the muse,” she says of her inspiration for the designs. “We live in a world where people are embracing every bit of who they are. Look at Jaden Smith […], Childish Gambino. They dare you to tell them not to.”
But it’s not a straight path to self-actualisation - even ‘being Rihanna’ hasn’t prevented her from having to grow and discover her sense of self.
“[After album] Good Girl Gone Bad, I started to take the reins,” she recounts.
“[I took] control of my vision, my sound, my clothes [and] embraced change along the way — things that make me a better woman, a better human being. Like, even the way I communicate: I’m really proud of my growth on that. I’m proud to walk into any building as this person. Nothing about me makes me embarrassed about me.”