"[Signing with Wilhelmina] came as a proactive move because I knew the Rihanna cover was coming," up-and-coming stylist Farren Fucci told Fashionista during New York Fashion Week, when asked about his short but meteoric rise in the industry. At the time, he was styling both Cindy Bruna and Clara McGregor for the week's events, including the much-hyped Fendi party. "I signed because I knew the Rihanna cover was coming; I basically knew an overflow of opportunities was coming and I wasn't going to be able to handle it all [on my own]. But considering our interview was originally pegged to his December Paper Magazine cover featuring Bella Hadid — his first-ever stint as a creative director — it was surprising news.
On Friday, Paper debuted its new cover starring Rihanna, jointly creative directed by Fucci (who declined to reveal his given name) and Shannon Stokes, a designer and creative director who also worked with the 25-year-old on the Hadid shoot. Styled in everything from a full Chanel look to Marc Jacobs and Dior — set in an East Village bodega, no less — the spread is Rihanna's first in the magazine since her "Umbrella" press tour in 2007. But now, she's back in what the publication is hoping will be another issue worthy of "breaking the internet."
Fucci's career was birthed on social media. That's no exaggeration: The Santa Monica-born stylist who has lived in Rochester, New York, Goldsboro, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, got his first real interaction with the industry by posting Polyvore sets of looks he would, if given the opportunity, style various celebrities in for events. Those sets, created out of boredom during his at-home technical support job for Apple, eventually brought in followers like Rihanna, Bella, Zendaya and future-collaborator Stokes. (His imagery and outspoken, unfiltered commentary on both Twitter and Instagram have earned him 46.4K and 48K followers, respectively.)
"Initially we connected over Twitter, tweeting things back and forth about Bella Hadid," Stokes, who has worked with Beyoncé several times in the past, said. "I had been talking about why I personally liked both of the Hadid sisters, but why I really liked Bella." Fucci, too, had once gone on a bit of a tear about his devotion to the model, making a thread early on in her career about why she would be the next "It" girl. For a while, those relationships were just friendships, reserved to conversations over text and direct message. That is, until Paper took notice.
"We actually interviewed Fucci for a story in September of last year," Abby Schreiber, managing editor of Paper, said in a phone interview. According to Schreiber, the entire Paper staff had its eyes on Fucci, which is a rarity. "At one point, he had mentioned he wanted to style Bella Hadid, and she had been on our radar for a long time as a possible cover." So what else was there to do but to make it happen?
The shoot was Fucci's first, and though he conceptualized the "Underworld"-inspired project on his own, he asked Stokes to join the team to help with execution. "I curated the whole thing as far as booking her; I chose the hair, I chose the makeup, everything," Fucci said in a claim that was backed up by Stokes. For Fucci, Hadid was to play his Kate Beckinsale. "Bella loves to wear all black; she has high cheekbones and the piercing eyes, but to switch it up, we gave her the platinum blonde hair, which symbolized the immortal vampires." But there was something else that was important: making sure Fucci's voice came through in the shoot.
"There's a lot to consider on a shoot if you've never done one before," Stokes explained of what he brought to the set. "There's advertisers and people saying you have to shoot certain looks to make everyone happy. But we wanted one look to really be his aesthetic, which is kind of also Bella's aesthetic. It was this sort of 'no-holds-barred, we don't care who made it, this is our look.'" That "look," which Farren has coined as "hoesthetics," shone through in a cropped top and short skirt.
"I was one of the first to talk about 'hoe looks' and post the Vines with more scandalous outfits," Fucci noted of his signature aesthetic. "I'm all for female empowerment and the sexual liberation of women. I feel like one of the first aspects of that is how [women] dress."
"People judge books by their covers, so your clothes are what you're judged off of most of the time," he continued. "So I'm trying to take that notion that girls can wear whatever they want — that doesn't make them any different." And while Fucci might be one of the pioneers of this new iteration of sexy chic, he no doubt comes in a lineage that most prominently features Carine Roitfeld. "I've always told him Carine is the queen of hoesthetics," Stokes said. "She's pioneered it as a mainstream, expensive look. Like, this is a 'hoe look' but it's high fashion, and there's nothing cheap about it." One only has to look at her legacy at Vogue Paris or her work with Tom Ford to see that.
The look was a success for Paper. Fucci and Stokes contend that the Hadid cover was the third best of all time, while Schreiber only confirms it was the second most-viewed cover of 2016, following Kylie Jenner. But before it was even complete, the team was already orchestrating a plan for the next project.
"I was talking to [Rihanna] throughout the whole Bella shoot asking her for feedback on looks and stuff," Farren revealed. "She actually helped me to get pieces, too; her Christian Dior glasses that I pulled, she helped me get." The gesture was merely repaying Farren for the past few months, as he has been sending the star looks and pieces he thought she might like — some of which she ended up wearing later.
"Once we were done, I texted Rih and said, 'I'm done with Bella, they want me to do you next. Are you down?' And she was like, 'Uh... duh,'" Fucci said. Schreiber says that the publication also went through the official channels to submit the request (they had been working for months to get Rihanna back in their pages), but Fucci's relationship with the singer proved invaluable.
"My whole thing about [the Rihanna] shoot is that other people try to do what they feel is an 'around the way' black girl look, but they always get it wrong," Stokes said. As a Brooklyn native, Stokes took a bit more of the creative lead on the project since it was so New York-centric in concept. "I thought that we, as black people working on it — especially in styling and creative direction — would be able to do it in a more nuanced way that felt more real and less of a caricature. Even though she's wearing the best clothes of the season in a bodega, it still has a reality about it that feels more genuine." That genuineness is no doubt felt also in part because of Rihanna's own contributions.
"People don't understand how much she collaborates with everyone that she works with," Fucci said of the Dior ambassador, who he also refers to as a big sister. "All of the hair concepts... we sent her our ideas, but she ended up going up with her own ideas for hair. When it comes to her jewelry and how she stacks them and stuff like that, she's the one who does that. She has a lot of input that she likes to contribute."
Since the Rihanna shoot, Fucci has not slowed down: He's styled the likes of Leona Lewis and Slick Woods, in addition to coming on to Keke Palmer's team. After the Hadid shoot debuted back in December, Roitfeld's own CR Fashion Book reached out about possibly working together, too.
"I think [Farren] really is this perfect synthesis of a lot of different traits," Schreiber said of why he's so in demand after only four full months of working in the industry. "He's incredibly creative and savvy and tapped into not only big designers but smaller, younger designers and youth culture and what's happening on social media. He really brings the whole package. It's all these things taken in tandem that made him stand out." His relationship with gold star talent is not a deterrent, either.
Stokes concurred. "He definitely has an eye and puts things together in a way not everybody sees. There was one look [on the Bella shoot] with an overall and he just wanted to tuck it in and belt it with a Balmain belt. It's not something I saw, but it was a really good look." And it's that type of eye that keep publications like Paper calling.
"We definitely want to keep working with Farren and Shannon," Schreiber confirmed. "We think they are smart and creative and fun — so definitely more to come." You can see the full cover feature over at Paper right now.