Rihanna is building a lingerie empire to rival Victoria’s Secret

Savage X Fenty, Rihanna’s two-year-old on-line lingerie model, makes Victoria’s Secret look tame. At Savage’s annual style present, girls strut out in crotchless teddies, sheer bras, and heart-shaped nipple pasties to the pulsating music of Travis Scott and Lizzo. However if you take a nearer look, you start to discover stark variations between the upstart and its 43-year-old predecessor. Whereas the Victoria’s Secret present was recognized for skinny supermodels, Savage embraces variety in each kind, that includes men and women of all sizes, pores and skin tones, and ages, together with pregnant girls and drag queens.

Shea Couleé [Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images/Amazon Prime/Savage X Fenty]

That technique is clearly resonating. The model has grown shortly, producing an estimated $150 million in income in 2020, with 200% year-over-year progress and three.9 million followers on Instagram. That progress is about to speed up. At the moment, Savage declares solely with Quick Firm that it has landed $115 million in Collection B funding from L Catterton, a non-public fairness agency related to the French luxurious conglomerate LVMH, bringing Savage’s valuation to greater than $1 billion. A part of this funding will gas Savage’s upcoming rollout of brick and mortar shops, which is able to convey Savage’s digital expertise to life. Savage’s objective is nothing in need of creating a lingerie empire.

[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

Sexiness From The Feminine Gaze

Savage is only one a part of Rihanna’s fast-growing enterprise empire, but it surely is arguably the one with the potential for essentially the most progress, given its mass-market worth level. Her different manufacturers—Fenty Magnificence, Fenty Maison, and Fenty Pores and skin—are all inbuilt partnership with LVMH, whose experience is in creating luxurious manufacturers. With Savage, Rihanna is excited about creating an accessible model with costs that begin at lower than $10 a bra. She constructed the model in partnership with Tech Model Style Group, recognized for its portfolio of reasonably priced subscription-based manufacturers, comparable to ShoeDazzle and Kate Hudson’s activewear line, Fabletics. For $49.95 a month, which can be utilized as retailer credit score, Savage clients can unlock cheaper members’-only costs.


[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

In some methods, Savage is an expression of Rihanna’s personal public persona, rigorously cultivated over the previous 15 years of her profession as a pop star. Inspired by girls earlier than her, comparable to Madonna and Mariah Carey, Rihanna usually performs in attractive outfits coupled with a message about girls’s empowerment. As CEO and inventive director of Savage, Rihanna desires to create a model the place girls are firmly in charge of their physique and sexual expertise. The day-to-day operations at Savage are run by co-presidents Christiane Pendarvis and Natalie Guzman, girls of colour who beforehand labored in senior roles at Hole and Dermstore respectively. However Rihanna is intimately concerned with product growth and branding. “We don’t take into consideration her because the ‘face of the model,’ which suggests she’s the celeb endorser,” says Pendarvis. “She’s intimately concerned with every little thing we do, from choosing materials to creating the style present.”

[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

Within the post-#MeToo period, advertising an overtly attractive model is a tough enterprise, however Savage attracts a distinction between sex-positive and “attractive” outlined by a male-dominated tradition. Victoria’s Secret started to decline in 2016, after years of dominating the ladies’s underwear trade, partly as a result of its oversexed advertising catered to the male gaze, moderately than how girls noticed themselves. (This was exacerbated by studies of misogyny and sexual harassment on the firm and the CEO’s close relationship with accused intercourse trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.) The fast decline of Victoria’s Secret created area for brand new lingerie manufacturers to emerge. However whereas different latest female-founded underwear startups comparable to ThirdLove and Full of life have performed down sexuality to concentrate on consolation, Rihanna has chosen to lean into sexiness—on her personal phrases. “She’s unapologetic,” says Pendarvis. “What she does is for herself and never for another person. That’s what we strive to embody at Savage: Giving that energy and management again to all girls.”

[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

Everyone Deserves to Really feel Attractive

Whereas Savage’s Instagram feed and style exhibits have a tendency to function the sexiest items within the assortment, Pendarvis, who leads product design, says the model is really targeted on creating a big selection of aesthetics. Alongside the plunge bras with cutouts, there are comfortable bralettes and unlined T-shirt bras. “We don’t shrink back from sexuality—it’s a part of the feminine identification,” she says. “However we wish to give girls the liberty to outline it nonetheless they select. For some girls, they is perhaps a product that is extra informal and cozy. And it’d change over time, and even over the course of the day. How she desires to present up with a companion could also be completely different from how she exhibits up lounging round the home on a Saturday.”

[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

A part of what makes Savage radical within the lingerie sector is that it makes the case that each one individuals—no matter their shade, form, or measurement—deserve to really feel attractive. Savage’s branding and promoting is extremely numerous, that includes many Black and brown individuals. This is in itself revolutionary: Students level out that Black individuals, particularly girls, have traditionally been desexualized to the purpose of being dehumanized.

Pendarvis, who has labored for plus-sized manufacturers prior to now, says that Savage takes a painstaking method guaranteeing that the lingerie appears good and matches nicely throughout the dimensions vary, which works from 30A to 42H in bras, and XS to 3X for underwear and pajamas. It is frequent for manufacturers to create one prototype of a garment, then scale it up or down to completely different sizes, however this will create distortions, significantly within the largest sizes. Savage avoids this by designing a number of variations of every garment for smaller and bigger sizes, so the aesthetic and luxury of the product is constant throughout the vary.

Embracing Amazon

In its struggle to tackle Victoria’s Secret, Savage has a bonus: In a quickly altering retail panorama, it is a digitally native, data-driven model. And from the beginning, Savage has chosen to companion with Amazon, the web’s largest retailer. Traditionally, style labels have had a contentious relationship with Amazon, which is recognized for slapping distributors with high fees and unfavorable terms or copying best-selling products by way of its non-public label manufacturers. However Rihanna believes Savage can leverage Amazon’s huge attain to its benefit—whereas additionally reimagining the standard style present, which is on the decline.

From Savage X Fenty Vol. 2, streamed on Amazon Prime. [Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/Amazon Prime/Savage X Fenty]

Yearly, Savage streams its style present by way of Amazon Prime, then makes merchandise from the present obtainable to buy immediately on Amazon’s website. Pendarvis says this is simply a portion of the full assortment, so Amazon clients have an incentive to go to the Savage web site and turn into members to get higher costs. “It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Pendarvis. “Rihanna is a main draw, so that they get a lot of content material and views of the style present. And it permits us to showcase our assortment and provides us publicity.”


[Photo: courtesy Savage X Fenty]

And with this new infusion of money, Savage is plotting how to proceed to develop its distribution to purchase extra clients. Brick-and-mortar shops are a key a part of this imaginative and prescient. Pendarvis factors out that not like different clothes, it may be troublesome to determine whether or not lingerie matches, and plenty of of their clients hesitate earlier than shopping for merchandise on-line. She says that, very like every little thing else the model does, they may use buyer knowledge to make choices about the place to open shops and what merchandise to carry inside them: “Now we have a leg up as a digitally native model as a result of we now have a lot of details about what our clients need.”

On condition that the pandemic is nonetheless raging, and plenty of shoppers aren’t comfy procuring in shops, the Savage crew is negotiating when to debut the shops. It’s additionally value noting that client procuring preferences change shortly: Some digitally native manufacturers, comparable to Lease the Runway, have been as soon as bullish about opening bodily shops however ended up closing them later. But when Savage’s shops do take off, they may give clients a probability to bodily step into the world that Rihanna has created, one the place the outdated guidelines of sexuality and lingerie not apply. For example, there’s possible to be a males’s part within the retailer. Final 12 months, Savage launched a capsule assortment stuffed with silky boxers and smoking jackets. It was so standard, the model determined to make it a everlasting a part of the assortment.

After centuries of males making girls’s lingerie, Rihanna has flipped the script: She’s designing males’s lingerie from a feminine gaze.