When Rihanna is in your presence, you can just feel it. The energy in the room changes; all chatter ceases and iPhone cameras are held at the ready, eagerly awaiting the Bad Gal's movement through the crowd. This was exactly the case on Thursday evening at Vogue's Forces of Fashion conference, when the mogul behind both Fenty x Puma and Fenty Beauty took the stage as the event's final speaker while flutes of champagne were passed among the guests.
Casually dressed in a fresh-off-the-runway Tom Ford ensemble, Rihanna sat down with Hamish Bowles for a glorious 25-minute discussion about her unbelievable success within the industry, wisdom she's picked up about the business since starting her ventures and her own personal style — particularly, why she's so keen on discovering (and supporting) emerging designers. "The thrill for me is being the first one to wear something, and I also enjoy new, fresh perspectives and youthful ideas," she said. "Even if it's outrageous, I enjoy the challenge of making something work, as crazy as it may be." (In fact, she found her famous Guo Pei Met Gala gown after frantically Googling "Chinese couture" after a meeting with Anna Wintour, and thinking she "couldn't lose" with the gilded piece.)
But the main thread in her conversation was her desire to earn real respect within the industry, rather than riding the wave of having a famous name. "I have long-term goals in fashion, not so much with any one brand," she explained. "I enjoy fashion. It's a thrill; it's a challenge. You can only keep learning and growing and evolving every time you do something or think of something or make a collection... I take it very seriously."
She admits that she's made some sartorial and design faux pas in the past: "[I] started with really bad style. You have to start somewhere though, right? But you live and you learn from your mistakes." Instead of letting them deter her, she did as we mere mortals often do: She tried again, concentrating on becoming more authentic. "I'm always up for a challenge, so if I don't get it right the first time — it can be the first thousand times — I'm going to keep trying to figure it out. It had a lot to do with me finding myself; me knowing exactly who I am, my don'ts, my boundaries."
As for being held to a higher standard as a "celebrity designer," she takes no issue with it — and she believes she rightfully should be. "I'd be a fool to expect anything less," she noted. "I enjoy the most when someone who is not a fan of mine walks into a store and buys something because they love the piece, love the product — whether it's makeup or clothes. It tells me that you genuinely love what I have to offer. I love when things are respected solely because of how great they are, with nothing to do with the name."
Rihanna's most recent smash-hit has been her Fenty Beauty line, the result of years conducting research, learning about terms, factories and textures and even trying to start a range independently. "I've always wanted to do makeup; where I wanted to begin with makeup has changed and evolved... I wanted it to be right," she said. "I wanted it to be something that women love; I wanted it to be respected by professionals and [something] that felt like me. Makeup that I genuinely want to wear."
It "blows her mind" that it's taken the beauty industry so long to make strides in inclusivity, but for her brand, it was a no-brainer. "We've had an amazing emotional connection with customers who have never been able to find their shade of foundation before," she said. "I mean, women crying at the counters — it's crazy to think about, because when I first started creating the brand it wasn't that deep for me. The first person I saw put makeup on her face was a black woman, my mom. So when I'm thinking of my customer, I want everybody to feel like they can come and be a part of the Fenty beauty moment."